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May 1, 2008 4:03 PM   Subscribe

Starting in 1979, late night TV viewers had their ears assaulted by hard-sell ads for musicians they had never heard of (or didn't know sang), such as Roger Whittaker (bio), Jim Nabors, Boxcar Willie (bio), Zamfir (master of the pan flute - bio), and yodeller Slim Whitman (bio), whose voice literally causes heads to explode. The ads made astonishing claims -- "sold more albums in Britain than the Beatles and Elvis combined!" And a lot of viewers -- some perhaps stoned -- called now. (Roger Whitaker -- 4 million albums. Slim Whitman - 4 million albums. Boxcar Willie - 3 million. Zamfir - 1.1 million). Others just watched, dumbfounded.

Heads go boom at 6:45 in this video clip. The ad clips are from a large collection of 70s/80s TV ads, promos, and demos posted on YouTube by "eyeh8cbs".

The albums: "All My Best", by Roger Whittaker (1976 TeeVee Records TA-1056). "King of the Road", by Boxcar Willie (1980 Suffolk Marketing 1-24-G/Warwick WW5084). "The Heart Touching Magic of Jim Nabors." (1980 CBS/Suffolk Marketing CSP P 15274). "The Magic of Zamfir" (1984 Heartland 1017). "All My Best" by Slim Whitman (1979 Suffolk Marketing, Inc. SL-8128).
posted by msalt (61 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
All I'm saying is, my buddy Kirk Knutson, a huge Tower of Power fan, bought Roger Whitaker at age 20 from an ad during SNL. And I will never let him forget it.
posted by msalt at 4:05 PM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Hey man, is that Freedom Rock?
posted by ornate insect at 4:07 PM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

Literally does not mean what you think it means. But yeah, I loves me some Mars Attacks too.
posted by SassHat at 4:08 PM on May 1, 2008

heh heh, helium
posted by ryanrs at 4:17 PM on May 1, 2008

posted by chillmost at 4:22 PM on May 1, 2008

i always knew jim nabors sang. i knew that before he was gomer pyle.
posted by quonsar at 4:40 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Somehow, someway, at the intersection of bad sci-fi movies and late night musical commercials stands Freddy Freaker.
posted by Staggering Jack at 4:40 PM on May 1, 2008

Whoa. In one post you described the entire soundtrack of my childhood. I was just instantly transported to my father's garage.

I never knew my parents were that gullible. Because I love them, I'm going to put your post away, and never look at it again.

This explains so much about my taste in music. *shivers*
posted by barchan at 4:41 PM on May 1, 2008

Don't mess with Boxcar Willie, he's got some smoking tracks.
posted by porn in the woods at 4:41 PM on May 1, 2008

My folks used to "rock" Roger Whittaker and Anne Murray in the car on road trips, absolute horrorshow! His melodious voice and pleasing manner helped him weasel his way into many North American homes.
posted by porn in the woods at 4:46 PM on May 1, 2008

Andy fucking Kaufman.

Chirst. He was just so fucking subtle.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:47 PM on May 1, 2008

Hey man, is that Freedom Rock?

Well, then turn it up, man!
posted by Locative at 5:19 PM on May 1, 2008

I'll probably never have a reason to post this again, so here's the Roger Whittaker Techno Remix.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:20 PM on May 1, 2008 [4 favorites]

The excrutiating Mammy Blue had thankfully been completely erased from my consciousness until this accursed post reimplanted it like brain syphilis.

Damn you all to hell.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:30 PM on May 1, 2008

That was awesome.
posted by GuyZero at 5:33 PM on May 1, 2008

I used to do a killer Slim Whitman impersonation when I was a kid (based on his TV commerical), involving a mascara mustache, my grandmother's old square dancing costume, and a toy guitar. Hilariously (or horrifyingly), I was once convinced by my sister to go "entertain" my parents' friends during a dinner party with a rendition of "Vaya Con Dios."
posted by scody at 5:53 PM on May 1, 2008

How can you forget the Master of the Bulgarian Ocarina?

Yeah, my parents lurved these albums. I plan to inherit them.
posted by jadepearl at 6:01 PM on May 1, 2008

When I was stationed in JAX in the military, I went to a kegger/hog roast out in the country.

On the way down all these blacktop and gravel roads to find it, we go by this big brick house with a big-ass Winnebago and a boat parked outside. Big sign over the gate says "Woodpecker Paradise" I asked WTF is that??

Guy driving's Slim Whitman's house. He's a dick.
posted by timsteil at 6:02 PM on May 1, 2008

And then there were those Mini Pop commercials.
posted by orange swan at 6:08 PM on May 1, 2008

Laugh now, you hipster posers, but thems now all bad tunes, you'll see. Slim could get his yodel on, and Boxcar, he's my hero. You don't know from music. My favorite LPs suck not. Youns is wrong. Da music of my yoot aint taint.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:09 PM on May 1, 2008

Slim Whitman's eyebrows are really scary though. Especially on that Kaufman clip.
posted by msalt at 6:20 PM on May 1, 2008

The excrutiating Mammy Blue had thankfully been completely erased from my consciousness until this accursed post reimplanted it like brain syphilis.

*winces in pained solidarity*
posted by Wolof at 6:21 PM on May 1, 2008

This much is true:
In the 1970s and '80s, Whittaker had a lot of success in Germany.
Sad, but true. There used to be a lot of Roger Whittaker in my life.
posted by muckster at 6:26 PM on May 1, 2008

As a teen, I had some kind of man-crush on Roger Whittaker, just from watching the commercials. The beard, the guitar, the effortless singing. If he didn't have elbow patches, he should have. Never, ever, bought a single thing he made, but every time his commercial came on, I was frozen to the set. But, it was a different, probably earlier, commercial than the one linked here.

I was all about Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, and David Bowie. But when the Roger Whittaker commercial came on, I was his biggest fan for 60 seconds.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 6:27 PM on May 1, 2008

I'm with Fuzzy. Frankly, I wished I had a voice like Whittaker, just for entertaining myself in the shower.
posted by maxwelton at 6:42 PM on May 1, 2008

I was shocked to find out a while ago that Roger Whittaker isn't Canadian. He sure seems Canadian.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 6:49 PM on May 1, 2008

Wow, no Nana Mouskouri? Ok...
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:50 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I loves me some Roger Whittaker.

Not surprisingly, Durham Town is one of my favorites.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:56 PM on May 1, 2008

Zamfir gets no respect in the U.S., but his soundtrack to the film "Picnic at Hanging Rock" is chilling.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:17 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Whitman was briefly considered as a replacement for John Lennon for a series of Beatles reunion concerts ...

Well, come on. He's the obvious choice. "Helter, skelTERRRRR" (that's his yodel there at the end.)
posted by msalt at 7:30 PM on May 1, 2008

I remember those ads, too. Damn liars, crap music. Peter Lemonjello (whoever he was) had them too. WTF?
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 7:31 PM on May 1, 2008

For some reason, I remember my high school French teacher playing us some French-language Roger Whittaker children's record. Something about an elephant.
posted by evilcolonel at 7:34 PM on May 1, 2008

One of my guilty pleasures in this world is Roger Whittaker singing "The Last Farewell". It reminds me of C.S. Lewis's "Horatio Hornblower" novels and the Patrick O'Brian novels, and I love it more dearly than the spoken word can tell.
posted by briank at 7:34 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Durn Bronzefist: Wow, no Nana Mouskouri? Ok..

Exactly what I said when I saw this post. Nana was up there with Katherine Ross in my dad's book.

Here she is.
posted by oflinkey at 7:57 PM on May 1, 2008

The curse of the generations that you don't discover until you hit 50.

At some point, on some media of communication unknown at this time, young people will make fun of your music, and you will have to walk into the sunset and die the same painful death that you inflicted on your elders.... think about it you young snots, just think about it.....
posted by HuronBob at 7:58 PM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

I ain't gonna work on the railroad
I ain't gonna work on the farm
I'll lay around the track
till the mule train comes back.
I'm rollin' in my sweet baby's arms.
posted by Stewriffic at 8:20 PM on May 1, 2008

I can't find a commercial online, but I remember seeing ads for albums by Richard Clayderman: the Most Popular Pianist in the World!
posted by marxchivist at 8:45 PM on May 1, 2008

Wow, thanks - I've never heard of Peter Lemongello before (or Nana Mouskouri, or K-Tel's MiniPop for that matter.) And I started this mess. Apparently Peter was NYC only.
posted by msalt at 8:55 PM on May 1, 2008

Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute, made his name and fortune on CNN in the 1980s. When President Bush was in Bulgaria last month for a NATA summit, CNN was of course there to cover it:
As President Bush and other world leaders gathered behind closed doors for private meetings, journalists monitoring the events from a nearby hotel were paid an unexpected visit from an American cult figure - Zamfir, master of the pan flute.

How the Romanian musician came to visit the workspace is a story in itself. Basically, he's a friend of a friend of a local Romanian working for a U.S. television network. He planned to stop by the workspace for just a brief visit to say hello, but quickly had the press corps buzzing with excitement. I asked him afterwards what he thought when he walked in and received … well, a rock star's reception.

"Shocked. When I met them, I wasn't, no words in my mouth. What's happened with me?" Zamfir said.

He immediately phoned 6 other musicians who arrived with instruments in hand. For nearly 30 minutes, Zamfir and the 7- piece ensemble performed for journalists, and even some curious White House staffers, who had gathered to watch.

Among them was veteran CBS News correspondent Bill Plante.

"I can safely say that since I've been covering the White House, which began in 1981, before the Zamfir commercials were on CNN, before CNN, I've never seen anything like this," Plante said.

Asked to explain the excitement, Plante responded, "Because it's something different. We've been sitting here trying to make news out of the NATO summit and now we have music."

Indeed, media file centers are usually situated in windowless hotel conference rooms where journalists can sometimes spend 16 hours working.

Zamfir and his music brightened the mood. When he was gone, the workspace fell quiet again. But the air was lighter somehow, thanks to our unexpected visitor.[1]
posted by stbalbach at 9:04 PM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

I love MetaFilter, and I hear it's making a comeback!
posted by bugmuncher at 9:09 PM on May 1, 2008

Confession time. When I was a kid I made my parents buy me an Eddie Arnold album from a TV commercial. It came with an "autographed" picture of Eddie (which I promptly framed and kept on my dresser for years). I'll be 40 in a few months and I still get shit about Eddie and I can still sing "Make the World Go Away" and "Cattle Call"
posted by MikeMc at 9:24 PM on May 1, 2008

Roger Whitaker is a gateway drug to the hard stuff like (shudder) the Irish Rovers.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:27 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seriously, all these Roger Whitaker references and nobody knows about The Whistling ?

(Idly wondering how many of these records featured his mother on backing vocals. Probably all of them.)
posted by genghis at 9:28 PM on May 1, 2008

Everybody sold more albums than The Beatles because The Beatles biggest sales were in singles; their albums did so-so.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:34 PM on May 1, 2008

Where's the ad for Ferrante & Teicher?
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 9:40 PM on May 1, 2008

This is the exact and specific reason the internet was invented, and I thank you for it.
posted by mwhybark at 9:45 PM on May 1, 2008

SassHat: I'm all for grammatical vigilance, but "literally" was used correctly in this case: within the context of Mars Attacks, Slim Whitman's music causes the aliens' heads to explode. The phrase isn't a metaphor, it's a literal description of what happens in the film.

Saying that "literally" is incorrect because the event happens in the movie world instead of the real world is a needlessly hard-line interpretation of the rule. Darth Vader literally cut off Luke Skywalker's hand, even though Mark Hamill didn't actually lose an appendage to an energy sword.
posted by Ian A.T. at 9:56 PM on May 1, 2008

even though Mark Hamill didn't actually lose an appendage to an energy sword.

How do you know?! Have you ever met Mark Hamill? Maybe he wore a prosthetic in Corvette Summer. Bet you never thought of that, did you? Now who feels like a silly so and so?
posted by dobbs at 10:26 PM on May 1, 2008

A-and he mostly does voiceover work these days. Don't need two hands for voiceover work.
posted by Grangousier at 11:27 PM on May 1, 2008

Peter Lemongello was a real estate mogul from Long Island who decided - in mid life - to pursue his lifelong dream of being a crooning cabaret singer by buying ad time on TV back in the 1980s. It was one of those "only in New Yawk" chutzpah moments that we NYers so dearly love. Declaring yourself a superstar and then booking Nassau stadium for your own concert, and then watching it fill with with thousands of your fans... it's a free country, ain't it?
posted by zaelic at 2:15 AM on May 2, 2008

Roger Whittaker seemed to be on the tv all the time when I was kid... so much so that in the past whenever I went through Durham on the train I'd find myself humming his classic.

But Val Doonican was the king of 70s British (well Irish) easy listening.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:17 AM on May 2, 2008

My mother had every. single. Nana album ever. I can still picture the glass cabinet full of the LPs. (I'm fairly confident she even met Nana after a concert.)

My mom is radical that way. She had dinner one night with Ricardo Montalbán and Hervé Villechaize.
posted by maxwelton at 4:18 AM on May 2, 2008

Slim Whitman was hardly obscure before the TV ads, to be honest about it; maybe *you* never heard of him (or Boxcar Willie), but they were both globally popular recording artists for many years before they wound up on late night TV
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:41 AM on May 2, 2008

My mother loved listening too, and whistling with Roger Whitaker.

Sitting at my desk on the crest of a new day, reading this blurb with his name in mention, I realize that I *adore* his music.

I am in my mid-30's and my tastes have improved to include just about everything but hip-hop and he's in playlists alright.
posted by verveonica at 6:09 AM on May 2, 2008

I don't understand what everyone's problem is with this stuff. That is some quality music.

Can I show you my collection of Conway Twitty albums?
posted by Pollomacho at 6:26 AM on May 2, 2008

Elvis Costello had his own commercial running during that same period.
posted by newmoistness at 7:13 AM on May 2, 2008

That commercial was certainly cheesey, but Jim Nabors' voice is beautiful. I heard it the whole time I was growing up -- my mother had 10 or 12 of his albums, and he was always the guest star on the first episode each season of The Carol Burnett Show. This is a terrific album.
posted by JanetLand at 7:32 AM on May 2, 2008

Well, it WAS a terrific album -- somebody must have bought it so it doesn't show up anymore. This is it.
posted by JanetLand at 7:44 AM on May 2, 2008

maybe *you* never heard of him (or Boxcar Willie), but they were both globally popular recording artists for many years before they wound up on late night TV

Granted, this is AmericoCentric. Roger Whittaker was born in Africa, huge in England and has an amazing number of songs in German on YouTube. Slim Whitman was just old, discovered by Colonel Tom Parker in 1948.

Apparently Boxcar Willie, like Bill Hicks and Jimi Hendrix, was an American who hit it big in England first before America accepted him (because of this ad.) The cheesy conceit of his gimmick may have been part of that -- he was a fighter pilot for decades, hardly a real hobo. But he found -- and helped create -- America's new cheese central.
posted by msalt at 9:26 AM on May 2, 2008

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