Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Political jingles make comeback

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

If you've heard enough talk from local political candidates this year, wait till you hear them sing.

The campaign jingle, once an endangered species in Cincinnati politics, is making a comeback.

From Laketa Cole's "Cole Train" to Jim Tarbell's "Mr. Sandman" send-up to Damon Lynch III's Bootsy Collins production, candidates for Cincinnati City Council are using music to build name recognition, establish an image and set a tone for the campaign.

Not everyone welcomes the jingle's return.

"Most are painfully corny, poorly written and composed, and badly performed," said Jerry Galvin, an advertising executive whose credits include the infomercial for Jerry Springer's aborted U.S. Senate campaign.

"All Tarbell productions are a good example. A few political jingles have created some buzz. But that wasn't because they were particularly good. It was because they were so awful."

Mr. Tarbell, bring us our dream

A City Council that works like a team

Bring us a field of satisfaction

And when you manage that we'll see some action

Tarbell, (Yes?) Someone to trust

You be the rookie and Cincy won't rust

Please turn on your magic beam

Mr. Tarbell, bring us our dream

For better or worse, Tarbell's twangy jingle in 1997 still sticks in people's heads. So he's bringing it back.

"Five years later, I still have people I've never met coming up to me and singing, 'Mr. Taarr-bell,' " he said. "Everybody loves that thing."

The Charterite councilman insists that the jingle, sung by Cincinnati bluegrass diva Katie Lauer, isn't entirely frivolous. "The message applies every bit as much today as it did five years ago," Tarbell said.

Perhaps the most famous local jingle was for U.S. Rep. Gene Snyder, R-Ky. "Vote for Gene Snyder. He's your working congressman."

That jingle started in 1976 and became a biennial staple on Tristate radio.

WEBN disc jockey Jay Gilbert has written some jingles of his own in 34 years in radio. Political jingles, he said, are a bad idea.

"It's not something that's going to be taken seriously," he said. "You don't hear jingles for funeral homes."

But Tarbell may be the exception to the rule.

"For what he does and how he does it, he can get away with it," Gilbert said. "But he was well-known before he got elected. I would suggest that it's not a good way to introduce yourself to the voters."

Cole has "Cole Train" (think: "Soul Train"), a danceable theme song she's using in her commercials and in parades, complete with a group she calls the Cole Train Dancers.

"It's all about getting on board and coming together. The train is a symbol for a lot of things," said the 29-year-old Democrat. "It's great for parades. I get old people out there dancing. It's upbeat."

Much like President Clinton's use of Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)," some are using their jingles more to set a tone than sell the candidate like a bar of soap.

Cincinnati stand together

And vote Damon Lynch for council

There's no one better

To represent our issues and points of view

Of all the people in all the communities

Lynch is keepin' it true

It's hard to write an original campaign song that sounds as funky and as hip as a Bootsy Collins single. Unless, of course, you get Collins to write and record your campaign song.

"We asked Bootsy for a 30-second campaign jingle and got a four-minute Top 40 hit," said Malia Lazu, manager of Lynch's independent campaign. The 30-second remix is used as a background to Lynch ads running on urban radio stations.

The campaign also burned hundreds of compact discs. Many went to local nightclubs, and Lynch handed out about 100 of them at the Government Square Metro stop last week.

One local candidate has discovered he doesn't need a big budget to use a jingle.

Cincinnati Board of Education candidate Alan S. Coleman can't afford television or radio spots. He sings his jingle at candidate forums, to the tune of "I Was Walking Through the Park One Day."

Coleman's running for the school board now

And he wants to show the people how

Coleman can regain their trust

For our children it's a must

So vote for Alan Coleman for the board.

E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com

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