Better Listening Through Chemistry
Citric acid and sodium bicarbonate react with water to produce carbon dioxide and sodium citrate. Toss in some aspirin and a healthy dose of Madison Avenue snake oil, and you have the panacea that launched some of television’s most memorable advertising campaigns.
“Mamma mia, that’s a spicy meatball!” “I can’t believe I ate that whole thing. (You ate it, Ralph.)” All these catch phrases have worked their way into everyday conversation. Stop-motion puppetry from animation pioneer George Pal and voice characterization from Dick Beal brought to life Sparky. Renamed “Speedy Relief,” this little pitchman augured this phrase into our minds: “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh, what a relief it is!”
In the mid-60’s, a spot was introduced that featured shots of assorted people with midriffs large and small, as the walked, played, exercised and even argued. The voiceover intoned, “No matter what shape your stomach’s in, when it gets out of shape, take Alka Seltzer.” Backing that spot was a catchy instrumental. It was catchy enough that a band called The T-Bones re-recorded the song and released it as a single. It hit the charts in late 1965, made it up to number three in ‘66. Included in this band were guitarist Danny Hamilton, bassist Joe Frank Carollo, and keyboardist Tommy Reynolds. Now, before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s rewind.
When he was in high school in Leland, Mississippi, Joe Frank Carollo formed a band called the Bop-Kats. When the band had run its course, he combined remnants of that group and another one called the Rollons and hit the road. What Tommy Burk And The Counts were to Memphis teens, Joe Frank And The Knights were to frat dances and sock hops in the Delta and across the Mid-South. According to Ron Hall in his History Of Garage And Frat Bands In Memphis, the two groups would frequently compete in battles of the bands. If they played in Memphis, The Counts would win. If they played in Mississippi, The Knights would come out on top.
Joe Frank And The Knights made records in garages and radio stations, but by their fourth single, they made it to a proper studio in Memphis. “Can’t Find A Way” was recorded in 1965, but by the time ABC Records took over distribution and the record started getting traction, the band members had moved on. Joe Frank Carollo headed out west and met Joe Saraceno.
Saraceno had come to the west coast in the 50’s to be an auditor for US Steel. Just for fun, he wrote a song with a friend, “The Freeze,” which became a hit record in 1958. Joe turned in his adding machine and started producing records. One of his first efforts to hit the charts was “There Was A Tall Oak Tree” by Memphis rocker Dorsey Burnette. Saraceno ran across a group called The Pendletones. Although he didn’t have much success with them, he did do them one favor. Before he sent them on their way, he changed their name to The Beach Boys. Joe hit his stride by recording primarily instrumental surf music using LA’s legendary studio musicians “The Wrecking Crew,” then putting together touring bands to capitalize on the resulting hit singles. He did this with The Marketts and The Routers, and guided The Ventures to years of success.
In 1965, Saraceno was enchanted by the strains of the tune under the Alka Seltzer commercial and obtained permission to expand the jingle into a full-length song. When he sent the single out to radio stations, Joe included packets of Alka Seltzer. The note in the package said, “Please play this record. If you don’t like it, throw the Alka Seltzers into water and drink heartily.” But they liked it, and among the members of the touring version of The T-Bones were Joe Frank Carollo, Danny Hamilton and Tommy Reynolds.
Saraceno would guide The Ventures to their second biggest single in 1969, “Hawaii 5-0.” Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds would go their separate ways in the 60’s, but the instrumentalists would eventually find a pleasing reaction to the chemistry of their combined voices.The