Boomers “Dropped A Dime”

There are many idioms known from the Boomer Era that have worn well through the ages (“That’s cool” being one), while others have passed into the dustbin of history. One such phrase is, “Drop a dime.” Originally, the phrase was used in police jargon to ask informants to call them about someone’s illegal activity of which they were aware, and conversely, by criminal organizations to describe someone who “ratted” out a fellow member. From there, it spread into general use with a more literal meaning. When you asked someone to drop a dime on you, it was a request that they give you a call. Likewise, if you asked someone to drop a dime, they should call you. Sometimes the phrase could be joined by other phrases, such as “don’t be a stranger, drop a dime,” or “drop a dime and let’s talk.”

The connection between a dime and a phone call was a direct one: a phone call at a pay phone (remember those?) cost ten cents. The caller would literally place a dime in the slot, and it would drop through the phone, signaling with a ding to make the call. Prior to 1950, a phone call was five cents, which makes the phrase a true product of the Boomer Era. This rise to ten cents came about the same time that glass phone booths replaced wooden ones. By 1960, outdoor drive-up pay phones also were introduced.

If a boomer was traveling alone, perhaps for the first time, a boomer’s dad might say, “Drop a dime on your mother, and let her know you arrived safely.” He might also offer that dime to his child. The phrase was used by both generations with the same understanding.

The idea of always needing a dime to make a call was an important lesson to learn for growing boomers. Not only did boomers need to keep in touch with parents and potential dates, but even emergency calls needed coins before 1968, when the law Congress passed the previous year initiated the nationwide 911 system. This led some boomers to update their penny loafers by carrying dimes in the places pennies might previously have occupied.

In 1973, the cost of a phone call jumped from 10 cents to 20 cents, thereby signaling the beginning of the end of practical usage of the phrase.

Mister Boomer didn’t have much occasion to use the phrase himself, but heard it spoken among neighborhood kids and occasionally by his father. Yet Mister B was known to go to a phone booth to drop a dime on a girl he wanted to ask out. That was infinitely better than having to use the phone on the kitchen wall.

How about you, boomers? Did you use the phrase, drop a dime, or did someone ask you to do so?

Boomers Watch the Commercial Beat Go On

Well, it’s happening again, not that it ever stopped. Lately, there has been a rash of commercials using boomer music in them. Even locally, an area hospital is using Brenda Lee’s version of Baby Face (1959) to advertise their pediatric surgery department, and a regional supermarket chain has enlisted Roy Orbison’s You Got It (1989). Mister Boomer still isn’t sure how he feels about this particular form of cultural appropriation, and has written about this before (see Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma and Boomer Music: Here, There and Everywhere).

Yet with this latest batch, Mister B has to wonder … wah-wah-wah-wah-wonder. Why. Wha-wha-wha-wha-why? It seems plausible that commercials are now written by Gen Xers and Millennials for Gen Xers and Millennials, yet they choose to use boomer music rather than tunes from their own eras. This latest batch though, has a new out-of-the-ordinary twist in that the pairings of song to product seems to lean to more than a little bizarre. Take a look at some recent song usage that Mister B has seen in his area:

Born to Be Wild, Steppenwolf (1968)
Was the song used for motorcycle insurance? Hair curl control? Or maybe … nope. How about Pampers diapers for babies? Now Fire all of your guns at once/ And explode into space has a whole new meaning.

Summertime, The Jamies (1958, re-released in 1962)
Mister B has to admit that McDonald’s has employed this summery ditty in a fun way. Pointing out the challenges of summer such as sunburn and bug bites, the commercial offers a McDonald’s meal as an something easy for summer, all to the strains of Summertime, Summertime, Sum-Sum-Summertime …

Summer In the City, The Lovin’ Spoonful (1966)
The ironic twist in this BMW car commercial is that the song says summer in the city, but the people driving are in the great expanse of the southwest. Try getting your neck burnt and gritty in a modern air-conditioned car.

To Love Somebody, The Bee Gees (1967)
Another odd paring, The Bee Gees are singing out for Facebook Groups. Yup, the venerable social media giant is advertising on TV, and using a Bee Gees tune to do it. The commercial tugs at the heartstrings, showing a father/daughter group heading to a baseball game. Mister B has to wonder whether the idea was generated by one of Facebook’s artificial intelligence engines.

I Think We’re Alone Now, Tommy James and the Shondells (1967)
HP computers is using the Tommy James tune with a nudge and a wink-wink. The crux of the commercial is a new feature on the computer that locks out the camera, barring any possible hacking. The premise is, this lock out is so no one will see you when you are doing the eccentric things you do when no one is looking — like toe nail clipping or posing in front of a mirror. Tommy James, however, isn’t singing about that at all.

This begs the question of why stop there? Certainly more strange pairings are ripe for the taking. Mister Boomer has some advice for companies looking to utilize boomer music:

• Hey Viagara and Cialis, ever think about acquiring Eight Days a Week by the Beatles (1964)? Can’t get the rights? There is always Me and My Arrow by Harry Nilsson (1970).

• Bathfitters, you are aiming your product primarily at homeowner boomers, so how about appropriating a song boomers have misheard for years anyway? Credence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising (1969) has been heard by millions to be, There’s a bathroom on the right. Throw enough money into it and maybe you can get John Fogerty to do a cameo.

• Is Robert Wagner still hawking reverse mortgages? Drop in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Our House (1970) for a lead-in and fade-out for that instant boomer connection. Not to your liking? How about Barry Strong’s Money (That’s What I Want) from 1959?

What songs have you heard in commercials lately, boomers? Any suggestions of likely or unlikely pairings you’d like to add?