Oops! They Did It Again, Boomers!

Well, the marketers have done it again: co-opted a boomer-era song for their own devices. In this case it’s the 1966 hit, L’il Red Riding Hood, made popular by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. The song has been re-recorded with a sultry female voice as the backdrop to a Volvo car commercial.

Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs hailed from Dallas, Texas. The band was headed by front man Domingo “Sam” Zamudio. In the early 1960s the band gained notoriety by wearing robes and turbans onstage, and traveling in a 1952 Packard hearse. “Sam” is said to have acquired inspiration for his campy costuming watching Yul Brynner’s pharaoh character in the 1956 film, The Ten Commandments.

Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs in a publicity shot from an ad in Billboard magazine, 1965.

After a couple of years of playing gigs and selling records they had paid to press themselves, the band was signed by the Pen label in Memphis, Tennessee. It was there they recorded Wooly Bully, which hit No. 2 on the Billboard charts in June of 1965. Eleven months after the release of Wooly Bully, a band shake-up saw Sam hiring an entire new set of Pharaohs. This new band was the one that recorded L’il Red Riding Hood. The song peaked at No. 2 in August of 1966, and remained on the charts for 14 weeks.

For several centuries the folk tale of Red Riding Hood has been considered a metaphor for a young girl’s sexual awakening. The song, as sung by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, furthers this train of thought, though sung from the perspective of the big bad wolf. In this case, the “wolf” was a term used to describe a man whose intentions were on the lecherous side, in pursuit of a young girl (Red Riding Hood). He begins the song with a wolf howl and sings about being attracted by the girl’s “big eyes” and “full lips.” He mentions his deceitful ways to charm the young lady, saying he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, in an effort to make her “see things my [his] way before we get to grandma’s place.”

The Big Bopper recorded Little Red Riding Hood in 1958, but his song was both musically and lyrically different from the one recorded by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, which was written by Ronald Blackwell.

Mister Boomer recalls hearing the song on his transistor radio in 1966. Shortly thereafter, Brother Boomer purchased the 45 RPM, as he did most of the music in the household. Mister B thought it was an OK song that was worth a snicker or two for its covert handling of a topic that piqued a young teen’s growing curiosity of the opposite sex, but all in all, a fun novelty classified along the lines of hits by Ray Stevens. The song was enthusiastically enjoyed by Mister B’s younger sister and mother, though. That 45 RPM now resides in Mister Boomer’s personal collection.

So what does all that have to do with a car commercial in the 21st Century? Those clever marketers have re-recorded the song (at least parts of it) with a female voice singing the part of the wolf. Amanda Seyfried recorded the song in 2011, but she is not the singer in the commercial; that would be Oregonean singer/songwriter Laura Gibson. The implication of transposing the gender of the narrator is that the car is the prize and the female is the one in relentless pursuit. One might presume that the female is playing the surrogate of Every TV Viewer. Confounding definition, the commercial is filled with contradictions. As a wolf snarls in front of a red car, each frame is tinged with shades of red, the universal color of desire and passion. Yet it finishes focused on a young girl wearing a red hooded garment sitting in the back seat of the red car, being chauffeured by her father, and howling like a wolf! The song, the references to the Red Riding Hood story and Sam the Sham’s 1966 hit would make the soundtrack instantly identifiable to a boomer, yet oddly enough, the commercial seems aimed at a different demographic altogether. In fact, it looks to be aimed at the children of boomers. In the end, do we see a commercial targeting a younger-than-us generation that, according to the marketers, can now afford this sporty automobile, but as parents can still summon the desire for such a prize?

What do you think, boomers? Does the commercial flash you to back to Sam the Sham, or have you reaching for your checkbook to buy a car?