Boomer Music: Here, There and Everywhere

Recent articles in the New York Times and Ad Age have suggested that marketers, long willing to play the nostalgia card with music, have adjusted their Wayback Machines to discard the music of the Boomer Generation in favor of the 1980s and ’90s, in an effort to update what current 30-somethings recall as nostalgic. This points to the declaration that the Boomer Generation is no longer their major target market. The only problem is, nobody told the marketers.

Boomer music appears everywhere these days — in commercials, movies and on the stage. What are we to make of this latest display, when supposedly generations beyond the boomers would not be able to relate to or even like the nostalgic sounds of the 1960s and ’70s?

Commercial Realm
Mister Boomer has delved into the use of boomer music in commercials in the past (Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma), and the practice certainly isn’t new. Perhaps what is surprising is that it continues unabated. There are several commercials running in regular TV rotation now that use boomer-age music as their driving sound. Two of the most popular have to be All Day and All of the Night by the Kinks (1964), which is used for, of all things, a Yoplait yogurt commercial, and Mony Mony, the Tommy James and the Shondells’ hit from 1968, used to sell Nissan Sentras. This ad plays a respectable Billy Idol cover of Mony Mony from 1987, but the point remains that the song is key to the entire premise of the ad.

On the Silver Screen
Jersey Boys, performed on the Broadway stage since 2005 and still going strong, is now a major motion picture directed by Clint Eastwood. The movie tells the story of how Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons formed, enjoyed success and ultimately disbanded in the 1960s.

Stage Rite
Broadway has certainly discovered the age of boomer music. Look at this list of current and recent musicals about people in the music business in the 1960s and ’70s:

  • Jersey Boys, as previously stated, opened in 2005. Now word is out on the Internet that the release of the movie has not only increased interest in tickets for the play, but also for the music of the Four Seasons.
  • Motown: the Musical opened in 2013. The play’s book was written by none other than Berry Gordy himself, to tell stories about his personal relationships with Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson in the early days of the Motown label. Is there a person of any generation who doesn’t like something from Motown?
  • A Night with Janis Joplin had a limited run in 2013. It gained critical acclaim for the woman who portrayed Janis, Mary Bridget Davies. It took 50 years to find someone who could belt out a tune like Janis, yet this woman wasn’t even born until 1978!
  • Beautiful: the Carole King Musical opened in 2013, too. It tells the remarkable story of the steady climb of one of the greatest singer/songwriters of the 1960s and ’70s. Carole king often collaborated with other songwriters, and the play concentrates on songs that she co-wrote with Gerry Goffin, Phil Spector, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, among others. The 2014 Tony Awards honored the musical with seven nominations and Jesse Mueller won for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical. It also won for Best Sound Design of a Musical.
  • Next up is Piece of My Heart, an Off-Broadway musical that opened in previews this past week. It tells the story of Bert Berns, a man who became one of the most successful songwriters and producers of the 1960s. He wrote an astounding 51 hits in seven years before his tragic death from heart failure at the age of 38. Included in his cavalcade of hits were Hang On Sloopy, Cry, Baby, Here Comes the Night, Tell Him, I Want Candy, and Twist and Shout! Ironically, one of the last songs he wrote was Piece of My Heart. Originally recorded by Erma Franklin, it later became a huge hit for Janis Joplin when she sang with Big Brother and the Holding Company. Other artists and bands that had hits with his songs include the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Otis Redding, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie, to name only a few.

 

It is Mister Boomer’s opinion that this wave of boomer music exposure is not a plea to nostalgic boomers, but rather, it’s a nod to great music. Surely Baby Boomers have appreciated great music from any era in the past, and continue to do so — whether it was Frank Sinatra, Ira Gershwin or Frederic Chopin. So why would “experts” expect anything less of younger generations? Mister B has mentioned in earlier posts that he has friends whose children count among their favorite bands The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Jethro Tull, Neil Diamond, Led Zeppelin and many others. Yes, these same kids who play the current music that bewilders many of us boomers actually like boomer-age music.

So, Mister B says let’s hang on to what we’ve got and give these artists the R-E-S-P-E-C-T they deserve. It’s good day, sunshine for boomer music and Mister B says, yeah, yeah, yeah!

What do you think is the reason for the current rise in boomer music exposure, boomers?

Many Boomers Were Treated Right by Burger Chef

Mister Boomer isn’t a regular viewer of the TV show, Mad Men. This season, however, the fictional ad agency on the show is pitching a company that spiked Mister B’s nostalgia meter; the agency is pitching an ad campaign to Burger Chef. This was brought to Mister B’s attention by a co-worker who is a fan of the show. Knowing Mister B is from the Midwest, he asked him if he had ever heard of Burger Chef. “Yes,” said Mister B, “I used to work for them.”

Burger Chef was an early competitor of McDonald’s. The company opened its first restaurant in Indianapolis in 1958. By contrast, McDonald’s opened in 1955 in Des Plaines, Illinois. Unlike McDonald’s, Burger Chef advertised “flame broiled burgers.” Burger Chef burgers were cooked over an open flame and not on a grill top, which became central to their early marketing.

The flame broiled burger was made by a device that was patented in 1954 by a different company. It consisted of an oven with a conveyor system that propelled hamburgers through the oven over a gas-fired flame. The grill looked like the combination of bicycle chain endcaps with a barbecue grill fastened between them. It ran as a continuous loop, so when burgers (and buns) were placed on the grill that protruded from the left side of the oven, completely cooked burgers dropped off the conveyor system at the extension on the right side of the oven. The chain speed was controlled by a dial that was preset via instructions from the home office. If a customer desired a more well-done burger, workers could flip the switch that would stop the conveyor at the mid-point to allow for an extra fifteen seconds of cooking, before turning it back on to complete the process.

Burger Chef grew almost as rapidly as McDonald’s. There were 73 Burger Chef locations in 1960, and by 1968 that number grew to 800 restaurants in 39 states. The company opened its 1,000 restaurant in 1973. McDonald’s had reached that milestone in 1968.

They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and Burger Chef matched McDonald’s burger for burger: there was a hamburger and cheeseburger, of course, but also a Big Shef that was their version of a Big Mac; a Super Shef was a flatter and wider version of MacDonald’s Quarter Pounder. Then there was a fish sandwich, apple turnover and vanilla, chocolate or strawberry milkshakes.

Aside from the flame broiler, however, Burger Chef was also the innovator for a number of things that were later copied by competitors. They were the first to introduce a kid-centric meal with a toy. Called the Funmeal, it appeared at Burger Chef in 1973, and consisted of a burger, fries, a drink and a toy. McDonald’s introduced their Happy Meal in 1979. Burger Chef was the first to offer a Works Bar in the late 1970s, where a customer could add the elements they wanted — pickles, mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, special sauce, onions, tomatoes and lettuce, in the quantities they wanted — for a personalized experience, plus get a salad to go with their burger. Wendy’s Fixin’s Bar and several others followed suit.

The company stressed family wholesomeness on the order of what Disney had done for amusement parks. Employees were required to keep a strict dress code, which included shorter hair lengths and sideburns, limited moustaches and no beards for males, and mandated skirt lengths and “appropriate” hairstyles for females. As the sixties progressed and into the ’70s, this was enough to keep some prospective employees and managers away.

Mister Boomer’s experience with the company first came via his brother, who worked at a Burger Chef location about eight blocks from their home. Mister B would ride his bike over to watch Brother Boomer behind the kitchen glass window, making french fries. There, a hand-operated lever was attached to a white-enameled wall. By lifting the lever, his brother could place a peeled potato vertically in the holder. When the lever was pushed down like pumping a water well, the potato was pushed through blades that cut it into perfect fries, which fell into a waiting bucket. Whether it was because of the freshness of the product or the frying method, their fries were absolutely delicious. The restaurant sold fries by the bagful as well as individual portions. Since every meal in Mister Boomer’s household had to have a starch along with a protein and a vegetable, on occasion Mister B’s mom would give him the money to go and get a sack of fries for the family. By the end of the sixties, fresh french fries were replaced by the more cost-efficient frozen variety.

The next experience Mister Boomer had with Burger Chef was as a high school student in 1970. Mister B found his first job at a Burger Chef that was situated across the street from a major area shopping center. He worked mainly evenings and weekends, but did have some daytime hours over the summer months. He made minimum wage, which at the time was $1.25 per hour in his state.

Workers were pretty much the jack-of-all-trades. Each was trained on the cooking devices as well as preparation and closing procedures, not to mention cleaning. Whenever an employee wasn’t busy, he or she was expected to be cleaning something. Mister B spent many an hour on a ladder spraying Windex onto the storefront’s expanse of windows, picking up debris from the parking lot, wiping tables and mopping floors.

To make matters worse, the assistant manager was an ex-Navy man who had kitchen experience. When it came time to clean the cooking area after closing, he would examine the freshly-cleaned counters with a white glove. If he found a single grain of salt, he made Mister B and his co-workers repeat the cleaning process again.

The flame broil oven needed its own cleaning regimen once a week. First, the chain grill from the previous week had to be cleaned. The previous week’s grill had sat rolled up in a bucket of lye mixture. Now a worker, wearing gloves, removed the grill in the sink and, with a stiff brush, scraped any remaining residue from the grill. While the worker scrubbed and thoroughly rinsed the grill, two other workers dismantled the shut-down oven and dislodged the bolts that held the chain grill. They removed the grill, rolled it on itself and placed into a bucket that contained water, lye and whatever else there might have been in there that has escaped Mister B’s memory. An examination of the burners and cleaning of the inside of the oven would ensue. Once everything was satisfactorily cleaned, the fresh chain grill was attached and ready for the following week’s work.

Likewise Mister B and his co-workers made buckets full of special sauce — which, like McDonald’s, was a Thousand Island dressing recipe that consisted of exacting ratios of mayonnaise, ketchup and pickle relish. He also had his turn at making the tartar sauce for the fish sandwiches. One of the most skillful of the jobs entailed making french fries. There was no tell-tale timer that beeped when the fries were perfectly golden brown. The expertise of the operator meant that at any given time fries could be a bit under or a bit over, based on when they were removed from the fryer. Mister B strived for the golden crisp exterior and slightly soft interior that he enjoyed, and figured other people did too.

After one summer, Mister B had had enough of the burger business. Burger Chef continued on, but lost ground among the growing field of competitors. By 1982, only 800 restaurants remained, and the company was sold to Hardee’s.

Did you eat — or work — at a Burger Chef in your boomer days?