Boomers Grew Up With the Hess Truck

The tradition of the annual Hess toy truck at Christmas is a ubiquitous promotion on TV these days, but its origin occurred in the boomer heydays. Hess started as a home heating oil delivery service in 1933, but has morphed into a worldwide crude oil and natural gas exploration and production company currently owned by Chevron.

For boomer children in certain states, the story begins in 1960 when Hess opened its first gas station in New Jersey. By 1964, Hess gas stations formed a regional chain spanning several eastern and midwestern states. That was the first year Hess offered a toy truck, and the tradition began. The original toy was a tanker that kids could fill with water. Through a hose attached to the tank, the water could be emptied — delivered — where the child wanted. The truck was sold exclusively at Hess gas stations. It was meant to be a replica of the type of tankers that Hess used to deliver fuel.

Eventually, the gas stations could be found in most states east of the Mississippi. The annual sale of a toy truck continued for 16 more years, with each year offering a different style of vehicle. Hess released a new truck each year, except for 1973, 1979 and 1981, when the Middle East oil embargoes interrupted the new truck releases. Up until 1979, the annual toy sale was only advertised in local newspapers and at Hess gas stations, but then the first TV commercial aired in 1980 (according to the company; others on YouTube claim to have uncovered TV commercials from the late 1970s). That is where the story gets interesting for boomers.

The Hess TV commercial from 1980 used a rock instrumental version of Deck the Halls. That soundtrack appears to have been used in Hess truck commercials throughout the 1980s, but Mister Boomer was able to discover a 1989 TV commercial that used an extended version of the jingle we hear on Hess truck commercials today. The distinctive TV commercial jingle intoning, The Hess truck’s back and it’s better than ever… is immediately identifiable by boomers. The song melody that became the basis for the commercial jingle is none other than My Boyfriend’s Back, made popular by The Angels in 1963! Hess has continued to use the jingle, including this year.

In 2014, Hess sold its gas station business to Marathon Petroleum. As a result, Hess stations were closed in 2015. However, the toy continues to be sold online at the Hess truck website. Boomers, who may have received a Hess truck when they were children, may have also continued the tradition with their children and grandchildren. Those longtime buyers will be happy to know that Hess continues to supply the batteries for the toys, the same as it has since 1964.

How about you, boomers? Did you ever receive a Hess truck as a gift? Did you ever purchase one for your own children or grandchildren?

Mister Boomer Presents the Boomies Awards!

It’s award season. You can hardly turn on the television at this time of year without seeing an awards show, or a commercial for one coming soon. In the spirit of awards season, Mister Boomer is presenting the very first (and probably last) Boomies Awards, dedicated to the culture of the Boomer Generation (insert overly exuberant audience reaction here). In order to keep our non-telecast down to a tolerable minimum, we’re only announcing one award this evening: the award for Best Use of a Boomer-Era Song in a TV Commercial.

Mister Boomer has penned several posts about how today’s marketers — more often than not Millennials and Gen-Xers themselves — are choosing boomer-era music to hawk all types of products and services. Who can forget recent nominees like Yoplait Yogurt’s 2015 puzzling use of All Day and All of the Night (1964) by the Kinks, or 2021’s Corona Hard Seltzer’s employment of I Like It Like That (1967) by Pete Rodriguez. Both of these examples had the temerity to use the original recordings. We see may current examples where a cover version is inserted. Nonetheless, in almost all instances, a full commercial-length snippet of the song is rare; usually we hear a hook, memorable melody or riff that is hand-picked for commercial purposes.

So, without further ado, the nominees, currently airing on a TV near you, for Best Use of a Boomer-Era Song in a TV Commercial are:

Walmart, Patio Furniture Ad: The Clapping Song (1965), by Shirley Ellis
Mister B is not quite sure if the original is what is heard in the TV ad. He thinks the snippet used may be a cover version.

Target, The Things We Value Most Ad: Best of My Love (1977), by The Emotions
The original recording is heard.

Whole Foods, Ad: Every Beat of My Heart (1964), by The Du-ettes
This may in fact be the 1964 version that is heard.

Grey Goose, Vodka Ad: Barefootin’ (1965), by Robert Parker
Again, this may be the original, but hard to tell since it’s just a small musical passage.

Samsung, Galaxy Mobile Phone Ad: Land of 1000 Dances (1966), by Wilson Pickett
This is another ad that uses a small sample of the song. Industry records say it’s the original we hear.

Ooooh, can you feel the excitement building across the country, boomers? What a night! Have we stretched the time enough now or have you changed the channel? (A model in a glittery gold evening dress walks across the living room and hands the envelope to Mister Boomer).

And the winner is … totally up to you, boomers! Do you find the whole kit and kaboodle amusing, amazing or appalling?

Mister Boomer has experienced all three conditions (amused, amazed and appalled) when confronted with TV commercials grabbing a part of our boomer history to market to a younger generation. One thing is for certain: now that so many boomer-era songwriters and performers have sold all or part of their catalogs, we are sure to hear more of them.

How about you, boomers? Does a TV ad come to mind that moves you to hate? Or have TV commercials reignited a passion for a song you may not have heard in years?