Etta James: Advertising Zombie

It has been 10 years since the passing of the other Queen of Soul – the great Etta James. Thanks to the big wide world of commercials, every year we are treated to a different song from her catalogue permeating our consciousness. Case in point: Google’s current ad campaign featuring her 1967 recording of “Security.”

This trend started in the 1990’s when these commercial placements would spur renewed interest in Etta’s work. She was still active at the time and able to capitalize on this with new records and more live shows and television appearances. The selling power of her recordings has only increased in the decade since she left the building, which is why I have dubbed her an “advertising zombie”. She may be gone, but her recordings are still working overtime on Madison Avenue.

Etta’s fiery voice had been used to sell products dating back to the 1960’s, as evidenced by this 1968 radio commercial for Blizzard Ice Tea:

Here’s the thing: Like most people, I don’t actually watch commercials. I usually have my face in my phone or computer. But I hear them. I have been singing the jingle “Nothing is everything… whoa uh oh whoa oh!” for several years now. I have no idea what they are selling. I assume it’s an antibacterial of some sort.

This is why I appreciate the used of Etta’s catalogue. When I am treated to a 30 second blast of that legendary voice during a commercial break, my ears perk up, even if my eyes do not.

Here are ten Etta James recordings that are most often and/or effectively used in commercials:

1) At Last – The jewel in the crown. When Joni Mitchell covered this song on her 2000 Both Sides Now LP, she said “I first heard this song on a tampon commercial and then again in a Jaguar ad. Funny way to find a masterpiece.” Etta’s omnipresent 1960 recording has been utilized in all manner of advertisement through the years, including Jaguar (1995), Applebees, Hoover, State Farm (2014), Cadillac (2018), and this ad for Guinness:

1996 UK 45 picture sleeve

2) I Just Want To Make Love To You (aka The Diet Coke song) – This one was an integral part of a classic 1996 ad campaign that became something of a cultural touchstone and launched the brief career of Lucky Vanous. Etta’s 1960 recording of the Willie Dixon tune was originally the B-side of her “At Last” single. Due to the popularity of this commercial, the song was re-released as a single, garnering Etta her first top 5 pop hit in the UK.

3) Sunday Kind Of Love – This standard dates back to the 1940’s with a version by co-songwriter Louis Prima and his Orchestra. Etta’s take was recorded for her 1960 At Last LP. It has been used in films (The Other Woman), television (9-1-1), a 2006 Dockers ad campaign and a 2015 commercial for the NFL Network, just to name a few.

4) Tell Mama – The title track of Etta’s classic 1967 LP was also her biggest chart hit in the U.S. Unfortunately, Etta was not a fan of the song. She wrote in her 2003 memoir Rage To Survive:

I have to confess that it was never a favorite of mine. Never liked it. Never liked singing it – not then, not now. I almost never perform it. It’s not that I don’t admire the chart and the songwriter. Clarence Carter is great. Maybe it’s just that I didn’t like being cast in the role of the Great Earth Mother, the gal you come to for comfort and easy sex.

T-Mobile took the title more literally with a series of 2020 commercials featuring actor Kevin Anderson and his mama.


5) I’d Rather Go Blind – The b-side to “Tell Mama” was an original Etta James composition and one of her favorites. A staple of her live act, Etta re-recorded the song several times throughout her career. The original 1967 version has been featured in films (Suicide Squad), television (Ozark, Pretty Little Liars) and a 2012 Kraft Dressing commercial, among others.


6) Good Rockin’ Daddy – Etta was just 17 years old when she recorded this Richard Berry tune in 1955. It was her third single release. This is the only song on the list that is not from her 15 year tenure at Chess/Argo/Cadet records. The song was used in the television show Lovecraft Country and in this 2013 HSBC commercial:

7) Something’s Got A Hold On Me / Good Feeling / Levels – This cash cow came from out of left field. Etta’s 1962 recording was sampled in two monster hit records of 2011: Avicii’s Levels and Good Feeling by Flo Rida. As a co-writer of the original song, she now has songwriting credits on all three. They were each used in multiple commercials for Citi Mobile, LG G6, various cars, a cruise line, you name it.




8) Trust In Me – This standard was originally associated with Mildred Bailey in the 1930s. Etta’s cover is from her 1960 At Last LP and has been used in multiple television shows (Betrayal, Mad Men, Memphis Beat). Commercially, it was used by Simplisafe in 2018 as well as Samsung the following year.

9) I Got You Babe – This non-lp 1968 single – a cover of the Sonny & Cher hit – was used for Wal-Mart’s series of Christmas commercials in 2021. An overlooked gem in Etta’s discography.

10) Security – This season’s Etta song is part of Google’s current ad campaign focusing on … uh… security. Recorded in 1967, this was the first of many Otis Redding-penned tunes that Etta would cover throughout her career. The pair were mutually fond of each other and had agreed to record an album together before he was tragically killed in a plane crash that same year.

The track was featured on Etta’s Tell Mama LP and was the follow up single to the title song. Click here for the Google commercial.


Honorable mentions:

Fire – While Aretha was wailing for “Freedom,” Etta growled about “Fire“. Another song from the pen of Willie Dixon (see #2), Etta’s incendiary take was the b-side of a 1968 single. I remember this being used to sell hot wings a few years ago, but I can’t recall the restaurant. It has also been placed in films (Rush Hour) and television shows (Mrs. America, Hacks).

Seven Day Fool – This 1961 single from her Second Time Around LP has been used in several commercials, although I cannot recall the products.

Watch Dog – Another track from Etta’s classic 1967 Tell Mama LP.  Again, I know it has been used in commercials but can’t recall what product. Security systems? Dog food? If readers would like to enlighten me, I will update.

You Can Leave Your Hat On – Etta’s funky 1973 rendition of this Randy Newman tune was used in the film Sex Tape and is a strip club staple.  In terms of selling power, it has been instrumental in getting many dollar bills stuffed into g-strings. That counts for something, right? Yay commerce!


Christmas At St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School pt. II

Dear Readers,

It’s that time again… due to popular demand, it’s our fourth installment of WWII-era photos featuring the jockstrap-clad pre-flight training school cadets at St. Mary’s College in California. You can view the first one here. Part II was from last Christmas. Part III was the boys of summer. And now here we are with another look at these strapping young men – many away from home for the first time – photographed as they trained to go to war during the holidays.

I first became aware of these black and white 5″x7″ triptych photos through posts on the Vintage Workingmen Beefcake Facebook group. Listings also turn up on auction sites, where the photos are often accompanied by the index card used to record the physical training progress of the cadet.

The earliest photos (from June 13, 1942) feature the men completely nude, but all subsequent photos feature the cadets in jockstraps, standing behind some sort of grid fencing to better detect posture misalignment and spinal curvature.

There is still some confusion between these photos and the Yale / Ivy League posture pics, since the Navy photos were sometimes used to illustrate stories about the Yale pics. Note that all of these images contain a visible U.S. Navy / St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School placard, even if they have been cropped out in some posts. Similarly the Yale University photos are identified as such within the frame of the photos:

Fortunately for us, multiple photos of some cadets have surfaced, allowing for comparisons of their training progress:

Before / After 7 weeks of training, Sept. – Nov. 1942

And while there is a lack of ethnic diversity, there are a variety of body types.

Before / After a month of training: 12/8/43-1/12/44

My collection now includes close to 600 jpegs of different cadets. While some of these men did perish during WWII, the largest majority that I have researched lived to ripe old ages.

Any surviving cadets would now be close to 100 years old. I recently discovered one who passed away a few months ago at the age of 103.

One thing these young men have in common, as they were documented in timeless photos of their physical prime: they were far from home during the holidays, training to fight for their country.

At this time of year, nearly 80 years later, we again salute The Greatest Generation for their fine forms and dedication.

See more here:

Men of St.Mary’s Pre-Flight School

Boys of Summer: St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School

Christmas At St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School, Pt. I

80 Years Ago: The Men Of St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School

Alexis Arquette’s Lost Porn Flick

Hard to believe that it has been 5 years since the dynamic actor/actress, performer, reality television star Alexis Arquette passed away. The youngest member of the Arquette clan was just 47 years old.

Fun fact: 12 year old Alexis was featured in The Tubes’ music video for She’s A Beauty.

Days after Arquette’s demise, the streaming site XHamster released a statement where they pat themselves on the back for executing a “catch and kill”: allegedly paying $25k to acquire and destroy a sex video peddled by one of Arquette’s ex-paramours. In a blog post about it, KennethInThe212 points out that: a) it seemed like XHamster was pulling a publicity stunt, b) if they were protecting Arquette, why mention a video that nobody previously knew about, and c) how could a sex tape embarrass the free-spirited Arquette, a person who gave zero fucks about other people’s sexual hangups?

When I read about this alleged sex tape, I was reminded of something I had not thought about in years: Piccadilly Pickups, the 1999 hardcore gay porn flick that Arquette appeared in, and that I had seen it at a screening in New York City with Arquette in attendance.

I read an article in the November 5, 1999 issue of The New York Blade about the MIX Film Festival, which featured experimental works. Arquette was hosting a part of the festival called “The Honcho Midnight Blue Movie Series,” which featured midnight screenings of Andy Warhol’s Couch along with other titillating avant-garde fare. Next to this article was a second one detailing Arquette’s recent foray into gay porn, as the resulting film, Piccadilly Pickups would also be shown.

In 1999, Arquette was still publicly identifying as a bisexual male. He was an indie film darling – a member of Hollywood royalty who dared to push the envelope with unconventional film roles and an outspoken personality.

I was intrigued… so I went to the screening at midnight on Saturday, November 13, 1999. Surprisingly, it was, as advertised, a full-on hardcore gay porno. Unfortunately, it was not a very good one. It wasn’t particularly erotic and the attempts at campy humor fell flat. There was also an extended sequence with a character in blackface. Arquette appears in and out of drag as Henri de la Plus Oooh Aaargh, a wealthy American who wants to exploit the hero of the story. The climax of the film is a group sex scene with Arquette joining in.

Hard to stay gender neutral here, but at one point in the group scene Arquette bends down and sucks their own dick. In the audience at the screening, there is applause. Arquette, in drag, goes on to fuck one of the twinks before producing a climactic money shot which also garnered an enthusiastic audience reaction. And that’s about all I remember about this forgettable film.

A few times throughout the screening Arquette, in the audience, drew laughter with comments about the action onscreen, but I was not sitting close enough to hear this real life version of MST3K.

After the screening Alexis got up, took a modest bow and said a few words, leading off with “I know it’s not exactly Citizen Kane.. but thank you for coming.”

And then the film vanished. Although there is an IMDB listing, I was unable to find any reference to the film online for many years, which is odd, because even the vaguest whiff of a mainstream actor appearing in anything close to porn is recycled and re-discovered across the internet repeatedly. (see Stephen Geoffreys, Simon Rex or even Sylvester Stallone, just to name a few.)

Recently a cut of the film popped up on gay torrent and streaming sites. This watered down version appears to have come from a UK DVD release, which is edited like cable porn: Still an X but not XXX. The autofellatio, penetration and money shots are gone, so why bother, really?

Arquette was a favorite subject of Hollywood photographer Greg Gorman, including some nudes featured in his 2004 book As I See It.

Arquette would go on to become a vocal activist and visible leader in the transgender community. The diversity and complexities of this fearless artist should be remembered and celebrated, even if Piccadilly Pickups is not.  

The Yale Posture Photos: James Franciscus

The fabled Ivy League nude posture photos have been written about but seldom seen. Incoming college students were photographed fully nude to gauge posture, detect scoliosis, and address other correctable body issues… all while emotionally scarring the participants. Talk show host Dick Cavett joked about it in his early stand-up routines but had a much darker view of the experience 50 years later in a New York Times Op Ed piece.

In recent years, the Yale photos have garnered the most press, with tongues wagging at the possibilities of seeing our country’s best and brightest in the buff. The photos in question were so rare that most online articles on the subject did not actually feature any of them, opting to show similar medical textbook illustrations or military posture pics such as the WWII-era St. Mary’s College Navy Pre-Flight School photos, which I have written about here and here.

In the past year, choice examples of the photos featuring male freshman Yalies from 1937-1960 have begun to trickle out on eBay. It was only a matter of time before some familiar names began to pop up. Writer Calvin Trillin‘s photo went for a little over $100, while the pic of late actor James Franciscus pulled in a whopping $1,225.

Younger readers might not remember Franciscus – the dashing star of half a dozen television series and over 30 films. There is a fan site that dubs him The Patron Saint Of Cool. He was not afraid to show some skin over the course of his career, particularly in Beneath The Planet Of The Apes (1970).

In her memoir and in a recent segment on The Tonight Show, Jane Fonda remembers him as her first love…and the best kiss she ever had.

james+franciscusjane+fonda

They met while working together in summer stock when she was 18 and he was 20.

“He walked me out to the end of a pier and he kissed me,” she recalled. “The stars began to whirl and the pier began to shake, and my knees gave way and I slid down to a pile at his feet…. I’ve never had a kiss like that ever since.”

As for his Yale photo, which was taken the year before…. unfortunately, we don’t get to see the full Franciscus. The image posted for the public auction has a strip of paper blocking the view. For just $1,225, the high bidder is now enjoying the unedited 8″x10″ all by themselves.

See also:
Men of St.Mary’s Pre-Flight School
Boys of Summer: St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School
Christmas At St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School, Pt. I
Christmas At St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School, Pt. II
80 Years Ago: The Men of St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School

If You Meet Me In The Bathroom, Be Sure To Shake My Hand

For 10 years (1997-2007) I produced and hosted a late night public access program on the air here in New York City called Bri-Guy’s Media Surf.

1998 Media Surf flyer

This 1998 flyer features the stop-action roiling sea of celebrities used in the opening credits to the show. Amongst the beefcake models and my first grade class photo, we also have: Bette Midler (3x), Goldie Hawn (2x), Diane Keaton (First Wives Club), Erasure (2x), Dusty Springfield, James Dean, Madonna, Lisa Loeb, Mark Wahlberg, Rupaul, Paula Cole, Keith Haring, Greg Louganis, Michael Stipe, kd lang, Julia Fordham and James Dean.

The quote at the bottom is a nod to legendary NYC late night hostess Robin Byrd.

 

One of my faithful viewers (Tammy) Remington Write recently reached out about doing an interview and has written a wonderful piece for Medium. Thank you so much for remembering, Tammy!

mediumIn the article she recounts when we first met on the street back in 2005. Viewers did not approach me often enough that I ever got used to it. I was always thrilled to be reminded that this thing I was creating alone in my apartment was being broadcast and people were watching.

I was going to just post the link to the Medium article here and leave it at that, but while looking for something unrelated on a backup computer disc, I came across this piece I wrote in 2006 for a MySpace blog that I had completely forgotten about:

Every once in a while I’ll hear from a viewer of my NYC public access program, Bri-Guy’s Media Surf. It’s still running, mostly in repeats, on MNN in Manhattan.

me2
Media Surf promo shot (1997)

I got an IM yesterday from a viewer that I have conversed with from time to time over the years. He’s a nice guy – perhaps a little off, but aren’t we all in one way or another? He still hasn’t gotten over the fact that sapphic little Dana Owens who worked in his record store in the late 80’s morphed into Queen Latifah. He brings it up in every conversation. That, and his obsession with Sylvia Miles. I’m not kidding. He scared her and now she won’t talk to him.

He lives in New Jersey but a friend would tape my show and pass him VHS copies. That ended at some point a few years ago and I wasn’t sure if he was still watching it. I don’t hear from him for long stretches of time and then he will suddenly IM me out of the blue.

This was today’s exchange in its entirety:

(curtain up)

Him:  I used to trick with a fuckbuddy in Harlem so I could see your show
Me:  You what?
Him:  I would time it just right
Me:  How funny.
Him: Sex after your show – I am not kidding
Me: That’s so sweet!

(curtain down)

Now… who could ask for a better compliment than that?

2003 Briguy FIXED copy
Media Surf promo shot (2003)

 

This is actually the second person to extol this type of adulation. Last summer a guy came running up to me on the street to let me know how much he loved Media Surf, and that he had a regular Friday night tryst with his “one night a week boyfriend.” This had gone on for years: they would get together to watch the show and then have sex. Or vice versa. In their case, I’m not sure if the show was an appetizer or dessert. The point is, it was on the menu.

This is my fan base, if you will. For a while, it seemed like viewers who recognized me would only come up and talk to me when I was trying to pee in public. Apparently I am most approachable in public bathrooms. Not that I make a habit of hanging out there. Shut up.

Once after I disembarked from a flight at La Guardia Airport, I entered the restroom with some urgency and a member of the janitorial staff greeted me with a hearty “Hey Bri-Guy!”

surf pic 01a HI_RES copy
On the set: Media Surf (2005)

It wasn’t a terrible welcome back to New York City – the one place where I have just a smidge of recognition.

A guy reached over the toilet stall to shake my hand as I stood at the urinal one drunken evening in Dick’s Bar. I guess I’m less intimidating with my fly open. Or more vulnerable, at the very least.

In the realm of things, hearing that someone would choose their rendezvous to accommodate Media Surf’s broadcast schedule is high praise, considering that after 9 years on the air, I rarely bother to stay up late enough to watch it myself.

It means enough to these people to approach me and let me know that they like the show that I put together. To be a part of their philanderings – in some tangential way, without ever taking my clothes off or having to shower afterwards – is kinda cool.

Isn’t it?

Or am I just reeeally starved for attention?

Some Thanksgiving Treats For You

Happy Thanksgiving! I have arrived at your holiday feast bearing a cornucopia of tasty Turkey day treats, both bitter and sweet. Enjoy!

When it comes to holiday music, unfortunately Thanksgiving is lost in the long shadow of Christmas. There’s a severe lack of Thanksgiving songs, aren’t there? All we’ve got is Let’s Turkey Trot by Little Eva, and even then it is not really about Thanksgiving at all. The song’s title refers to the Turkey Trot, a dance step popular back in the early 1900’s.

Dimension DollsLet’s Turkey Trot was Eva Boyd’s third single, released in 1963 with the hopes of recapturing the #1 success of her debut platter, The Loco-Motion. Let’s Turkey Trot gave Little Eva a respectable showing on the charts, peaking at #20, although it should have been billed as Little Eva & The Cookies, as the backing group is as much a part of the success of the record as the lead. Group member Earl-Jean McCrea delivers solo lines echoing their own hits Chains & Don’t Say Nothing Bad About My Baby, which also featured Little Eva on background vocals.

Here’s an abbreviated performance by Little Eva on Shindig in 1965. Darlene Love and the Blossoms stand in for the Cookies in what must be one of the proudest moments of their career. Gobble Diddle Dip!

The Dollyrots also covered this track in 2014. Besides using footage of Little Eva’s Shindig performance throughout the video, they also namecheck “Little Eva back in ’63”:

Want some Mashed Potatoes with your Turkey Trot? Here’s Dee Dee Sharp with her own ode to a Thanksgiving staple / dance move:

During the Thanksgiving episode of SNL in 1997, Lilith Fair stand-up comic Cinder Calhoun (a recurring character played by Ana Gasteyer) & singer Sara McLachlan paid a visit to Norm MacDonald and the Weekend Update desk, singing the Thanksgiving classic Basted In Blood. It would not be nearly as funny if they didn’t sing it so well.

https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/weekend-update-segment—cinder-and-sarah/n12937

On the darker side… one of the faux trailers from Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse is the hilariously spot-on Thanksgiving, directed by Eli Roth. It is entirely plausible that someone would have jumped on the bandwagon of grade-z holiday themed horror films that followed the success of Halloween. But this one is a fake. As of now. Who knows…. maybe Roth will film it one day.

Happy Thanksgiving!

giphy

Welcome

Sometimes I write essays. And sometimes I get up onstage and read them in public places… sometimes with tens of people watching. And then there are tens of other people who wish that they could have come to see, but just couldn’t make it, and would love to read what I wrote. And then sometimes I make them copies or email the essays. And sometimes someone will ask if I have a blog. And when I say that I don’t, they are sometimes surprised and tell me that I should start one. So here it is.