Art Ehrens’ jingles helped sell everything from sub sandwiches to oil changes

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Art Ehrens never had a song on the Billboard charts. But if you grew up in Washington, the music he wrote is in the Top 40 in your head.

Ourisman Dodge. You can rely on Ourisman Dodge. Big name, big cars.

We’re good for your car so your car will be good for you… Jiffy Lube.

Art wrote jingles, those brief snippets of songs meant to plant an earworm and create a customer. He died at his Bethesda home on April 16 at the age of 76. Among his survivors are his wife, Jayneand the children, Jon and Emily.

Jon has published a collection of jingles from his father’s 40 years in the advertising world on the Bandcamp music site: artehrens.bandcamp.com. The dozens of jingles represent the music market: Erol’s, Giant, Marlo, Tysons Ford, Thompson Creek Window Company, Next Day Blinds, Joanne’s Bed and Back, Spa Lady….

“To me, these are all hits,” said Jon, a Vermont musician himself.

Jon remembers getting in the car with his father, who was showing him the ads he had created on the radio.

“I think I rolled my eyes for years at what my dad did, until I realized how [darn] cool it was,” Jon said. “It’s such a weird, interesting and cool way to leave a legacy.”

Local jingles are like folk songs, unique to a certain region and familiar to people there. The art also worked on national campaigns, but its bread and butter was in this.

Sometimes literally. He covered the Newbeats’ 1964 hit “Bread and Butter” and rewrote the Sunbeam Bakery lyrics: “I like bread and butter. I like toast and jam. I like the taste of Sunbeam bread, it’s my favorite brand. One of the few times Art’s voice appears on tape is the following falsetto: “I don’t want pumpernickel, I don’t want fancy rye.” I want delicious Sunbeam bread. This is the one I buy.

Art grew up in Miami, learned guitar and played in a band. He wasn’t the most skilled musician, Jon said, but he had a knack for creating musical snippets that encapsulated a company, product or service.

“I think a lot of things come from the top of the head,” Jon said. “I always try to dissect his process. He always liked these skillful turns of phrase. He would come up with a slogan, or a company would come to him and tell him we want that slogan. A melody would come naturally.

In 2016, Art told the author Mike Shaw this jingle writing came easily. Says Art: “I’ve always thought of them as nursery rhymes – keep them simple, memorable, and if it sticks in people’s minds, they’ll buy the product.” You have to be a bit of a musical chameleon.

Art was the ultimate chameleon. His Jiffy Lube ad looks like Randy Newman. There’s a bit of Manhattan Transfer in his jingle for Joanne’s Bed and Back: “I want to play with my kids and be nice to my wife. Hit the back nine with my buddies. I can’t hold back from living… At Joanne’s Bed and Back, it’s a fact: Oooh, don’t let a sore back hold you back!

Art’s advertising agencies included Words & Company, Ehrens Motion and Music, and EMM Creative.

“He got a lot of help from the people he worked with,” Jon said. Collaborators helped organize the jingles. Professional musicians joined Art in the studio to record them. (Before she became a country superstar, Marie Chapin Charpentier sang on one of Art’s jingles for WRC-TV.)

To create a jingle for Erol’s, the internet service provider, Art enlisted Todd Wright, a musician in Hamilton, Virginia. The result was a catchy, new song that read “The world finds Erol’s, the fastest way to find the world.” To log in!”

Todd said, “I’ve been a full-time musician all my life. It was the first time that I won a considerable sum. Art paid me several thousand dollars in the mid-90s. It was like winning the lottery.

Occasionally, Art would call Todd and sing a line or two into his voicemail, hoping that Todd could find the appropriate chords.

I asked Todd the secret to a good jingle.

“Here’s the funny thing. I consider myself a pretty good songwriter,” he said. “With jingles, I never cracked the code. To this day, I don’t know if I’ve ever been good at it. Erol was the best I’ve done. Everything else was Art sending me a voice memo. Art wrote the hook. All I had to do was find the chords to go under.

“That talent kind of dies with him,” he said.

But the results endure with anyone who drove here in their car in the 80s or 90s with the radio on.

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