How Rafi, Asha and other playback singers of 50s and 60s sang jingles too

The nostalgic era of a fascinating slice of music and advertising history when many of our classic playback singers lent their voice to advertisement jingles.

 |  6-minute read |   28-08-2020
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“Little Tommy Tucker sings for his supper, What shall we give him? White bread and butter”.

Many musicians who made it big in Bollywood started out as advertisement jingle artists before their talent was recognised and they were given a movie break, like AR Rahman, Shilpa Rao, Kunal Ganjawala, Kailash Kher, Shaan, Amit Trivedi, Jagjit Singh, Chitra Singh, Shantanu Moitra, Ram Sampath, Sonu Nigam, Sona Mohapatra, KK and Shankar Mahadevan. Jingles were, and are, a stepping stone for composing music or playback singing in the films. Of course, there are those who make it to Tinsel Town directly, without cutting their teeth extolling the virtues of soap or washing powder.

The playback singers of the 1950s and 60s did not have to follow that route. Jingles were unheard of in the 1950s and were few and far between in the 1960s. They were a novelty. All India Radio started commercials on Vividh Bharati only in 1967. Before that, the jingles would be full-fledged songs, and used to be recorded on 78/45 RPM discs by advertising companies and played at shops, markets, mandis, village squares, public gatherings, and marketing outreach programs. The records were usually manufactured by The Gramophone Company Limited, Dum Dum, for the advertisers.

But if The Rolling Stones could not avoid the fat wallets of the advertising world, and recorded “Snap, Crackle, Beat!” for Rice Krispies in 1964, then why should our own playback singers have been immune to the temptation?

All Indians who grew up in the 1950s and 60s remember the Murphy Radio, one of the earliest radio brands in Indian homes. And who does not remember its mascot — the Murphy Baby — a chubby toddler with her finger placed near her lips? The brand entered India around 1948 and was synonymous with the healthy and bonny baby featured in its advertisements. One of the most popular compliments given to beautiful, healthy children were calling them a “Murphy baby”. Calendars and posters with the child’s face were frequently hung in gynaecologist clinics, maternity homes and shops.

In 2012, the ‘Murphy baby’ phenomenon made a comeback and gained wide attention in the movie Barfi. The title song said it all: “Barfi jab amma ji ki kokh mein tha soya, amma ne Murphy ka radio mangaya, Murphy munna jaisa lalla amma ka tha sapna.”

Murphy was also closely associated with Hindi film music. It would organise the Metro-Murphy Singing Contest. In 1957, Mahendra Kapoor and Arati Mukherjee were the winners of the Metro-Murphy Singing Contest. And who were the judges? The crème de la crème of the music industry — Naushad, Anil Biswas, C Ramchandra, Vasant Desai and Madan Mohan. Even singer Sudha Malhotra got her breakthrough with the Murphy Radio Singing Contest. 

So, it was no surprise then that Murphy would purportedly rope in the top playback singer Mohammed Rafi to do their promotion. Murphy’s famous advertising tagline was, “Murphy ghar ghar ki rounak, Murphy ghar ghar ki shaan, Tarah tarah ke Murphy radio, la deten hain ghar mein jaan.”

Yasmin Khalid Rafi, Rafi’s daughter-in-law, in her book Mohammed Rafi: My Abba - A Memoir writes that she developed a love for film music and listened to it all day on the old Murphy radio while growing up in a small town of Madhya Pradesh.

Bata, which set up its shoe manufacturing factory in Batanagar, close to Calcutta, in 1934, had Hemant Kumar do their promotion by way of two songs in Bengali.

In 1964, Asha Bhosle sang for Himalaya Bouquet toilet and talcum powder of Hindustan Lever – “Phool Ke Samman Hai” penned by Jan Nisar Akhtar and composed by Ravi.

Earlier, in 1957, Hindustan Lever had Geeta Dutt sing for Rexona soap to music composed by Salil Choudhury and lyrics by Shailendra.

In fact, Salil wrote the lyrics and composed the music of several jingles — for Rexona soap, Lipton tea, Hamam soap, Cookme spices, Paludrine anti-malarial tablets and Dulal’s Taal Mishri (Palm Sugar).

Salil also composed an informative song for the visitors to Calcutta cautioning them about the menace of pickpockets on the buses and streets. The song "Kono ak pocketmaarer kaahini shonaai shono" was based on Salil's classic "Kono ak gaanyer bondhu" and a 78 RPM record was released.

Salil also composed a piece of 12-second piano music for HMT watches.

Mukesh promoted a cigarette in the jingle “Cigartton Mein Sabse Aala”. He also sang a jingle for Gaay Chhap Dant Manjan.

Some of these commercials followed another route too — the songs that did not mention the product advertised directly, but being based on the concerned subject with the announcer at the end mentioning the product.

Meena Mangeshkar sang for Geoffrey Manner’s Gripe Mixture. This was a full-fledged lullaby “Nindiya Ke Us Paar” which could have been any film song. In the end, the announcer announces, “Ma ki mamta ke saath lori ne janam liya, agar aisi lori ke baad bhi lalla chain se nahin sota, samajhiye usey Manner’s Gripe Mixture ki zaroorat hai.”

Similarly, Sajjad Hussain, the composer of iconic songs such as Suraiya’s "Ye kaisi ajab dastan ho gayi hai", Lata Mangeshkar's favourite "Ae dilruba" and Rafi’s "Phir tumhari yaad aayi ae sanam" composed for Geoffrey Manner’s Anacin. The lyrics for the song, “Meri Tanhaiyon Tum Hi” (sung by Brij Varni) go, “Meri tanhaiyon tum hi laga lo mujh ko seene se, ki main ghabra gaya hun, is tarah ro ro ke jeene se.” In the end it is announced, "Yeh dard bhara geet aap ki khidmat mein Anacin banane waalon ne pesh kiya. Anacin ke chaar faaidey — dard door, zukham aur bukhar gaayab, isliye ghabrahat mein kami, tabiyat mein chain.”

But it was not always about commercials. Our playback singers sang for political parties too.

They also sang for social causes. The Family Planning Association of India roped in Rafi to sing “Main Albela Hindustani” and Mubarak Begum for “Chand Ki Nagariya Se” to promote family planning.

These advertising discs are a collector’s item — very few and highly priced. They need not be sung by well-known playback singers. They are available with old disc collectors, on rare discs sites, on eBay — available for a song. For example, a typical site hawking the disc of “Surf – Jagmag Safed Aur Alishan.”

Even the British Library lists some of these recordings. One such example is “Kaisi Aisi Reet” of Kafi Aspirin made by Bayer. The recording has been shown during the period 1935-55.

The era of such a fascinating slice of music and advertising history, where discs were used, and many of our classic playback singers lent their voice, is of course over now. But nostalgia has no end date!

Also Read: How back-to-back songs in Hindi films told a story by themselves


Ajay Mankotia Ajay Mankotia @ajaymankotia

The writer is an author, former revenue official, former NDTV executive and a music aficionado.

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