On S-O Simon and related things

Music has its mondegreens, something I wrote about here and here. Now radio jingles may not be universally accepted as music, and for good reason. Nevertheless, they too can be misheard, misunderstood, mangled.

We never had a television set at home. I left India in 1980, around the time that TV was beginning to enter the household; my formative years were therefore spent listening to the radio, and to the gramophone.

Until about 1970, the only radios I’d seen and heard were valve radios. Main-operated, unlike the portable “transistor” radios that were just beginning to make an impact.

So the first sensation I associate with radio is the ceiling fan, signalling the presence of mains electricity, something that I could not take for granted as a child. “Load-shedding” was rampant.

If we had power, then we could switch these things on, and bring about the second sensation of radio: the orange-red filaments of the valves. That was soon followed by sensation number three, that of smell. It was a wonderful aroma, the heating up of the valves.

We were usually incredibly eager to switch the radio on, usually for something like Musical Band Box (on Sundays) or Lunchtime Variety (on all other days). Sometimes the station was just coming on stream then, so the first thing we would hear was the All India Radio Signature tune.

Seems like such a long time ago. But I digress.

Jingle Mondegreens. They do exist.

For example, every child in our family grew up believing that “S-O Simon means happy motoring”, and we would sing it at the top of our voice. We never cared what it meant. Standard Oil, on the other hand, were trying to tell us this.


That was fifty years ago, and I have no difficulty figuring out why we thought the song went S-O Simon. Easily done.

Some ad or the other appeared to use the old Scouting song “It isn’t any trouble just to S-M-I-L-E”. How that became S-L-Om-Buddy I have no idea. But it did.

Sometimes the jingles had other unintended consequences. For example, throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s Beiersdorf used to advertise in Indian cinema with a clip that started “Winter’s here”; it then went on to show you the ravages that your skin would face in the cold, and how all that could be avoided “thanks to Nivea creme”. Most of us just cut the middle bits out, and every time it felt cold, we would say “Winter’s here….. thanks to Nivea Creme”.

Did you have radio jingle mondegreens in your childhood? What were they?

6 thoughts on “On S-O Simon and related things”

  1. Reading this I thought of two things that I wanted to share. How about Michael Stipes lyrics? Not quite radio jingles but for a while in the very beginning we all had to guess the lyrics.

    Second, with signal processing you can actually recreate the audio distortions produced by old(er) radios. I knew a company that for their modern EEG systems would reproduce the sound of the chart recorder because the operators were so use to it and couldn’t operate the modern, pc-based, systems thought that sound.

  2. Wow that brings back some memories. Growing up in Luxembourg our radio was a Grundig but it looked just like your Philips pic. One of my first memories was watching that green tube fill while the set warmed up – the smell was something I had forgotten but it was certainly there. Thanks for invoking that wonderful memory!

  3. okay okay – the link is in my profile, not the message! i like being cryptic sometimes. i have remembered a mondegreen: from the song “i’d really love to see you tonight” by England Dan and John Ford Coley, i heard “i’m not talking about my linen” instead of “i’m not talking about moving in”. either way, i really like the song.

  4. re: “first sensation I associate with radio is the ceiling fan”

    For me it’s atmospheric static. Or, rather, the crackle that attends AM signals from a distant station.
    Growing up we spent the entire summer school break at our lake-side cabin. (Not luxurious enough to be called a cottage!) And on the kitchen table was a bronze coloured, battery powered radio c/w directional bar antenna on a swivel. For me, as a little boy, this was a telescope into our world. And the sizzling crackle, the manifestation of unseen miles.
    Glorious phenomenal world! (I used that phrase so often that my teacher gave me the name Chö.pal!)


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