The jingles of Art Ehrens 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 plays in the Top 40 of your head.

Ourisman Dodge. You can depend on Ourisman Dodge. Great name, great cars.

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

Art wrote jingles, those brief snatches of song designed to plant an earworm and create a customer. He died in his Bethesda home April 16 at age 76. Among his survivors are his wife, Jayneand children, Jon and Emily.

Jon posted a collection of jingles from his father’s 40-year stint in the advertising world on the music site Bandcamp: The dozens of jingles represent the marketplace in music: 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, himself a musician in Vermont.

Jon remembers riding in the car with his father, who would point out the ads he had created on the radio.

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

Local jingles are like folk songs, unique to a certain area and familiar to the people from there. Art worked on national campaigns, too, but his bread and butter was in this area.

Sometimes, literally. He took the Newbeats’ 1964 hit “Bread and Butter” and rewrote the lyrics for the Sunbeam bakery: “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 falsetto that follows: “I don’t want no pumpernickel, I don’t want no fancy rye. I want delicious Sunbeam bread. It’s the one I buy.”

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

“I think a lot of it just came off the top of the head,” said Jon. “I’m still trying to dissect his process. He always liked these clever turns of phrase. He would come up with a slogan, or a company would come to him and say we want this slogan. A melody would come naturally.”

In 2016, Art told author Mike Shaw that jingle writing came easily. Said Art: “I always thought of them as adult nursery rhymes — keep them simple, memorable, and if it sticks in people’s heads, they’ll buy the product. You do have to be somewhat of a musical chameleon.”

Art was the ultimate chameleon. His Jiffy Lube ad sounds like Randy Newman. There’s a bit of the Manhattan Transfer in his jingle for Joanne’s Bed and Back: “I want to play with my children and make nice with my wife. Hit the back nine with my buddies. I don’t hold back on life … At Joanne’s Bed and Back, it’s a fact: Oooh, don’t let a bad back hold you back!”

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

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

To craft a jingle for Erol’s, the Internet service provider, Art brought in Todd Wright, a musician in Hamilton, Va. The result was a driving, new-wavish ditty that went “The world is finding Erol’s, the fastest way for finding the world. Get online!”

Said Todd: “I’d been a fully employed musician my whole life. This was the first time I made a considerable chunk of money. Art paid me many thousands of dollars in the mid-’90s. It was like winning the lottery.”

From time to time, Art would call Todd and sing a line or two into his voice mail, hoping Todd could work out the appropriate chords.

I asked Todd the secret to a good jingle.

“Here’s what’s funny. 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 was ever any good at it. Erol’s was the best I did. Everything else was Art sending me a voice memo. Art wrote the hook. All I had to do was find the chords to go underneath it.

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

But the results live on in anyone who rode around here in their car in the ’80s or ’90s with the radio on.

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