Recent research has determined that there’s a separate part of our brains that stores musical “memories.” And that part of the brain, for reasons unknown, tends to remain intact in patients suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s while other memories are slowly erased.
Perhaps sound effects are stored in that same part of the brain. That would explain why, all these years later, every time I hear a “doot doot”-type sound I immediately start mentally singing the Beneficial Finance jingle. See how many of these sounds/songs automatically trigger similar memories.
1. Department store call chimes
Many “higher-end” (for the time) department stores, such as Macy’s, Sears, etc.) used a series of chimes over the P.A. system to alert staff. X amount of tones was a call for security, Y summoned a manager to Infant Wear and so on. It was considered more subtle and less upsetting to customers to use the chimes as opposed to the “We need a clean-up on Aisle 7”-type announcements one would hear at K-Mart or Woolworth.
To this day, whenever I hear a sound similar to that “bink-bink” store chime, I smell fresh-baked cookies….most likely because whenever my parents took me to our local Sears store the entrance we used was right by the bakery.
2. Ding-dong: Avon calling
Household doorbells have a variety of sounds today, but at one time the two descending “ding-dong” tones were pretty much standard. And the Avon Company took advantage of this in a long-running advertising campaign back in the days when “Avon Ladies” went door-to-door selling their products.
“Avon calling” after a doorbell chime was such a part of popular culture that it became a standard joke on TV sitcoms in the 1950s and 60s (“Are you expecting company?” “No…Maybe it’s the Avon Lady…”).
3. NBC in Living Color
How many of us recognize this musical flourish and know that it meant the following TV program was in “living” color (for those fortunate folks who had color TVs at the time)?
4. “Funeral March of a Marionette”
French composer Charles Gounod wrote a short piece in 1872 that he entitled “Funeral March for a Marionette.” Almost 150 years later, many listeners could not hear the piece without mentally adding a breathy “Good Even-ing” at the end, since this was the tune that famed director Alfred Hitchcock used as the theme song to his anthology TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
5. King Features logo intro
For many of us, the King Features tune was a signal to hurry up and get your bowl of cereal ready. Then you could settle down in front of the TV on Saturday and Sunday mornings to watch such cartoons as The Beatles animated series, Cool McCool, or even the old Blondie movies starring Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake.
6. WGBH logo intro
If you grew up in the 1960s and 70s, you may remember WGBH Boston’s electronic logo station ID that played before such PBS favorites as Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Zoom!. By the mid-2000s, the original Gershon Kingsley theme had been shortened from 10 seconds to three, and remixed to give it a more “techno” feel.
7. Emergency Broadcast System test
From 1963 until 1997, it was very common to hear this tone at random times while you were watching TV. The announcer would advise that it was “only a test,” but would also further admonish that had this been an “actual emergency,” you would be advised to tune into a prescribed radio station in order to hear an announcement from the President of the United States. (My dad had an old Zenith tube radio that had a CD [Civil Defense] triangle logo on the AM dial.)
The EBS was replaced with the Emergency Alert Service (used today for severe weather conditions rather than nuclear attacks), which usually tests its signal during the wee hours of the morning.
8. Bee-doop top-of-the-hour tone
While cruising along in rush-hour traffic, before satellite stations were available (heck, even cassette tape players were an expensive add-on option at the time), you were most likely listening to the factory-installed radio. Did you ever notice the little beep noise that was played right before the news broadcast at the top of the hour?
That two-frequency tone is called a “bee-doop.” It is a signal sent out from the network to its affiliate stations. The affiliates have encoding equipment that translates the bee-doop: is it a live sports feed about to be sent? Or a national news broadcast interrupting local programming? Station personnel then take the appropriate action.
The primary purpose of the bee-doop is to signal automated radio stations. The bee-doop signals the encoding box to switch from local to network programming and activates a tape to record the feed for rebroadcast.
The bee-doop is slowly going the way of the rotary dial phone. In recent years, many stations have decided that the cueing tones distract from their programming and have the volume on them reduced. The ABC Radio network, for example, has switched to a “softer” signaling format, and their tones are fed over a separate channel that is not mixed with the program audio.
9. Theme from ‘The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly’
The opening bars of the theme to this 1966 spaghetti Western movie seem to be used in any TV show or film that is establishing a sudden “Western” theme. When we hear these notes played on a recorder, we automatically think of a cowboy emerging from a saloon, or a person searching for water while stranded in the desert.
10. “Entry of the Gladiators”
The traditional Big Top circus is more or less defunct in the U.S. due to a variety of reasons — PETA protests against the use of animals, the influx of more modern acrobatic displays such as Cirque du Soleil, and that whole scary clown factor. But once upon a time the military march “Entry of the Gladiators” by Czech composer Julius Fučík immediately made us think of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey and plumed horses and trapeze artists and tightrope walkers…
11. ‘Dragnet’ theme
How many younger folks have vocally made the “Dum-de-DUM-dum” sound to indicate that a friend was in trouble, or in danger of being caught in some nefarious scheme? They probably don’t know that those four notes (which have often been described as the second-most recognized four-note introduction after those of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony). And they likewise would not automatically think “The story you are about to hear is true…” after intoning those notes.
12. ‘Twilight Zone’ theme
In the same vein, it’s become something of a TV and film cliché to have a character vocalize the “dee-dee-dee-dee” theme from the original Twilight Zone TV series. They might remember that those tones were part of some old show called The Twilight Zone, but do their brains immediately hear Rod Serling telling us that we are entering a dimension of sound…of sight…of mind…?
13. CBS Special Presentation
Anyone who grew up waiting for the annual broadcast of The Wizard of Oz or A Charlie Brown Christmas (among others) will remember this spinning logo with the drum-heavy accompaniment that was the prelude to an evening of something other than the boring adult shows our parents watched. Did you know that that brief musical interlude was sampled from the original extended version of the Hawaii-Five-0 TV theme?
14. 120 Music Masterpieces
OK, while we’re in the “…but did you know…?” vein, we can’t help but mention this age-old TV commercial, which featured British actor John Williams, better known to American audiences as the “second” Mr. French on TV’s Family Affair. Since the commercial ran for almost 30 years, most of us would, indeed, recognize the “lovely melody of ‘Stranger in Paradise’” (even if at the time we wouldn’t have known the difference between “Stranger in Paradise” and “Chopsticks”) as taken from the Polovtsian Dance #2 by Borodin.
15. NBC “G-E-C” tones
Music scholars have long recognized that the three notes that were long used to identify the NBC radio (and later television) network were G-E-C on the piano keyboard. An oft-reported piece of trivia is that the G-E-C tones were chosen in honor of the General Electric Company, but the signature chimes were actually in use years before General Electric became a major shareholder of the network.