No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In)

Saxophonist Dave Pell spent the better part of two decades performing with orchestras including Tony Pastor's and Bob Crosby's bands in the 1940s and afterwards with Les Brown for several years as well as his own Dave Pell Octet, one of the more reliable jazz combos of the '50s. In the early '60s he took a job at Liberty Records in Los Angeles, producing a variety of artists in the pop and rock music fields. Working with arranger Perry Botkin, Jr., he created an instrumental concept act, The T-Bones...a band that didn't formally exist. Hopping on 1963's surf-and-drag bandwagon, Dave and Perry were the team behind Boss Drag, an album featuring the best of L.A.'s session musicians, many straight off Phil Spector's extravagant productions of that same year; pianist Leon Russell, saxophonist Plas Johnson, guitarist Glen Campbell and drummer Hal Blaine were among the crack players uncredited on the single "Rail Vette" backed with "Draggin'" (which uses a 'Yippie-yi-yo-ki-yay' riff from Bing Crosby's '36 hit "I'm an Old Cowhand"). Nicely done but not particularly original, sales of these T-Bones discs were disappointing.

The follow-up, Boss Drag at the Beach, hit dry land in mid-'64 and it became obvious (to the few who noticed) that this T-Bones band whose pictures weren't on the covers (dragsters that fit the description in both album's titles were) had gotten in line behind dozens of trendy groups trying to compete with The Ventures, the Tacoma, Washington quartet that had led the longplay rock instro market for four years and counting. A dance album, Doin' the Jerk, also missed the mark. A non-LP single, "That's Where it's At," was licensed to Pasadena's top 40 outlet KRLA for use as a jingle, though it was ultimately heard very little on the high-rated station. In 1965, Joe Saraceno took a stab at the T-Bones; he'd recorded with Tony Savonne as Tony and Joe in 1958 when the duo reached the top 40 with "The Freeze," a silly tune that briefly sparked a "stop-when-we-say-so" dance craze. Joe later worked with several hitmaking artists including Dorsey Burnette, the young Beach Boys and instrumental bands The Marketts, The Routers and big guns the Ventures. The all-studio T-Bones-type concept, in fact, had been successfully executed under Joe's watch in 1962 with the Routers' sports-smash "Let's Go (pony)."

Alka-Seltzer, that fizzy two-tablets-to-fast-relief product consumed by millions, had a TV commercial at the time showing dozens of mostly-covered tummies of all shapes and sizes. Saraceno felt its cheesy-but-catchy music would be a good track for the T-Bones; jazzman and former sped-up Nutty Squirrels singer Sascha Burland (real name Granville Alexander Burland), who'd composed the song, was about to score a monetary windfall. "No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In)," the title taken right off the TV spot, was recorded with some of the rotating gang of one-take-and-I-got-it specialists including bassist Carol Kaye, guitarist Tommy Tedesco and triangle-tapper Julius Wechter, plus an assortment of female '...ahh-ahh-ahh...' background vocalists. It was promoted to radio as a single and caught on in early '66, climbing to number three the first week in February on both Billboard and Cash Box charts. Every time a station played the song it was essentially a two-minute plug for the product, which must have pleased the team at Miles Laboratories to no end.

Alka Seltzer commercial

While a British T-Bones group was nearly buried under the proliferation of U.K. bands, the American non-group became known there as The U.S. T-Bones. Their fourth stateside album, titled after the hit single, had a fair winter-and-spring chart run and featured a few more TV ad jingles (the "Chiquita Banana" theme and an original based on the Granny Goose potato chips spot, "What's in the Bag, Goose"). A "What Shape" sequel, "Sippin' 'n Chippin'" (those girl singers were back: 'La-LA-la-la-la!'), came from spots for a new (and short-lived) product, Nabisco Sip'n Chips cheese snacks. A fifth album carried this single's title, recycling the track from the previous LP; "Cinnamint Shuffle," a commercial tie-in from the Clark's gum ad that had been introduced the previous year as "The Mexican Shuffle" by Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass, was given the T-B treatment. Around this time an apparently real T-Bones group (guitar-playing brothers Judd Hamilton and Dan Hamilton, bassist Joe Frank Carillo, keyboardist Tommy Reynolds and drummer Gene Pello) was hired for personal appearances and TV dance shows, though they hadn't been involved in making the records.

Several more singles were issued through the spring of '67 and there were two more albums, Everyone's Gone To The Moon (And Other Trips), on which the touring band played, and Shapin' Things Up on Liberty's Sunset label. The project was considered to be at a dead end, but the come-lately members were determined to continue in some capacity. In 1970 Dan, Joe and Tommy hooked up with producer Steve Barri (who'd written several major hits and produced artists like The Grass Roots, Tommy Roe and Mama Cass Elliot), which led to a successful run as Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds, highlighted by two huge hits, "Don't Pull Your Love" in 1971 and "Fallin' in Love" in 1975.

The gimmick that made Alka-Seltzer's "No Matter What Shape" jingle into a hit is a fairly rare occurrence, particularly when compared to the still-common reverse practice of choosing previously-existing music for selling products. The TV-spot-first/hit-single-next trend became popular for a few years in the '60s. Trumpeter Al Hirt recorded "Perky," using the refrain from the famous Maxwell House coffee pot ad; Billy Joe and the Checkmates modified it a bit with "Percolator (Twist)," a top ten hit in early '62. The following year, Jo Ann Campbell embellished the much-joked-about line from an Anacin commercial, "Mother, Please!" ('...I'd rather do it myself!') and in '65 The Kingsmen took a similar approach with "The Jolly Green Giant" (set to the tune of "Big Boy Pete" by The Olympics), creating a girl-chasing back story for Herr 'Ho! Ho! Ho!' of the frozen-and-canned vegetable world.

Other songs taken straight from small screen commercials after The T-Bones' belly-busting hit include "Music to Watch Girls By" from a Diet Pepsi ad, covered in '67 as an instrumental by The Bob Crewe Generation and with lyrics added in a version by Andy Williams. "The Dis-Advantages of You" (or the inconvenience of a longer-than-usual cigarette), by New York studio group The Brass Ring, was lifted that same year from an ad for Benson & Hedges 100's. One of the more famous examples of the TV-to-hit fad came in 1971; "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)" contributed to an upswing in Coca-Cola sales after it was sung by The Hillside Singers (named as such because they were filmed on a hill) in a Coke commercial. A single was issued and became a hit, as did a competing version by The New Seekers.

- Michael Jack Kirby


No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In)