Byline: Jonathan Margolis
JONATHAN MARGOLIS on the cinema jingle that has become a hit.
One of the most reliable methods for writers to make a fool of themselves in print is to try to spell a tune. "Bum bum ti bum booo bah," we prattle, when trying to describe some well- known theme without the benefit of being able to hum it. If I hit you with this one, however go on, just one more try, please you might just get it: "Pa-paa pa-paa pa-paa pa-paa pa-pa-pa, Pa-paa pa-paa pa-paa pa-paaaa pa," it starts. Got it?
Of course you got it. It's the Pearl & Dean advertising jingle. Staff at Pearl & Dean, the London company that sells cinema advertising, have been used to people trying to "do" the theme tune since it first appeared in 1968.
"Pa-paa pa-paa pa-paa pa-paa pa-pa-pa," go receptionists when Pearl & Dean executives check in at hotels. "Pa-paa pa-paa pa-paa pa-paa pa-pa-pa," go pump attendants when Pearl & Dean men get out the company credit card in petrol stations. "Pa-paa pa-paa pa-paa pa-paa pa-pa-pa," go friends when Pearl & Deaners mention at dinner parties whom they work for. The Pearl & Dean MD, Peter Howard-Williams, says even his bank manager does it.
Pa-paa pa-paa pa-paa pa-paa pa-pa-pa is, Pearl & Dean believe, an almost unique thing a logo known for its sound rather than its image. But until recently, even Pearl & Dean, used as they are to public familiarity with their theme tune (a Welsh cinema manager once arranged to have it played at his own cremation, as his coffin slid behind the curtains), failed to realise just how popular and appealing it is.
For the Pearl & Dean theme, re-recorded by the Wolverhampton pop group Goldbug, and funkily welded to a cover version of Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love (you know the one, der der der der DUNG da dung da dung) is currently riding high in the singles charts.
The revival of the tune, which is actually called Asteroids, comes, coincidentally, at a time when the company is enjoying a business boom. Having all but disappeared a couple of years ago, so successful is Pearl & Dean now that it has converted an Pounds 800,000 annual loss into a profit in just three years. And so trendy is Pearl & Dean suddenly that, as of last week, it even has a World Wide Web site on the Internet, replete with big-screen information and hyperlinks to other areas of cinematic interest.
In addition, the company is soon to launch a new visual logo, designed by the team responsible for the Channel 4 emblem; they are canny enough, however, to be holding on to the Pearl & Dean tune.
The story of how Asteroids came to be a huge hit 28 years after it was written begins about three years ago when a Manchester radio DJ, Steve Penk, was seized with a desire to feature it on his breakfast show.
Penk tracked down a recording, and played it. A lot. Fans in Manchester recorded it off the air. Remixed versions began to be played in clubs all over the northwest and in Scotland, and later crept into clubs in London.
Asteroids had become, like, MEGA, but its composer, Pete Moore, who wrote it in a day at his house in Acton in 1968, still had no idea that anything was happening. He was picking up about Pounds 300 a year from Asteroids being played several thousand times a week in cinemas, which wasn't bad, and he was happy.
Then, one day in 1994, Richard Walmsley, one of the six members of Goldbug, happened to go to the cinema to see Terminator 2. This was at the nadir of Pearl & Dean's fortunes, when they had been almost squeezed out of business by the might of their rival, Rank Screen Advertising.
"We went to see the film," Walmsley recalls, "and realised we were all actually looking forward to the Pearl & Dean music. But it didn't happen. It was just not there. And that got us thinking. Asteroids is," says Walmsley mysteriously, "music that speaks to your darkest regions."
Walmsley located Moore, now aged 70, who had gone on to great things in music post-Asteroids, such as arranging and conducting for Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Jack Jones and Peggy Lee. Moore was delighted to allow his piece to be used, but was hardly expecting to be almost top of the pops.
Goldbug's irony-heavy Whole Lotta Love, complete with the original 1968 recording of a four-trombone, four-trumpet big band and four singers performing Asteroids, was released on January 15. It was almost instantly picked as the Breakfast Show Biggie by Chris Evans on Radio 1. Goldbug can't believe their good fortune, although Moore views the prospect of serious royalties with admirable musicianly cool. "I'm in the Promised Land as far as money is concerned," grins Moore. "Truly, nobody could be more surprised than me by what has happened."
Even without its fantastically famous theme tune, Pearl & Dean is a surprisingly interesting company. It was founded in 1953 by brothers Ernie and Charles Pearl and their cousin Bob Dean. The Pearls were cinema commercials buffs, with a collection dating back to 1900. As a result the firm, in London's Soho, still has an archive of early advertisements.
"The very early ones," says Pearl & Dean executive Peter Seabrook-Harris, "such as Get Out, the Building Is on Fire, have no sound effects at all, and we have also got things such as Raymond Glendenning, the BBC reporter, punning terribly about players of distinction and then getting out a packet of Players."
Pearl & Dean's much-loved local ads "For luxury dining with that oriental touch, the Taj Mahal restaurant, High Street" are not quite what they were. "We don't do those as such any more," says Seabrook-Harris, "because what used to happen was that they would shoot one commercial and then hawk it round the country, so the inside of the Indian restaurant that you saw was the same if you were in Land's End or John o'Groats.
They were syndicated because no local restaurant could afford to shoot a 35mm commercial. What we actually do now is tailor-make for each client. Things have moved on a bit."
But, thanks to Pearl & Dean, not too far.
Pa-paa pa-paa pa-paa pa-paa pa-pa-pa, Pa-paa pa-paa pa-paa pa -paaaa...pow!!!
Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1996 **********