Sunday, 28 October 2007

Six Degrees of Barney Google

So, you may have heard the news that Vincent DeDomenico Sr., the American pasta industry icon who was instrumental in creating Rice-A-Roni, died a couple of weeks back (well, a week Thursday if Wikipedia is to be believed). His death sparked plenty of media coverage, much of which included trivia about the man's most famous creation - aka "The San Francisco Treat."

Like many Canadians, I've never eaten the stuff but was surprised to find out that a) it's made of rice and tiny bits of pasta (whelp!) and, b) that the most popular recipe using Rice-A-Roni is something called Beef Porcupine Balls, a 1960s favourite that is allegedly "a clever twist on traditional meatballs" (blurgh!) Luckily my memories of the stuff have nothing to do with its actual taste.
I distinctly remember it being promoted at the tail end of The Price Is Right, and being a rabid fan of Wacky Packages as a kid, I fondly recall this 'biting' satire of it:

(Ha ha. "Chokin Flavor." That should be "Chicken Flavor.")
Anyway, I have a point here. The thing everyone else remembers about Rice-A-Roni is its infectious goddamn jingle: "Rice, A-Roni, The San Francisco Treat." You know what I'm talking about.
Created in 1961, the success of this jingle is indisputable. I mean, I'm familiar with it and the product it represents even though for decades I was never able to actually buy it off the shelf. Which leads me to my All-Time favourite bit of Rice-A-Roni trivia: that catchy ditty owes much - if not all - of it's infectiousness to a 1923 song about none other that Barney Google, the classic comic strip character. Created by the great Billy DeBeck, Google was a knee-high, banjo-eyed, potato-nosed sportsman (description courtesy of Time magazine) who spent much of his time trying to convince his recalcitrant horse, Spark Plug, to win a race.
Barney Google made De Beck famous and staggeringly rich, thanks in part to some wildly popular merchandise. The song, written by Billy Rose and Con Conrad, sold more than a million copies thanks to its hummable tune and a peppy chorus, "Barney Google, and his goo-goo-googly eyes". It's so catchy that you can picture yourself bouncing down the street to it (just like an early black-and-white cartoon character.)
So catchy, that when Vincent DeDomenico hired some some writers to pen a jingle for his creation they simply borrowed the tune from "Barney Google". Lazy, but brilliant.
Being that i grew up to be a crazy comic fan, the connection threw me for a loop. It's even stranger when you consider i attended the opening of Drawn and Quarterly's bookstore last week in which someone had put on display a bunch of Barney Google paraphernalia.
I was thinking of including an MP3 of the song right about here, but then I found this YouTube clip of a guy playing an original 78 of the song on his Victrola (surprisingly, there are a bunch of clips like this.) Being that I recently splurged on one of these myself, I figured I’d show him some support – I mean, the clip has only been viewed 122 times! Show him some love people, and play it loud!! And think of poor Barney while you're at it!

- B.

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