by Chaz Kangas
|Screengrab via YouTube|
|"Menards Guy" Ray Szmanda|
Certain homegrown songs get played quite a bit in the Midwest, but there's one song that seems to explode across our airwaves more than any other. It's been a hit on every terrestrial radio station within the state's limits and is instantly identifiable by anyone who has ever spent time with their television or radio on.
Of course, I'm talking about the Menards Jingle.
Most of us remember it for the eleven months out of the year that the infectious staccato banjo instrumental beneath "Menards Man" Ray Szmanda's irresistible pitch for us to "Save Big Money at Menards" comforts us as only advertising can.
But the holiday season has always been signified by the jingle's winter remix. Those plucked high strings and rapturous sleigh bells transport us to the mystical Decembers of our youth. After being made aware of their annual "Home for Christmas" sale, often including faucets and phones, we're met under the mistletoe with the timeless carol "Warm season's greetings to you all from Menards!"
In a world where jingles often change and even the most longstanding of standards become altered or updated, Menards has boldly stuck to its guns. Since the store has used the jingle for literally decades, we decided to reach out to Menards' corporate offices to get the full story on the song. After checking around, we were told that nobody currently working for Menards was even around when the jingle was put into use, and that they've just kept using it.
While "it's just always existed" would be a compelling mythology for the Menards jingle, the Internet reveals something of a dispute as to where it originally came from. While there's no real way to hold blog posts and their subsequent comments to any sort of accountability, here are the facts we know for sure:
*Menards was founded in 1960 by John Menard Jr.
*The jingle was recorded at Irish Saxe Studios.
*The current particular recordings we hear were recorded in the early '80s.
*You'll save big money at Menards.
Outside of this, things get tricky. While the popular feel-good urban legend is that the jingle's music and lyrics were created by John Menard Jr.'s wife as something of a home improvement theme-music Betsy Ross, most accounts attribute the song's origins to studio musicians and the competitive nature of the jingle era.
Irish Saxe Studios, Appleton, Wisconsin's jingle mothership, is the likely spot of the Menards jingle event horizon. In 1972, Eau Claire WAXX/WAYY station manager and friend to Menard Bob Holton wrote the lyrics over some stock music, selling it to Menard on the cheap.
The track was used for about a decade and then composer Mitch Irish rearranged it in 1982. Irish, who is also known for the music from Troma Studio's cult classic The Capture of Bigfoot (directed by former Reform Party candidate for governor of Wisconsin Bill Rebane), also recorded this new version at Irish Saxe, known today as Saxe Productions.
While the Menards Christmas jingle remains a complete mystery to us, we can at least live with the knowledge that the original jingle was made by mere mortals.
But as the seasons change, friends come and go, and neighborhoods evolve, every year our lives will have one constant: those warm banjos and the comfort of being told we'll "save big money at Menards."
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