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A Matchless Love Affair Between Chevrolet, American Culture

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Chevrolets haven't always been the best American cars on the road or consistently outsold other brands. But when it comes to fixing a place in American mass-culture lore, Chevrolet long ago asserted itself as the leader of the pack.

The cast of 'Glee' performed a version of Dinah Shore's 'See the U.S.A. in Your Chevrolet' jingle in the hit TV show's post-Super Bowl episode last February.
The cast of 'Glee' performed a version of Dinah Shore's 'See the U.S.A. in Your Chevrolet' jingle in the hit TV show's post-Super Bowl episode last February.

A big part of that legacy can be tied to Chevrolet's historic matchups with popular singers in its ad campaigns, dating as far back as the 1950s, when Dinah Shore exhorted Americans to "See the U.S.A. in Your Chevrolet." Others, of course, were Bob Seger, whose "Like a Rock" was the theme of the wildly successful campaign for Chevy trucks, and John Mellencamp, whose "Our Country" was used in another high-profile Chevy-truck campaign.

Chevys also have been name-checked in more songs than any other car brand and have flashed across the screen in many TV shows and films over the decades -- most recently and prominently as athletic, heroic, butt-kicking Autobot characters (vehicles that turn into two-legged, talking robots) in the Transformers movie franchise.

Hundreds of songs
Bill Ludwig, CEO of Campbell-Ewald -- the agency that held the Chevy account for a staggering 91 years until the spring of 2010 -- said that "back in 2006, when we were researching this, we'd found that , up to that point, there were 545 songs that had been written about Chevys, or that referred to Chevys." He says there are now about 700 Chevy songs.

Indeed, it won't take savvy rock 'n' roll and country music fans too long to name 10 songs, that have referenced Chevys: Bruce Springsteen's "Racing in the Street " and "Thunder Road," The Beach Boys' "409," Bob Seger's "Night Moves," Prince's "Little Red Corvette," Don McLean's "American Pie," Eric Clapton's "I've Got A Rock 'n' Roll Heart," George Jones and Tammy Wynette's "(We're Not) the Jet Set," Sammy Johns' "Chevy Van" and the Beat Farmers' "Blue Chevrolet."

And then there's the Lonnie Young/Eddie Young's succinctly titled evergreen, "Chevrolet," which has been recorded many times, by such diverse acts as Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band, Taj Mahal, Foghat, Derek Trucks and Robben Ford.

Jerry Herron is a professor of English and American Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit who specializes in popular culture, and he cites the Dinah Shore jingle as the key to "igniting" Chevrolet's prominent role in American pop culture. "It was the '50s, we were recovering from World War II, the national highway system had been built, and this song was inviting Americans to get into this car and see this vast country of ours," Herron said.

TV star
He also points to another vintage phenomenon in which a sleek Chevy was the "star" -- the early-'60s TV show "Route 66." "It was during the '60s youth boom, and here were these two good-looking young guys hopping into their Corvette convertible and accepting Shore's invitation to travel across America in their Chevrolet," Herron said. "It was Chevy that figured out a way to make a car for everybody [that ] was also somehow cool, and presented it as a fundamental part of the American character."

Rebecca Lindland, an auto industry analyst for IHS Global Insight, concurs: "'Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet,'" said Lindland, reciting the theme song of a famed Chevy ad campaign. "Chevy is known all over the world as a quintessentially American vehicle. One could argue that , after World War II, America grew up with Chevrolet."

Campbell-Ewald's Ludwig, who was the agency's chief creative officer when it created the "Like a Rock," "Our Country. Our Truck," "Heartbeat of America" and "An American Revolution" campaigns for Chevrolet, believes that "Chevy is probably the only brand in any category to enjoy that kind of love affair with American culture."

'Huge success'
And Chevy has by no means given up on trying to make itself part of the popular culture. Lindland gives high marks to the placement and use of Chevys in the "Transformers" movies. "The way they looked, the cars were futuristic but also current and extremely muscular. That was a huge success for Chevy in terms of reinforcing the brand."

She also liked the way the cast of "Glee" lent their giddy, youthful enthusiasm to their performance of the Dinah Shore jingle in the hit TV show's post-Super Bowl episode last February -- during which the Chevy Camaro convertible, Cruze and Volt were featured in a dream-sequence commercial:

"It was a great recreation of an iconic ad, but very modernized. There's good retro, and there's bad retro, and this version tapped into Chevy's heritage in a fun, modern format."

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