Last week, we posted everything we were able to track down about the most Midwestern tune ever penned: the Menards Jingle. Your response was overwhelming, like choirs of thousands proudly chanting at the top of their lungs, "SAVE BIG MONEY AT MENAAAAARDS!"
While we're glad you're as galvanized about the Menards theme as we are, there was one voice in particular we were grateful to hear from. Not just one voice, but the voice. Yes, we spoke to Barbara Simon, whose voice defines the version of the jingle that has been played from the early '80s through today! We had the tremendous fortune to sit down with her and get the real story about the jingle.
Were you familiar with the Menards jingle before recording it?
I'm sure I was. We knew it was going to get a lot of exposure.
What do you remember about recording the Menards jingle in 1982?
It was a very low-rent project. I earned $150 for recording it. The reason we did it at the studio was the exposure. My understanding was that the melody had been written by John Menard's wife, and the original was recorded shortly after the store opened in '60. Ed Sachs was the salesman who said that who basically sold the whole thing. John Menard's wife wrote the melody and we couldn't change the melody, we could only change the instrumentation. It was so low rent that Mitch [Irish] and I sang it. It was just the two of us, we did multiple tracks and repeated it. Mitch even mixed it. Are you a musician?
OK, so you understand melody/harmony mixing, and how you make things more prominent in a mix. Mitch, even though he knew engineering, he mixed it with his part more prominent than mine, so everyone thinks the melody goes, "Save big money at Men-aaaaards." That's the harmony part. If you listen to the female voice, which is mine, the real melody goes, "Save big money at Meh-Naahhhhrds."
That last syllable from the female voice has always resonated a lot more, and given that extra kick to it.
Because it was mixed wrong, everyone thinks that's the melody. That's a little piece of trivia.
Was it mixed that way all the way through on the longer version?
Actually, it's mixed all right for the rest of it. We were both singing the melody throughout: "You'll save big money, when you shop Menards." It's just on that tagline, which you hear all the time, it's weird for all these years.
I never realized how different it does sound from the rest of it. Did being the voice of the Menards jingle open up any doors?
Not really. It's just a point of interest. A thing that people would remember. It didn't open any doors, it's just a fun story to tell. My relatives will tell other people because everybody knows it. It's a claim to "fame" or "infamy," whatever you want to say, because people hate it. When I go to Menards, at times if someone who works there happens to be helping me out, I tell them I sang it as a piece of trivia and I kind of apologize because they have to listen to it day-in day-out ad nauseum.
You also get the distinction of being one of the few people to have your voice come out of a stuffed animal with those bears that play the jingle.
You're kidding! I didn't even know that existed. That is too funny. Of course, this goes back to, again, because it was so low rent, it was a total buyout.
Did you ever meet longtime Menards spokesman Ray Szmanda?
No, but I'm pretty sure he put at least one of his kids through dental school with the money he made doing those ads. There is a Szmanda dentist with a couple offices in northeast Wisconsin and I'm pretty sure it's his son.
When the Menards jingle started playing, were you excited to let people know your involvement?
It was kind of neither here nor there. At that point, I was busy getting demos together and moving to the cities to do talent work. At that point, I wasn't ashamed of it, but it wasn't a showcase piece. I never pointed to it until it became this joke point of interest. I didn't do much singing in the cities, I wasn't promoting myself as a singer anyway. I started doing voiceovers and on-camera work.
Were you involved at all in the holiday version of the Menards jingle?
Not at all, and I don't even know if that was a high school choir or if they pulled some people together. I'm almost positive it was done in Eau Claire, it has that church choir-y sound. That was done at least a few years after.
What are some of the projects you've been involved with that you are proud of?
Back in the early '80s before I left, we were doing singing highlights for the NFL teams. We did them for the Vikings, they were called "Vik-sings." We did them for the Packers, they were called "Packer songs." We would pick a style of music every week, like one week we would do a Billy Joel ripoff and our writer would put highlights of the game that was played that day to that melody. We would do a two-minute package and ship them to the cities. Those were really fun, we had all-night sessions. There were like NFL Singing Highlights, I don't know if you can even Google it.
What might be of interest, after that when I was in the Cities, I used to do on-camera commercials for Culligan. I did the voice for Xcel Energy's commercials. I primarily do corporate voicemail now. One of my clients is USBank. I don't do all of their systems, I just do some of them. But, you call and I say, "Enter your comp number followed by the pound sign."
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