The McCann Time Capsule: Top 40 Hits
Our long relationship with Coca-Cola has connected us deeply to popular music over the years. In most cases it’s been related to brand promotions, such as this summer’s McCann Bucharest initiative which turned Coke bottle labels into wristbands that get people into music festivals. But it also has included creating a pop song that became a big hit and playing a role in launching the career of a top band.
The most famous example of our music industry activity is "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)," the famous Bill Backer/ Billy Davis song that was used in our 1971 “Hilltop” commercial that featured young people from around the world singing about Coke as “The Real Thing.” The lyrics were then adapted with the Coke references removed into a mainstream song that was recorded that year by the New Seekers. It hit No. 1 in the UK for four weeks, selling just under a million copies, and also reached No. 7 in the U.S. charts.
Less well known, McCann also had a role in the success of The Guess Who, the most successful Canadian rock group of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and Canada’s first rock superstars. Jack Richardson, a musician and producer, had joined McCann Canada in 1960 as the account supervisor for the radio and TV side of the Coca-Cola account. While there he helped launch a youth-oriented campaign that featured the music of a number of Canadian bands and performers.
In 1968, Richardson came up with the idea of offering a record that featured a different band on each side. Titled “A Wild Pair,” the record included a band called The Staccatos on one side and on the other The Guess Who. The record could only be obtained by sending in 10 Coke bottle cap liners and $1 for shipping expenses.
While The Guess Who had had some Canadian success with singles up until that point, it hadn’t broken through with albums or outside of Canada. Richardson, recognizing their potential, quit McCann, formed his own production company with some agency colleagues, acquired the band’s contract for $1,000, and obtained a second mortgage on his house to pay for their 1969 album. It included the song “These Eyes,” the first of The Guess Who’s songs to break into Billboard’s U.S. and Canadian Top 10, followed by “American Woman,” the first song by a Canadian band to hit No. 1 in the States.
In addition to producing other Guess Who albums, Richardson’s production career also included Alice Cooper’s 1971 “Love it to Death” and Bob Seger’s 1976 single “Night Moves.” By the time of his death in 2011, Richardson, who had begun his producing career at McCann Canada creating records to be purchased with bottle caps, was being called the “Godfather of the Canadian Music Industry.”