We All Scream for Ice Cream
The sounds of summer. Closing one's eyes – or opening the ears – evokes a typically nostalgiac set of cadences. Children's laughter, the call of seagulls, and the crashing of waves along a seashore. Yet, summer's street symphony could never be complete without another of its ubiquitous melodies – the songs of the ice cream truck.
The ice cream truck is as an iconic American symbol of summer as any. From coast to coast the suburbs and cities echo the sounds of the modern-day Pied Piper of the youth and bonafide memory trigger for the young at heart. The melodies may vary, but their haunting music box quality is as simple and successful as the cold and creamy products they promote.
Common examples of the irresistible jingles used to create the desired Pavlovian response are Scott Joplin's “The Entertainer” and “The Mister Softee Tune”, most commonly heard in the Northeast. Naturally, there are several others. (Here is my supa funky fave).
The ice cream truck song phenomenon, however, is not uniquely American. Across the Atlantic in the UK “Greensleeves” seems to be the song of record. Although Scotland's Glasgow Ice Cream Wars showed the darker side of the ice cream trade when it runs afoul. Ice cream motorcycles with attached carts are also common in parts of Southeast Asia, but at the time of this article's posting, the region's choice musical selections are yet to be confirmed, if they are used at all.
Back on this side of the pond, Brooklyn-based musician Michael Hearst updated the ice cream truck genre with his 2007 release, Songs for Ice Cream Trucks. Sounding a bit like Looney Tunes meets Tom Waits, the album's highlights include the urbane, hip-hop influenced “Ice Cream Yo!” and the existential “Where Do Ice Cream Trucks Go In Winter?”.
Hearst creatively uses a cartoon-like collection of instruments to recreate the tinny sounds used to woo children in parks and other outdoor areas across the US. The glockenspiel, accordion, claviola, melodica, space crickets and theremin are the least well-known of the bunch.
A interesting glimpse in Hearst's ice cream truck song writing process, and how technology affects it, can be read in an interview published in the Gothamist. “The speakers on most ice cream trucks are generally quite small, therefore it's important not have music that's going to sound distorted when played. Also, high-end sounds carry much better through the air and can be heard for several blocks, which is sort of the whole point, right?”
I'm not a musician, nor an ice cream vendor, but it makes complete sense to me. And now, on this hot, humid August day, I most definitely need some ice cream. Bet you probably do too. AER
Images courtesy of Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor, OldMemoriesLosAngeles.us, Chris Smith, Core77, and