The (Honking) Song of the Summer

Slate's Culture Blog
June 23 2010 9:49 AM

The (Honking) Song of the Summer

Monday was the first day of summer I discovered this not from a calendar, but from an ice-cream truck that crawled slowly up my block late in the afternoon, the first of the season. It is a well-known scientific fact that ice-cream-truck jingles contain special frequencies capable of causing intense delight in humans under the age of, say, 12, and intense irritation in those above the age of, oh, 25. I am 29, and for several years now idling ice-cream trucks and their trebly melodies have awoken in me not the cheers of my inner child but the fist-shaking of my inner curmudgeon: "Great to see you, Mr. Softee, now could you please fuck off and find another street to terrorize?"

Against all reason, though, there is one ice-cream truck jingle I adore, even as I recognize that it is a hellish, maddening tune. Best I can tell, it is a very loose interpolation of "She'll Be Coming 'Round The Mountain" with added handclaps and snares, but its biggest charms lie in three bizarre sound effects joyous, inspired nonsequiturs that punctuate it: four trills from what sounds like a coach's whistle, four honks from a dinky car horn, and at the very start (or very end, since the song plays on a loop), a woman's voice tentatively calling out, "Hello?" This jingle I'll call it "The Honking Song" is 40 seconds long, and I have yet to determine whether it plays only from trucks belonging to a specific franchise. "The Honking Song" does not herald a Mr. Softee truck, as that company's jingle is a take on " The Whistler and His Dog ," complete with its own  lyrics . In my experience at least, "The Honking Song" is a much rarer jingle to encounter in the wild than "Do Your Ears Hang Low?" or "The Entertainer" (the song from The Sting ), which are New York City ice-cream truck staples.


A quick Google search reveals that residents of Baltimore and Richmond, Va., have heard "The Honking Song," although, unlike me, most people who mention the jingle online seem to absolutely hate it. Indeed, there is something profoundly annoying about that woman's repeated "Hello?," a greeting that sounds like a question that she keeps asking over and over again, until the truck finally rounds the corner to pose the question to some other unfortunate people. Google also led me to a field recording of the jingle, posted on a blog at the venerable free-form radio station WFMU, which means you can listen to it yourself  here . (There's also an MP3 of a delicate, music-box-style jingle I can't ever remember hearing.) I make no promises that you won't loathe it, and continue to loathe it as it echoes around your head all day, but to me it's like an irresistible, unsolvable koan with sprinkles on top.

Jonah Weiner is Slate's pop critic.



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