Those annoying mental itches that have to be scratched 11

TomTom, the global positioning system (GPS) retailer, has been running these cute TV ads lately, featuring driver and passengers unsuccessfully navigating their way around, accompanied by a catchy, syncopated musical refrain: “boomp-boomp-boomp-boomp-de-
boomp-boomp-boomp-boomp-de-” etc.

And hearing that music was driving me nuts, because I know I had heard it before, somewhere, but I couldn’t remember when or where or how or who.

It reminded me of Henry Mancini’s “Baby Elephant Walk” from the 1962 movie Hatari!, but the TomTom sample has a completely different feel — definitely not a Mancini work. Yet I had heard it before. It was just so familiar, but dammit, I couldn’t remember the title, composer, or original venue.

Enter that wonderful mental backscratcher, Google. I tried off and on for three days to locate anything informative about the TomTom music, with little success. Choosing the right search terms for Internet searching is after all partly an art, partly a science and partly a crapshoot.

After trying different combinations of search terms like, TomTom, commercial, music, composer, ad, and TV, I finally struck gold with this combination: “tomtom composer tv ad.” The third hit, a Wikipedia entry, provided the salient fact that TomTom’s ad agency had artfully selected and sampled Albert Ketèlbey’s “In a Persian Market” (composed in 1920) for the commercial.

A successful (and well paid) composer of music for silent movies in England, Ketèlbey specialized in impressionistic pieces that created mental images of exotic places. The first few bars of “In a Persian Market,” for example, recall the rhythm of camels loping toward the market, as their drivers urge them on — perfectly suitable for a TV ad promising automobile drivers quick and reliable guidance. It’s a masterful choice of music, if you ask me.

After finding the source of the sample, my next step, of course, was to download an mp3 of the piece to confirm the Wikipedia reference. Of course, it was dead-on, but while I found several renditions of “In a Persian Market,” I have not yet been able to find the exact recording used in the TomTom ad. I swear I have heard it before, possibly as a child, as my father played the few albums of “serious music” he owned.

One of those albums — now since lost — I remember included Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance,” a piece as evocative as Ketèlbey’s “Persian Market.” Both works got stuck in recesses in my youthful brain. Strangely, I had no problem recalling the title of Khachaturian’s rousing piece, I guess because it’s such a popular accompaniment to all sorts of shenanigans. But “In a Persian Market” is a tad more obscure, I suppose, and its details ended up lodged even deeper in my memory than the “Sabre Dance.”

All it took was a simple 30-second TV ad (and three days of googling) to help knock it loose. (And as I write this sentence, the very TV ad is running in a video window on my desktop!) Mr Ketèlbey would no doubt be amused that his tune endures in a new medium, and dismayed that mushbrains like me would forget who wrote it.

UPDATE (11/24): After listening to a dozen versions of “In a Persian Market” — including one by Spike Jones and His City Slickers — I finally figured out that the commercial samples Terry Snyder and the All Stars’ rendition from a 1959 album entitled “Persuasive Percussion vol. 2,” produced by Enoch Light. I remember seeing it in my dad’s record collection, too. Final confirmation is here. Mystery solved. Thank you, information superhighway.
Now I suppose I need to buy that album, for old times’ sake.

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11 thoughts on “Those annoying mental itches that have to be scratched

  1. Reply Kashka Dec 17,2006 7:15 pm

    Thank you…you did all the work…great work!!!
    …and introduced me to
    some new tunes…thanks again…:)))

  2. Reply Dot Jan 5,2007 11:43 am

    As soon as I heard that TomTom commercial I was immediately taken back to childhood memories of Mom’s album collection. Thanks for posting this and saving my sanity!

  3. Reply Richard Aug 15,2007 5:45 am

    I feel your pain. I found this site while trying to figure out what song they’re currently using. Its very low key and mellow, and I would love to have it, but for the life of me I can’t seem to find out the name. I’ve tried entering the lyrics into google, which is how I usually find song titles, but no luck. Can you help?

  4. Reply eljefe Aug 24,2007 1:47 pm

    Well, I haven’t heard the commercial yet. If I manage to catch it on the telly, I’ll try to track down the music.

  5. Reply ekajake Nov 26,2007 11:22 pm

    The version used in the TomTom ad is featured on an album called Persuasive Percussion.

    It’s attributed to ‘Enoch Light’ and I have it as an mp3 if you want it?

  6. Reply wheatdogg Nov 27,2007 10:37 am

    ekajake —

    Thanks for the offer. I actually have this cut already. I’m wishing I still had the vinyl album my dad had. I’ve seen it on eBay for as much as $75.


  7. Reply Tracy B Dec 10,2007 5:24 pm

    I’d thought maybe it was Esquivel–glad to get the correct information!

  8. Reply ljh Jun 8,2008 2:07 pm

    Absolutely an annoying mental itch that needed to be scratched! Every time I see that ad i whistle the tomtom song and try to search back in my brain. I knew it was tucked in those 1960’s memories! I finally brightened up and hit google. thanks for doing the brain work.

  9. Reply margie Aug 20,2008 10:19 pm

    Was this (In a persian market) the theme song for an old tv series?

  10. Reply wheatdogg Aug 22,2008 1:39 am

    I don’t think so. At least the fact never came up in my research. TomTom is sure getting a lot of mileage from that tune, though!

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