This is one of the first songs I ever learned. I'm sure I knew the whole thing by the time I was four. I learned this from my mother who loved to sing. She taught us all sorts of songs - funny songs, love songs, silly songs, religious songs. The whole family would sing together as we rode in the car or sat around the kitchen table.
I asked Mom where she learned The Billboard Song and she said she'd learned it from her brother. So I asked my uncle about it, and he said he thought it was an old Homer and Jethro song. Turns out he was right.
The song was written by Cy Coben and Charles Grean and was recorded by Homer and Jethro in 1960 on their album Homer and Jethro at the Country Club. It was reissued in the 1997 collection from Razor and Tie, America's Song Butchers: The Weird World of Homer and Jethro. It was this complilation that I found in my local record store and bought for my mother. She was absolutely stunned to hear this recording. And you know what? She had taught us the lyrics word for word without even know a recording existed.
Cy Coben and Charles Randolph Grean were Nashville songwriters. They penned song which were recorded by the likes of Eddie Arnold, Chet Atkins, and Arthur Godfrey. "The Thing" by Grean is one of the few that still gets played now and again, owing to the recording of it by Ray Charles.
If all you know about Homer and Jethro is that they sang goofy songs like "She Was Bitten on the Udder by an Adder" or the Patti Page spoof, "How Much Is That Hound Dog in the Winder?", you're missing a big part of this act. Henry "Homer" Haynes and Kenneth "Jethro" Burns were outstanding musicians who knew when to be corny and when to just let the instruments rip. Jethro is regarded as one of the finest jazz-influenced mandolin players of all time, and the mandolin method book he wrote, Jethro Burns Mandolin Book, is still in print and available from Mel Bay.
Here are the full lyrics, as sung by the "the thinking man's hillbillies":
As I was walking down the street a billboard caught my eye.
The advertisements written there would make you laugh and cry.
The signs were torn and scattered from the storm the night before.
And as I read the things they said, well, this is what I saw:
Smoke Coca-Cola cigarettes, drink Wrigley's spearmint beer.
Ken-L-Ration dog food keeps your wife's complexion clear.
Chew chocolate-covered mothballs, for they always satisfy.
Brush your teeth with Lifebouy Soap and watch the suds go by.
When I recovered from the shock I went upon my way.
I'd gone no further than a block when there to my dismay,
Another billboard caught my eye and like the one before,
The wind and rain had done its work 'cause this is what I saw:
Take your next vacation in a brand new Frigidaire.
Learn to play piano in your winter underwear.
Simonize your baby with a Hershey candy bar.
Texaco's the beauty cream that's used by all the stars.
Doctors proved that babies shouldn't smoke til they are three.
People over 35 take baths in Lipton Tea.
You can make this country a better place today.
Just buy a record of this song and throw it far away.