Imagine Kraftwerk played by a kindergartener. Imagine a John Carpenter soundtrack piped through a Commodore 64. Imagine Daniel Johnston getting ahold of a busted synth and trying to sell you a couch and matching love seat. Those hypothetical sounds will get you close—but not all the way—to the very real, very perplexing jingle that accompanied commercials for Milwaukee’s Gordon Furniture throughout the 1980s. Listen to this once-ubiquitous mind-fuck, if you dare:
Now imagine a heart-on-his-sleeve crooner going for broke, giving it his all, and grappling with crippling constipation while belting out a jingle for a mom-and-pop video store. Got it? Then you’re ready to experience this circa-1984 masterpiece, used to promote Milwaukee’s defunct Nord TV and Video Outlet:
It’s said that smell is one of our most powerful memory triggers. Though the scientific literature may be spotty, I’d suggest our second most powerful memory trigger is a commercial from the ’80s or ’90s, uploaded to YouTube in all its VHS and please-adjust-your-tracking glory.
To watch these short clips is to travel back to a different, much weirder time in Milwaukee history. The Gordon jingle is uncertain, menacing, and just plain odd, looking ahead to an electronic future it can’t possibly comprehend. The namesake of Gordon Furniture, Gordon Krueger, began his life as a Milwaukee-area entrepreneur in 1954 with Gordon’s TV & Appliance—perhaps a tip-off to a future penchant for electronic ditties. That business lasted 12 years, and was replaced by Gordon Furniture in 1966. Krueger’s hometown couch-and-cushions business had a solid 30-year run in Milwaukee before it was sold to a Virginia-based furniture chain in 1996. Krueger died in 2012 at age 82.
The Nord song, on the other hand, is almost comically heartfelt and sincere. For me, it’s the sound that should accompany every endless article on “Midwestern Nice.” Here’s another Nord ad, which is just as pleasant and eager-to-please:
So what can these jingles teach us about the Milwaukee of today? Only that this too shall pass. All of the new development currently swirling about town—the good, the bad, and the indifferent—will one day go the way of a hometown furniture chain. All the petty controversies, contentious city issues, and tweeting/trolling sheriffs will one day seem as relevant as a video rental store (even one that was once the 15th largest independent video dealer in the nation). Still, it’s to Milwaukee’s credit that it continues to look to the future, and, for the most part, stay positive in the face of adversity. The soundtrack may change, but the sentiments remain the same.