Fly the Branded Skies

Jingle: United “Mother Country” (1973)

The friendly skies of your land. United Air Lines

Listen: United Air Lines: “Mother Country”

A confession: I actually like a lot of the jingles I write about. Not even in an ironic, hipster sort of way either. Some of them are admittedly guilty pleasures (like TWA’s 80s power ballad Leading the Way — still desperately trying to find that one on vinyl, by the way) but others I think are legitimately great songs. And of those, “Mother Country” is my favourite.

The story, as told by Jack Smith, one of the song’s writers, is this: in the early 1970s, United went through a bit of a folk phase in their advertising. Their 1972 campaign had used Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” so successfully that the Guthrie estate demanded twice as much money the next year. So Smith and another songwriter, Jerry Liliedahl, got together and wrote a new song over the course of a weekend.

That song was “Mother Country.”

They approached a folk singer from Chicago, Bonnie Koloc, about singing the song in a commercial for United. At the time it seemed like Koloc was going places — Billboard said she had “always been one of those vocalists who is ‘on the verge.'” She had never done a commercial before (although she would say in a later interview that she’d been a “dummy” for not doing commercials sooner.) Yet she was widely acknowledged to be tremendously talented and to have a spectacular voice. She seemed destined for fame.

The arrangement for the United commercial was this: Koloc would appear on camera, singing the song. But the version she sang would have no mention of the airline or its “friendly skies” tagline—all the heavy lifting would be handled in the voiceover by Burgess Meredith while Koloc sang “la la la.” Thus her artistic integrity would be protected.

“The United commercial was a beauty,” Koloc said later. “We made it in Hawaii and in San Francisco, among the seals. I sang ‘Mother Country,’ and my nose got so cold it turned red and had to be warmed up with a light bulb.”

Koloc included “Mother Country” on her fourth album with Ovation Records, You’re Gonna Love Yourself in the Morning, and according to Smith, at least, it charted. The song I’ve included above comes from a record produced by Leo Burnett to celebrate 15 years of working for United Airlines, but I expect it’s the same version that appeared on the album.

There was another, more upbeat version starring less famous singers. This version didn’t shy away from explicit references to United: “Sweet Mother Country / She’s your land and mine” became “The friendly skies of your land / United Air Lines.” This version lacks Koloc’s great vocal, but there’s still something about the “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” vibe of this spot that I like a lot:

Actually, that’s really what “Mother Country” is, isn’t it? It’s the airline version of “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” Both songs came from the early seventies, both had minor success beyond advertising, and both evoked a kind of light crunchy-granola optimism, even if it was in the service of corporate brands.

Bonnie Koloc never really achieved wide fame; today she almost seems famous for never having become famous. But “Mother Country” made Jack Smith’s career. According to Smith’s biography for the Advertising Hall of Fame, “Mother Country” was named Advertising Age’s Song of the Year. Smith retired as deputy chief creative officer at Burnett in 1994.

The song itself was used by United for a couple years, then retired, and then brought back a few years later as part of “That’s What Friendly Skies Are All About.” Which is to say, it had a pretty good run for a jingle.

Airline: United Air Lines
Title: “Mother Country”
Agency: Leo Burnett, Chicago
Written By: Jerry Liliedahl and Jack Smith
Performed By: Bonnie Koloc
Year: 1973
Lyrics:

Have you seen the other side
of where you live?
Don’t you know this great big land
has got so much to give? 
Mother Country’s got
her arms open wide.
Don’t let your good land
pass you by.

This land is ours to share
and it’s there before your eyes.
Stretching out in glory,
proud beneath the skies.
Come along, sing the song.
People, now’s the time. 
Sweet Mother Country.
She’s your land and mine. 

Many times I thought she did not hear me.
Many times I thought she was too hard.
Still I know that no one else could ever take her place.
Good Mother Country, hear my song. 

Born with a burning spirit
deep within her soul.
You can feel it growing
everywhere you go.
Come along, sing the song.
People, now’s the time.
Sweet Mother Country.
She’s your land and mine. 

Instrumental break.

Mother Country’s got her arms open wide.

Instrumental break.

Come along, sing the song.
People, now’s the time.

Instrumental break.

Many times I thought she did not hear me.
Many times I thought she was too hard.
Still I know that no one else could ever take her place.
Good Mother Country, hear my song!

Hear my song!

Born with a burning spirit
deep within her soul.
You can feel it growing
everywhere you go.
Come along, sing the song.
People, now’s the time.
Sweet Mother Country.
She’s your land and mine.

Sweet Mother Country.
She’s your land and mine. 

Reactions

  • J. Hoover Benavides Arana

    Quien lo canta? creo que es Karen Carpenter

  • Heidi Berlin

    I love this song. I actually had the Bonnie Koloc album it appeared on, which I wish they would re-release on CD or iTunes, or whatever. I thought the airline should have brought it back after 9/11. (Although I could’ve sworn it was American, not United; I stand corrected. United does make more sense, since it’s based in Chicago, where Bonnie was).

  • Heidi Berlin

    By the way, the song you included is not the same version as the one on Bonnie’s album. Although the lyrics are the same, the album version did not have the background singers (not as obviously, anyway). There were no la la’s, for example. It’s pretty much just Bonnie Koloc’s beautiful voice.

  • http://fly.cameronfleming.com/ Fly the Branded Skies

    That’s interesting. So she must have recorded a non-branded version just for United as well.

  • Anonymous

    This song appears on Koloc’s “You’re Gonna Love Yourself in the Morning”, released in 1974. The album was a favorite of mine until a relative ruined it by leaving it in a hot car. I wish someone would reissue that album as a CD and/or upload some of her old songs on youtube.
    Bonnie Koloc has an amazing voice; I was fortunate to hear her in person in the mid 70’s at the Earl of Old Town in Chicago. She is still performing and the voice is still distinctive, but not it’s not as pure and effortless as almost 40 years ago – but that’s to be expected with age.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much for posting this. I’ve been looking for information on this song and the lyrics. I saw Bonnie at the Earl of Old Town several times as well in the mid-late 70’s and heard her
    sing “Mother Country” live either at the Earl or possibly at the Old Town
    School of Folk Music which I believe she sang by request from the audience and sang it a cappella. Love her voice and still can remember how she sang it which is probably why I remember the song so well.

  • Anonymous

    I saw several of the album “You’re Gonna Love
    Yourself in the Morning” for sale on eBay.

  • Ron

    Bonnie and Steve were (and are) the greatest. Go Cubs!

  • Diana Pure

    Only there could one see (and hear) Steve Goodman, John Prine, and Bonnie Koloc appear on one stage! Ah, the 70s…. From one Chicago girl to another, the link for the You’re Gonna Love Yourself in the Morning” MP3:

    http://www.tuffcity.com/buy-music-and-records/youre-gonna-love-yourself-in-the-morning-bonnie-koloc-ovation-1438/

    Enjoy!

  • Diana Pure

    See my reply to alwayschallenging for the MP3 link for this vintage album. Have fun.

  • Heidi Berlin

    Thanks. I just purchased it.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the MP3 link!

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