The Story Behind The Chili's Baby Back Ribs Jingle.
There are a ton of songs about or inspired by Dallas, and they say a lot about who we are. So each week in this space, we'll take a closer week at one of these songs — and we'll try to determine what, exactly, they say about this great city of ours. Check out this feature's archives here.
In 1967, Holiday magazine published an article by H. Allen Smith titled, “Nobody Knows More About Chili Than I Do.” The piece did not sit well with Dallas Morning News columnist Frank X. Tolbert.
So Woodrow Wilson High School graduate Carroll Shelby — the car designer most famous for his work on Ford's AC Cobra — invited Smith and Tolbert to his parcel of land in West Texas town of Terlingua to settle the beef with a chili cook-off.
In the years since, the Terlingua Chili Cookoff has become known among purists as “the granddaddy of all chili cook-offs,” attracting more than 20,000 “chiliheads” each year.
Also present at that inaugural cook-off was Shelby's son-in-law, Larry Lavine, who immediately fell in love with the idea.
In 1975, Lavine opened his first Chili's Grill and Bar in a converted post office building on the corner of Greenville Avenue and Meadow Road. Though that location was demolished in 2007, the chain that helped pioneer the casual dining industry has grown to include locations in every state except for Alaska, as well as 30 additional locations abroad.
But none of that might have happened if it weren't for a new menu item Chili's decided to add in 1986: their now-popular baby back ribs.
Like all new menu items, the baby back ribs' addition called for a new advertising campaign. And unbeknownst to anyone at the time, the Dallas-centric jingle they would go on to create would eventually become one of the most successful jingles in the history of advertising.
Enter Tom Faulkner. Though he's racked up several Clios thanks to memorable jingles he's created for for Coors Light, J.C. Penney and Southwest Airlines, he never really intended to be a jingle writer at all. The Highland Park High School graduate played in popular Dallas bands The Oracle, the Coconuts and Flyer in the '70s and '80s, and was at one time signed to United Artists.
“I was a songwriter,” Faulkner once said in a video interview with Troubador, TX. “That was beneath me in my mind.”
But after much prodding from a friend, and a cool thousand dollar bribe dangling in front of him, he took on the challenge. And, as it turns out, he was exceptionally good at it. In 1986, Faulkner wrote the jingle that plays behind the Tom Bodett-voiced Motel 6 ads. 26 years later, that ad has become the longest running commercial campaign in advertising history.
For the Chili's spot, though, Faulkner sings both the “I want my baby back baby back baby back” backing harmonies as well as the sweet tenor “Chili's baby back ribs, Chili's baby back ribs” that forms the melody line. But the deep bass “Bar-be-cue sauce” part? That was performed by Dallasite Willie B. McCoy.
McCoy, who attended L.G. Pinkston High School in West Dallas, made a career singing with groups like The Platters, The Drifters, The Coasters and Richard Street's incarnation of The Temptations. It can be argued, though, that the Chili's jingle was the most-heard performance of his career, helping the chain sell enough ribs annually to stretch 20,000 miles — enough length to wrap around the entire globe.
The jingle, which Ad Age named one of the “top 10 songs likely to get stuck in your head” in 2004, has been sung by characters in dozens of television shows, including The Office, Scrubs and Will & Grace, as well as by the character Fat Bastard in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Even boy band 'N Sync once got in on the fun.
Locally, though, the Old 97's' version is among the most popular rendition of the tune. In a special, radio-only version of the jingle, the band's frontman, Rhett Miller, penned an additional verse to the tune. According to an interview with Miller, a bootleg of him performing the jingle live was at one time the most viewed Old 97's-related clip on YouTube.
Like the song's author, Miller wrestled with himself over doing the tune, contemplating whether or not it was a sellout move. But, in the end both Miller and Faulker, it seems, came to the same conclusion.
“So, sometimes people ask for the Chili's jingle,” Miller says. “A couple times, I felt like they were yelling it to try to get my goat because I sold out and they were calling me out or something. And I think to myself, 'In what way is all of it not a sell out?' It's not like I'm only playing songs in my room for my wife. I record them and put them on an album which has a price tag on it.
“It's all selling out.”