There are a handful of phone numbers made famous by songs, movies, and TV shows. Ever wonder what happens if you actually call them? This article was originally published in our 29th annual edition, Uncle John’s Uncanny Bathroom Reader.
According to rock legend, Tommy Tutone lead guitarist Jim Keller wrote “867-5309/Jenny” about a real girl (named Jenny) whose number (not “867-5309”) he got off of a men’s room wall, just like the hero of the song. The catchy refrain made the number so easy to remember that it wreaked havoc on anyone unfortunate enough to have the number at the time. Calling the number became a minor fad in 1981, when the song was a Top 10 hit. That year, a Gastonia, North Carolina, junior high school with the number reportedly received prank calls 200 times a day. A Chicago woman with the number reportedly received more than 20,000 phone calls a week.
The 1988 horror film 976-EVIL takes its plot from the 976 number fad that was popular at the time, which charged callers $3 per minute to listen to prerecorded messages or join in on “party lines.” In the film (directed by Robert Englund, best known for portraying Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies), two teens dial what they think is going to be a horoscope hotline and instead get a direct line to Satan. What would happen if you called 976-EVIL? In 1988, you’d get charged a few bucks to listen to a short ad for the movie. Today, nothing. It’s long since been disconnected (as have most 976 numbers).
Sir Mix-a-Lot had a #1 hit in 1992 with his rap song “Baby Got Back.” In it, he tells listeners to “dial 1-900-MIX-ALOT, and kick them nasty thoughts.” That number was a real number, set up by Sir Mix-a-Lot and his record label. Callers would be charged a few dollars per minute to “kick them nasty thoughts,” which meant recording their own sexually explicit messages, or listen to ones left by other people. The enterprise was rumored to have made a small fortune for Mix-a-Lot at the time, but the number is no longer active.
One of the most memorable moments in the 1984 comedy Ghostbusters is the low-budget TV commercial the Ghostbusters make, directing potential clients to call them at “555-2368.” During the movie’s theatrical run, director Ivan Reitman set up 1-800-555-2368, and ran it at the bottom of ads for the film on TV. Callers got a prerecorded greeting from stars Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd. The movie was a blockbuster, and the hotline racked up an average of 1,000 calls an hour during the six weeks it was in operation.
In a 2004 episode of the NBC sitcom Scrubs, Dr. Turk (Donald Faison) shares his excitement over nabbing the phone number 916-CALL-TURK. (Numbering conventions being what they are, it was actually “916-CALL-TUR,” but whatever.) Show execs went so far as to set up a working line, which usually delivered a recorded message from Faison urging viewers to watch Scrubs. But occasionally, callers were lucky enough to get their call picked up by one of the cast members, who would then carry on a conversation for a few minutes.
In 1966, soul singer Wilson Pickett told us we could reach him by dialing “634-5789.” Given that the song was a Top 20 hit, there are surprisingly few stories about people calling the number en masse. But it’s also understandable because in 1966, during the single’s initial release, all-number dialing was still rolling out to parts of the country where callers were accustomed to using two numbers and five letters.
That’s the phone number of God. At least it is in the 2003 comedy Bruce Almighty. The movie is set in Buffalo, New York, and filmmakers chose it because that number was not in use in Buffalo at the time. However, the movie was a nationwide hit, and hundreds of people called it in their own area codes. A Florida woman with the number threatened to sue Universal Pictures, because she was getting 20 phone calls an hour from people asking “Is God there?” In Sanford, North Carolina, it was, ironically, the phone number of a church. (When the movie was released on DVD, 776-2323 was replaced with a generic—and fake—“555” number.)
In the 1999 movie Magnolia, Tom Cruise plays a misogynistic self-help guru named Frank Mackey. His seminars instruct callers to dial “1-877-TAMEHER” to order his “Seduce and Destroy” destruction program. If real-life callers tried the number, they got a recording of Cruise’s spiel from the movie, promising them to “get that naughty sauce that you want, fast.”