NEW YORK (AP) _ Advertisers are playing your song as they try to drum up new business.

Old songs, many dating from the 1960s, are being used in television commercials in hopes of establishing a rapport between the sponsor and potential customers who may have grown up with the music.

The advertisers range from makers of paper towels, sandwich bags and air freight service to flashy cars and stylish watches.

Lincoln-Mercury, for instance, has trotted out 15 songs including ''Devil in a Blue Dress,'' ''Born to Be Wild,'' ''Help'' and ''Heat Wave'' over the past two years in its automobile commercials.

The makers of California Coolers, a mixture of wine and fruit juice, are using ''Green Onions,'' ''Give Me Some Loving,'' ''Tutti-Frutti'' and ''Louie Louie'' in commercials which began airing in late April.

The 1960s is not the only era being tapped for songs, however.

Pepsi-Cola USA had Michael Jackson rewrite the lyrics to his ''Billie Jean'' and had Glenn Frey write new words for his ''Better in the USA'' for Pepsi commercials even as the original songs were available in record stores.

The admakers for Citizen Watches went to another extreme, searching the musical archives for ''About a Quarter to Nine,'' a 1920s-era tune sung by Al Jolson, for a commercial showing people getting ready for a night on the town.

In some cases, the songs simply draw attention.

But in other cases, the songs are used to suggest that the product comes from a company that shares your values, talks your language and understands what matters most to you. Striking that emotional chord can help business.

Lincoln-Mercury, a division of Ford Motor Co., and its agency, Young & Rubicam, turned to music from the 1960s to help attract a younger audience for new cars in the Mercury lineup. The campaign started in September 1984.

''We wanted to let them know we exist and that we may be thinking along the same lines they are,'' said Chuck Snearly, a spokesman for Mercury. ''We wanted to get on their shopping list.''

Snearly said the approach has persuaded younger customers to ''put us on their shopping list.''

California Cooler, based in Stockton, Calif., felt 1960s songs would help it recreate the period in which the wine cooler is said to have been invented.

Stewart Bewley, one of the founders of the five-year-old company, said the ads created by the agency Chiat-Day were designed to appeal not only to those who were in their teens and older in the 1960s but to younger people as well.

Like those from Lincoln-Mercury, the California Cooler ads use the original lyrics and in some cases, the original performers. Both companies said that makes their ads sound more authentic.

Other advertisers, however, frequently rewrite the words of old songs to fit their products. Critics say the technique is becoming overused.

Finding an old song for a commercial has ''become almost an obsession'' with some ad agencies, according to Sid Woloshin, who owns a music production company bearing his name in New York. But he said the agencies often fail to establish a link between the song and whatever is being sold.

''You have people who remember the song, but not your product,'' said Fred Miller, vice president and director of recording services at Ted Bates Advertising in New York. At worst, he said peop 7/8 in a place most patients never see: the file room that Rose Loader runs.

Ms. Loader, chief of the 481-bed hospital's medical information section, has lost the services of a dozen temporary file clerks and four students who used to sort through and deliver the records. Now the regular staff of 35 has to do the work without that help.

The records still get pulled when a physician needs them. But Loader no longer has runners to deliver them, and some files are not as tidy as she would like.

But the essential work gets done, said her boss, Cheryl A. Korman, acting chief of Medical Administrative Services.

''It's just like anywhere, like a department store,'' she said. ''If you have three clerks working in one department, they're going to take care of the customers. But if there's one, they'll still take care of them all - they just don't spend as much time.''

Barbara R. Small, director of the medical center, says the entire impact of a 1 percent Gramm-Rudman cut was absorbed through administrative savings in Rose Loader's shop and elsewhere.

''We aren't beautifying the grounds as much as we used to,'' said Dr. Jacqueline Parthemore, the medical chief of staff. But ''there have been very few inroads into anything clinical. Cuts have meant a leaner administrative side of the house for us.''

The San Diego Medical Center admits 9,000 veterans and handles 200,000 outpatient visits annually. It is also the only one among the VA's 172 hospitals headed by a female director and chief of staff.

Gramm-Rudman clipped 4.3 percent out of many federal programs, but the cuts under the deficit reduction law were limited to 1 percent in the VA's medical care benefits this year, and they cannot exceed 2 percent in 1987 and beyond.

But Gramm-Rudman is not the only source of pressure on the Medical Center's $75 million budget.

Even before Gramm-Rudman sliced roughly $470,000 from its operating funds, the medical center lost $750,000 due to an Office of Management and Budget- ordered 1 percent productivity improvement, and a change in the VA's reimbursement methods cost another $1 million, according to associate director Jule D. Moravec.

The VA used to divvy up funds among its hospitals based on their historic workload. But in 1985 it adopted a new system that rewards the most productive facilities. It gauges productivity by employing a variation of Medicare's method of reimbursing hospitals based on patients' diagnoses.

Ms. Parthemore said the VA is adjusting the formula to recognize the expense of operating high-technology facilities like this 14-year-old hospital, one of the VA's newest.

''I think we're going to come out O.K.,'' she said.

The Medical Center is also girding for increased business due to a recent Navy decision to stop treating retirees and dependents at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego.

Some could be AIDs patients. The Navy has a 40-bed AIDs evaluation ward at Balboa; those with the active disease are discharged there.

And the Medical Center, like all VA health care facilities, is gearing up for operations starting July 1 that will include for the first time a clearly defined means test to determine whether some veterans will get free care.

Congress recently rewrote the ground rules for VA health care. It spelled out a means test for veterans with non-service-connected disabilities and it scrapped the old method of allowing veterans 65 or older to receive VA hospital care, regardless of income.

The new law requires the VA hospitals to care for all veterans with service-connected disabilities, as well as those exposed to Agent Orange and ionizing radiation, former prisoners of war and World War I and Spanish War veterans. A single veteran with a non-service connected disability is entitled to care if his income is no more than $15,000, or $18,000 for a veteran with a spouse.

On a space-available basis, veterans with non-service-connected disabilities can get free hospital care if their incomes are no more than $20,000 (single) or $25,000 (married). Wealthier veterans, if space is available to admit them, will be charged fees.

The means test does not apply to veterans with service disabilities.

And, in another innovation, starting July 1 the VA hospitals will be able to bill private insurance companies for care provided to veterans with non- service-connected disabilities.

Moravec does not know what will happen ''if they say they don't want to pay. I guess we'll have to have some collection mechanism.''

Moravec said the word from headquarters is that the impact ''is not going to be significant. We gather a good deal of (financial) information whenever a veteran comes in for the first time anyway.''

Fred Tremblett Jr., a service officer for Amvets who counsels veterans in an office off the main lobby, said the means test ''is going to help the truly needy veteran.''

The hospital's patient representative, Cathy Gordon, said the average wait at the pharmacy window is two hours, and it can sometimes take out-patients all day to see a physician, get a prescription and get it filled.

The wait ran to several hours one recent afternoon for retired Navy demolition man Don Blackwell, 52, of Chula Vista, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. ''It just takes so long, but I understand that. There's so many people,'' he said softly.

His wife, Nancy, standing beside his wheelchair, said, ''You learn patience when you're in the service. It's hurry up and wait.''

Ron Norby, the hospital's chief nurse, said some veterans think they see the hand of Gramm-Rudman at the hospital even where it doesn't exist.

''Right now, Gramm-Rudman is the word on everybody's lips,'' said Norby. ''If all of a sudden this (medical) journal stopped coming, somebody would say, 'Well, that's Gramm-Rudman for you.' The fact that the sticker that addresses it fell off would have nothing to do with it.''

But Norby also complains that his licensed vocational nurses are lured off by other hospitals in the community with salaries $2 per hour higher than the roughly $6 he can pay.

Like all federal employees, the hospital staff got no cost-of-living increase this year. A recent change that lengthened their expected work year by seven hours actually reduced their biweekly paychecks by a dollar or two.

But Ms. Parthemore, the chief of staff, said, ''There's a lot of loyalty.'' Nurses and physicians alike savor working in a teaching hospital affiliated with a major medical school, the University of San Diego.

Ms. Parthemore, who came here a few months after the doors opened in 1972, said she would quit if budget cuts ever compromised patient care.

The question, she said, ''is whether or not we can provide for as many veterans. I think everybody wants to provide quality care, but there may not be enough dollars to provide for as many.''

End Adv for Sun June 1