Damn Those Commercials!

Before we begin, a mini-bitch of sorts. A few weeks ago, I mentioned my displeasure in discovering that one of my recent CD purchases, the latest by Kings of Leon, was copy-protected and could not be transferred to Jenna the Ipod. Luckily, it didn’t take a lot of work to find MP3’s of that album online.
This was the only case in the five hundred or so albums that I have copied to Jenna…until yesterday. A friend of mine has been raving about this new band called the Dead 60’s that features a sort-of updated rewrite of London Calling-era Clash. Sounds like something I can enjoy, right? Yesterday I purchased this disc, and placed it in my pile of new albums waiting to go inside Jenna. Well, you probably already figured out that it was another of those discs that the record company wants to dictate where and when I listen to it.
The album can be played in almost every normal CD player, but when placed in a computer it can only be played on a Windows Media Player or a Sony portable player. I call bullshit. Once I’ve paid my hard-earned cash, I should be able to do whatever I want with the disc. This is the (hopefully) the last time I will purchase this sort of disc, and if I’m burned again you can bet that I will happily illegally download and hand out multiple copies of any artist on this act’s label.
With that out of the way, it’s time to move on to the topic of the day. We’re going to chat about commercials. Don’t worry, Cade, you shouldn’t get any phone call from angry sponsors. I’m talking about television commercials – more specifically, the music placed in TV ads.
For years, I have struggled with the idea of artists selling out to automakers, soda companies, and other multinational conglomerates. Eric Clapton and Genesis started this trend in the late 80’s when they sold songs to Michelob. They didn’t sell just any old song, though. Conveniently, these tunes just happened to be their latest singles timed for simultaneous release..
It’s not like either of these acts needed the extra publicity. You couldn’t escape the horrific Phil Collins – between soundtracks, solo albums, and those awful Genesis albums he was everywhere. And while Clapton had not released anything listenable since “Layla”, his latest releases were still all over over commercial radio and MTV.
For the most part, though, artists were hesitant to license their material for ad campaigns. It was just considered a no-no, and not worth the backlash. It was also cheaper for companies to just license oldies and have them remade by session musicians.
In recent years, though, it’s become commonplace, and, truthfully, I don’t have as big of a problem with it as you may expect. I’m still against the big names offering up their latest singles, and Moby certainly went way too far when he license every single track of Play to various commercials.
When it comes to indie rock and under-heard classics from the past, however, I have no problems. There are fewer and fewer outlets for these sorts of acts, and it’s almost refreshing to actually hear a good song – even if it is for only thirty seconds. And if the money allows these struggling acts to record another album or drive a bit more comfortably from gig to gig, more power to them – although it is a tad strange to hear the Shins in a McDonalds’ commercial. And I always smile when I hear the Kinks’ “Picture Book”.
But rock ‘n’ roll and big business are certainly strange bedfellows, and quite often I’m hearing products being hawked to the accompaniment of lyrics that obviously were not read by the admakers. Take the case of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, which is currently using Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life”. This is a track that was the principal theme song of “Trainspotting”, and for good reason as the entire song is about shooting up smack.
In a similar vein is “There She Goes”, originally written and recorded by The La’s, but turned into a saccharine hit by Sixpence None the Richer. I’ve heard this tune in a half dozen or so different commercials, as well as a number of movie trailers. Again, this is a song about the exploits of a heroin addict!
The NFL even went one step farther for last year’s Super Bowl. Accompanied by a montage of fake home movies and highlights, the ad was set to Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day”, a track not only about heroin but also suicide. Good, clean American fun.
Speaking of Americana at it’s strangest, how about Wrangler’s use of CCR’s “Fortunate Son”. Folks, there is a reason why this was the centerpiece of John Fogerty’s set at last year’s Vote For Change – the entire song is anti-war, anti-government, and anti-rich. Yet Wrangler’s sets the tune against a backdrop of waving flags and tight jean-clad asses. Sure, the more controversial lines are edited out, but I have to believe approximately 51% of the country would be upset if they paid attention.
“Fortunate Son “ is one of many anti-capitalist tracks that are currently being used to celebrate consumerism. There’s also Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz”, Applebees’ rewrite of “Take This Job and Shove It”, Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun” for Best Buy, H&R Block’s theft of the Beatles’ “Taxman”, and Nissan’s use of the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. What’s especially humorous about the Nissan ad is that the lines used to introduce a redesigned vehicle include “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. That sure says a lot about this car.
This isn’t the only time Nissan has sent mixed messages with their choice of background tunes. I recently saw a commercial that for their Maxima that utilized the Smiths’ “How Soon is Now”, one of my favorite mid-80’s tunes but also one of Morrissey’s most depressing tunes. “You stand on your own/and you leave on your own/ and you go home, and you cry/and you want to die”.
The ad that makes me laugh the most, though, would have to be GM’s attempt to appeal to male rock and rollers with the record setting purchase of Led Zep’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll” for their so-called “new” Cadillacs. Aren’t car commercials supposed to make a guy think that a hot car will result in hot sex? Yet in this song Robert Plant is complaining that it’s been a “lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time”. I guess the new message of this era is that one should buy a Caddy and forget about getting laid!?!


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