"Come On Buick, Light My Fire."

Categories: Pop Rocks

nikebeatles0111.jpg
Not official Nike footwear.
Like most of Western society, I'd figured I was pretty much numb to the use of popular songs in commercials. I don't know how far back the practice dates, exactly, but I remember the anecdote from No One Here Gets Out Alive about Jim Morrison shooting down the suggested Buick campaign referenced in the title to this entry. So...at least since 1968.

It reached critical mass in the 1980s, when bands like Genesis actually started lining up unreleased singles for use by the likes of Miller, and Nike famously used the Beatles' "Revolution" to hawk overpriced shoes.

Personally, I'd always counted on my affinity for (mostly) radio-absent musical acts to leave me unscathed. And that (mostly) held true, until last weekend...

Oh, I sympathized with those stung by Wrangler's inept usage of CCR's "Fortunate Son," or Pogues fans incensed at Subaru's co-opting of "If I Should Fall From Grace With God," but still managed to sidestep the resultant personal catastrophe (and my favorite Pogues song is still "A Pair of Brown Eyes," anyway). And then, during my desultory viewing of this weekend's NFL playoff games, I saw this:

I don't expect others -- or Honda -- to care about my attachment to "The Only Living Boy in New York." It was an important song to me during a period in my 20s...hell, we all have songs like that, and I know its new status as the soundtrack for a car commercial doesn't change that association. My wife said as much, telling me I was making a big deal out of nothing.

It was while biting my tongue to keep from saying what I really felt (that it was easy for her to talk since no car company was about to break down Dar Williams's door) that I recalled the words of Tom Waits:

When I was a kid, if I saw an artist I admired doing a commercial, I'd think, "Too bad, he must really need the money." But now it's so pervasive. It's a virus. Artists are lining up to do ads. The money and exposure are too tantalizing for most artists to decline. Corporations are hoping to hijack a culture's memories for their product. They want an artist's audience, credibility, good will and all the energy the songs have gathered as well as given over the years. They suck the life and meaning from the songs and impregnate them with promises of a better life with their product.

Should the fact you can hear "Do You Realize?" in a Land Rover commercial take away from your enjoyment of the Flaming Lips' music? I don't know. I know I don't like hearing my favorite Simon and Garfunkel song sandwiched between ten-minute viewing blocks of steroid-fueled goons running into each other on Sundays, but I usually watch games with the sound off, anyway.

And let's not get started on that Howlin' Wolf Viagra commercial.

We've become inured to "Lexus Presents..." and the like at concerts because they're impossible to escape. More to the point, they're the norm. Acts like Tom Petty, Neil Young, Pearl Jam and BRUUUCE that eschew corporate sponsorship are the exception rather than the norm. That Subaru "punk rock" ad got a lot of attention at the time, but these days "indie" bands line up for a shot at selling VWs and iPods as a matter of standard musical trajectory. It's kind of like when your first single is a cover, in that it doesn't really lend itself to career longevity.

Those of you who disagree, feel free to name a song by Orgy that isn't "Blue Monday," or discuss Feist's non-"1234" discography.

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8 comments
eB
eB

Dar WIlliams did a commercial for Singulair. :P

JimC
JimC

Things have gotten bad when I have to watch TV commercials to find out who the good new bands are. Cause you know how damn bad music radio is now, with Clear Channel being the omnipotent god of who gets airplay and who doesn't.

Blackmanny1
Blackmanny1

When Schlitz (ugh) sponsored The Who's 1982 "farewell tour," you had to know that was the beginning of the end. But if you're John Mellencamp or Paul Simon what radio station is playing your music these days? For crying out loud, how many people had even heard of Nick Drake before "Pink Moon" hit a Volkswagen commercial? Paul Simon used to joke on stage about refusing offers for commercials like "Sounds of Midas" (gag). But things change, as they say.

Jim Porter
Jim Porter

I remember an interview with Pete Townshend in the 80's, in Musician magazine, where he was bashing acts who were selling their songs for use in commercials. Paraphrasing, but it was something like he could never do that to the legion of Who fans who would never forgive him if they ever heard "Talkin bout my constipation" in a commercial. It was a pretty funny quote, whatever it was.

Aaaand then a couple of decades later he went ahead and sold the rights to his songs for use in commercials.

mizi
mizi

my heart broke when rebirth of slick (digable planets) was used to sell Tide. A sure sign that i was middle aged...*sigh*

Gaspar Ramsey
Gaspar Ramsey

"What's it all about, Mr. Natural?""Don't mean a thing!"They're just songs, no matter how cathexed you are.

Guest
Guest

THank goodness for those iPad commercials; now I just reflexively mute the TV when the main program isn't on, because hearing those three piano notes was about to place me in very dangerous mental territory.

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