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In the comments section a couple of weeks ago, mt58 picked up on a note about the use of popular songs in adverts.

I’m not qualified to write about it from the US perspective. But I can give you the lowdown on some of the great, the good…

and the strange, from this side of the pond.

There’s a wealth of candidates. Here are some of the most memorable offerings of pop culture / capitalism synergy.


πŸ‘– Levis

I could write a whole article just about Levis, who perfected and popularised the use of classic songs to make them hits all over again. I’m intrigued to know whether they used the same approach in the US.

This is a list of all the songs that charted off the back of Levis adverts, with a few highlights picked out. There could be others I’ve missed, and there are other songs used such as Johnny Cash’s Ring Of Fire that featured but didn’t chart.

πŸ‘– Marvin Gaye:
I Heard It Through The Grapevine
UK #8, 1986

The first in the series repurposed the soul standard to soundtrack the sight of exceptional physical specimen Nick Kamen, taking an unusual approach to launderette etiquette.

πŸ‘– Sam Cooke: Wonderful World: – UK #2, 1986
πŸ‘– Percy Sledge: When a Man Loves A Woman: – UK #2, 1987
πŸ‘– Ben E. King: Stand By Me – UK #1, 1987
πŸ‘– Eddie Cochran: C’mon Everybody – UK #14, 1988
πŸ‘– Muddy Waters: Mannish Boy – UK #51, 1988
πŸ‘– Steve Miller Band: The Joker – UK #1, 1990

πŸ‘– T-Rex:
20th Century Boy
UK #13, 1991

Featuring none other than a soon to be very famous Brad Pitt. The first time they helped a British song back into the charts but its still set in America as convict Brad is released from jail somewhere in the desert into the arms of his equally hot female companion. The fictional couple very likely had fictional sex soon after.

πŸ‘– The Clash: Should I Stay Or Should I Go – UK #1, 1991
πŸ‘– Dinah Washington: Mad About The Boy – UK #41, 1992
πŸ‘– Screaming Jay Hawkins: Heartattack and Vine – UK #42, 1993

πŸ‘– Stiltskin:
Inside
UK #1, 1994

A new approach commissioning original music. On debut people thought it might be Smashing Pumpkins as the crunching guitars do a good job of ripping off the sound of Today. Turned out it was written specially for the advert.

But after it went down well, a band was created to promote an extended single version. Now complete with growling vocals, courtesy of Ray Wilson – who later replaced Phil Collins in Genesis.

Although it reached the top spot no one was much interested in what Stiltskin did next. The follow up got to #34, the album charted at #17 and they disbanded.

πŸ‘– Biosphere: Novelty Waves – UK #51, 1995
πŸ‘– Freakpower: Turn On, Tune In, Cop Out – UK #3, 1995
πŸ‘– Shaggy: Boombastic – UK #1, 1995

πŸ‘– Babylon Zoo:
Spaceman
UK #1, 1996

This one was not as advertised. The song in the campaign was a speeded up helium voiced beat laden effort. The single started out that way before swiftly decelerating to actual speed revealing a rather more ponderous indie dance track that aimed for epic status.

While some were disappointed to discover the reality it still sold over a million copies and sits securely within the UK top 100 selling singles of all time. Frontman Jas Mann was brimming with ego about how they were the greatest band in the world but the world decided otherwise.

Subsequent chart trajectory went; 17 – 32 – 46 – didn’t chart. First single off the 2nd album was All The Money’s Gone. A warning lesson to any aspiring egomaniac rockstar.

πŸ‘– Smoke City: Underwater Love – UK #4, 1997
πŸ‘– The Lilys: A Nanny In Manhattan – UK #16, 1998

πŸ‘– Mr Oizo:
Flatbeat
UK #1, 1999

Going out in a high, in terms of chart positions anyway. The track was a far cry from where it all began in the 80s.

For half the ad, it’s replaced by some easy listening. But the power of the Flat Eric puppet made sure that people had already bought it before they realised how annoying Flatbeat was


🍬 Wrigleys Gum

🍬 Free:
All Right Now
UK # 8, 1991

Two beautiful young people share a stick of gum on a bus ride across a deserted landscape somewhere in America. The fictional couple very likely had fictional sex later that evening.

All Right Now had peaked at #2 in 1970. But thanks to a stick of gum, it reached a new audience and charted at #8 in 1991. I’d never heard of Free before but soon had a copy of their greatest hits. I didn’t buy any gum.


🍺 Miller Lite

🍺 The Hollies:
He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother
UK # 8, 1988
Breaking records for longest gap between number ones, this hit the top in 1988, 23 years after their only other #1, I’m Alive. A great song, and a memorable advert.


🍫 Cadbury’s Chocolate

🍫 Phil Collins:
In The Air Tonight
UK #14, 2007

One of the greats.

The advert, not Phil.

Though, he did alright for himself, too. Closeup on a gorillas face looking primed, looking intense as In The Air Tonight ratchets up the tension. Waiting for the moment, the anticipation of those drums kicking in.

Watching it, you wonder what the hell is going on the first time you see it. And then we pan out to take in the full scene, the dam bursts, the drums take a pounding and its all worth it.

A #2 hit on release in 1981, it benefitted from the download boom to spend another 13 weeks in the top 40 in the wake of the ad, reaching #14.


πŸ“Ά Vodafone

πŸ“Ά Dandy Warhols:
Bohemian Like You
UK # 5, 2001

Hey youngsters! By the power of the Dandy’s whooping alternative anthem you’ll see that mobile phone networks are fun really. You can stay in touch with your friends while at a music festival!

… Ignoring the fact that in 2001: there was no way of charging your phone at a festival. So once you got past the first day, you had to switch it off for the majority of the weekend to preserve the battery.

And go back to the 20th century method of arranging in advance to meet at 6pm by that burger van to the side of the main stage where you got dysentery the year before.

On release in 2000 it had stalled at #42 but heavy rotation in the service of Vodafone gave them a career high #5 hit the following year. 


πŸ›οΈ Halifax Building Society

πŸ›οΈ Commodores:
Easy
UK # 15, 1988

(Admin first, in case you’re wondering what a building society is: it’s like a bank.)

(But they’re owned by their Members.
Which means, their customers.
Bit like a credit union apparently.

That was dull wasn’t it? Now back to the regular programming….)

The 1980s. When technological advancements meant the future was within our grasp. What did it matter that the banks were closed on a Sunday, your milk had gone off, and you had no money? You could pop down to the new fangled ATM and withdraw actual money, without the need for human interaction. It was so easy. Easy like a Sunday morning. Bet they took the rest of the day off work after coming up with that one.

Easy became Commodores final UK hit, the re-release reaching 15 in 1988, having peaked at #9 eleven years previously.


🧴 Nivea

🧴 Bobby Vinton:
Blue Velvet
UK #2, 1990

Bobby wasn’t too successful over here. Blue Velvet didn’t chart here when originally released and he’d only ever had two top 40 hits.

I’d actually forgotten this was re-released as a result of its use in an ad. I thought it was connected to the film, though I now realise that came out four years earlier and definitely wasn’t the mainstream box office gold likely to launch Bobby back onto the charts.

Turns out it was for Nivea Skin Cream. Enough time had passed to disconnect it from Lynch-ian weirdness. It might have been completely out of sync with the times, but it gave Bobby a career high #2 hit in 1990.


πŸ‘–  Lee Jeans

πŸ‘– John Lee Hooker:
Boom Boom
UK # 16, 1984

If its good enough for Levis….

Wikipedia says JLH was born in 1912 or 1917, whichever, it means at the grand old age of 75, or was it 80, he had a #16 hit. Only 28 years after his one previous chart incursion; Dimples, had got to 23. Whether you abhor artists selling out I reckon John gets a pass, c’mon you can’t begrudge him a top 20 hit in his 70s (or is it 80s?).


πŸš— Dunlop Tyres

πŸš— Velvet Underground:
Venus In Furs
UK # 71, 1993

A bit of a stretch to call it a hit but the fact that it charted, even if it was at #71 is pretty amazing.

File this one under, ‘whoah there, what were they on at the ad agency that day?’ Dunlop tyres are given the full freakscene treatment. I guess tyres are made of rubber, rubber suggests a certain level of kinkiness / deviancy so let’s have a fetish theme and the perfect soundtrack is Venus In Furs. No idea whether it sold any tyres but it looked incredible. And Velvet Underground made the singles chart in the 1990s!


πŸ₯ƒ Guinness

Guinness had a reputation for iconic advertising long before TV. Slogans such as ‘My Goodness, My Guinness’, ‘Guinness For Strength’ and ‘Guinness Is Good For You’ accompanied on brand, simple but colourful artwork. As the saying goes, those were different times.

There was even one that said ‘Ten To One, Its Guinness Time’. A nation of prospective alcoholics wholeheartedly approved and settled in for an all day drinking session. After all, Guinness is healthy right?

In the 1980s Rutger Haeur starred in a series of often surreal ads uttering gnomic phrases like; ‘Its not easy being a dolphin’.

In the mid 90s, things got more cinematic. Music became an integral element. Songs weren’t just picked because they were classics that everyone remembered. They used old and new tracks that fed into the theme of the advert and were part of the narrative.

πŸ₯ƒ Louis Armstrong:
We Have All The Time In The World
UK # 3 1994

The title riffed on the time it takes for a pint of Guinness to settle after being poured and features a blink and you miss it nod to Rutger.

Louis’ last top 40 appearance was 1968 when What A Wonderful World topped the chart. But the use of his Bond theme from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service saw this reach #3 in 1994.

πŸ₯ƒ Perez Prado and His Orchestra
Guaglione
UK # 2, 1995

The following year, the ‘Dancing Man’ ad featuring expertly synchronized choreography to Guaglione

…and went one better, peaking at #2. It might have seemed an unlikely hit in the time of peak Britpop. But that’s the power of advertising, right there.

πŸ₯ƒ Leftfield:
Phat Planet
UK # 1 album

The 1999 ‘Surfer’ ad campaign was voted best ad of all time in a UK poll run in 2002.

Phat Planet perfectly mirrors the white horses acting as crashing waves. It was never released as a single but it helped the Rhythm and Stealth album to debut at #1.


🍦Calippo

🍦 The Who:
My Generation
UK #31, 1997

“‘Hope I die before I get old enough to see myself selling ice lollies”.

(“Popsicles”, for those in the new world)

Then again, I suppose there’s a lot worse things to sell out for. Though, I’ve never been a fan of the Calippo. Maybe Pete Townshend got paid in Calippos to give to the grandkids. I don’t imagine he needed the money. The re-release got to #31 on the back of this Day-Glo monstrosity that was as far from the message of the song as you can get.


🍟 Heinz Tomato Ketchup

🍟 Ladysmith Black Mambazo:
Inkanyezi Nezazi (The Star and the Wiseman)
UK # 33

Heartwarming ad shot in soft focus in which the kids are left to fend for themselves after school and prepare the family meal.

Not sure if the look on mum’s face when she shows up is guilt or adoration.

Complete with closing proverb as if its supposed to have some deeper meaning than just ‘buy our ketchup’.

LBM are a South African acapella vocal choir, they feature on Paul Simon’s Graceland. The songs lyrics are about the coming of Christ but given they’re in Zulu so one watching had any idea there’s no need to worry about appropriating it to hawk ketchup and beans.

Released as a single it got to #33 but the ad had a bigger impact in the albums chart as a Best Of reached #2 and spent 24 weeks in the top 40.


πŸ‘–Brutus Jeans

πŸ‘– David Dundas:
Jeans On
UK # 3 , 1976

Or to give him his full title:

Lord David Paul Nicholas Dundas.

The son of the 3rd Marquess of Zetland had a way with a jingle. The success of the ad led to him recording a full length version and giving him a #3 hit here and #17 in the US.

He had a minor follow up hit but continued working on advertising jingles and moved into films, composing the original score for mid 80s British cult classic Withnail and I.

As for Brutus Jeans, I have no idea what happened to them. Popular in the 70s is all I can find.

Hope you enjoyed this trawl through another area of British popular culture.

Anyone for a US version?


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JJ Live At Leeds

From across the ocean, a middle aged man, a man without a plan, a man full of memories, a man like JJ.

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Phylum of Alexandria
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November 10, 2022 7:57 am

Great topic.

The presence of a great song in a commercial fills me with ambivalence. I love hearing the tune, and appreciate the potential spread of the tune to viewers everywhere, but I hate commercials in general, and I really hate the appropriation of great art to sell more waffle irons and such.

Still, I gotta give credit to the people behind the Levi ads. Someone had good taste! Never thought I’d hear Biosphere in a commercial, but that tune works great.

I try my best to avoid commercials these days, so my memories of prominent ad tunes stops some time in the early 00s, but we had some really unlikely choices.

Even crazier than “A Venus in Furs,” there was a car commercial here that played “Heroin!” Although if I remember correctly, it was just the guitar intro, so no “WHEN THAT HEROIN IS IN MY BLOOD…”

There was also “TV Eye” by The Stooges, “American Nightmare” by The Misfits, and “Roman P” by Psychic TV. On the more tasteful side there was “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake, and “Fluffy Clouds” by The Orb. I think most of those were for Volkswagon.

Not sure if this counts, but on the weirder side, Bud Light had a series of ads featuring a stalker penguin singing “doobee doobee dooo” from Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night.” Certainly memorable!

You think Mr. Oizo’s “Flatbeat” is annoying? I love that groove. Around the same time, I heard a track from Mr. Scruff, and they were so similar in character that I thought that the two Mr. names were aliases for the same person. But I’ve found no evidence that that’s actually the case, so I guess it was just a coincidence.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3roir7_lcY

thegue
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thegue
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November 10, 2022 8:20 am

“Pink Moon” in the VW remains one of my favorite commercials of all-time, and my gateway song into Nick Drake. Here it is for our friends on the other side of the pond:

https://youtu.be/_-kqUkZnDcM

thegue
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thegue
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November 10, 2022 8:21 am

And FRANKLY, Michelob couldn’t do any wrong in the 1980s…

https://youtu.be/w171F7tND0o

Phylum of Alexandria
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November 10, 2022 12:18 pm

Ah, it was Piss Ice, not Piss Light. My mistake.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAfmUmLH4bo

cappiethedog
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cappiethedog
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November 10, 2022 7:31 pm

The use of Devo’s “That’s Good” to promote the PGA did nothing to expand their audience. I don’t think Generation Z watches golf.

Phylum of Alexandria
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November 11, 2022 12:42 pm
Reply to  cappiethedog

Maybe if Tyler, the Creator were on board, there’d be a better chance…but there’s still the meddlesome problem of golf being involved.

dutchg8r
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November 10, 2022 9:06 am

I knew Levi’s had quite the thing going over there for awhile, but my goodness, I had no idea how prevalent they really were!

Loved that Cadbury’s ape one, too awesome.

They used to have a network show here in the States that would highlight ads from around the world, and I always thought it was a fascinating culture study what different cultures found funny or poignant, or something America would think is horribly taboo that some other country doesn’t even blink on eye at.

Thank you for providing another excellent chapter in your Across The Pond series, JJ. πŸ™‚

dutchg8r
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November 10, 2022 9:14 am

I will say this – there’s a Lincoln commercial out right now with a gorgeous moody cover version of “Walking on the Moon” that always stops me in my tracks when I see it come on the tv.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=D-tIsIpbanQ

Phylum of Alexandria
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November 10, 2022 9:44 am
Reply to  dutchg8r

I would like that rendition if not for the pronunciation: “anoy-ther day.”

I like a lot of the progenitors of “indie girl voice,” but the ubiquity and amplification of such affectations never cease to annoy their target, when said target is me. ο»Ώ πŸ˜‰ ο»Ώ

Virgindog
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November 10, 2022 10:28 am

Excellent stuff, JJ. Makes me want a new pair of Levi’s. And a Guinness.

I’m in the office today so I can’t look up the video, but I’m sure some of you will remember the Heinz Ketchup ad using Carly Simon’s “Anticipation.” It was one of the best marriages of product and pop song in advertising.

Virgindog
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Virgindog
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November 10, 2022 11:24 am

It’s a small price to pay.

dutchg8r
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November 10, 2022 7:04 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

Oh Bill, I found you your ultimate bass…. πŸ˜†

https://www.guitarworld.com/news/zz-top-elwood-francis-17-string-bass

Virgindog
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Virgindog
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November 10, 2022 10:18 pm
Reply to  dutchg8r

Ha! Notice he only plays the strings along the edges of the neck. The ones in the middle are too hard to get to. It’s kind of a gimmick, but a good one!

cappiethedog
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November 10, 2022 7:34 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

“Just One Look”, just like “Anticipation”, was introduced to me via commercial. It’s been used multiple times. I can’t locate the right commercial and the right decade.

reggie
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November 11, 2022 12:05 pm
Reply to  cappiethedog

They ran from mid to late 70’s. Here is one from 1974 with Casey Kasem narration.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Z6Fa6KmzIY

mt58
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mt58
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November 10, 2022 11:08 am

06.02.1987

bloomcounty.png
cappiethedog
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cappiethedog
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November 10, 2022 7:22 pm
Reply to  mt58

“Rock and roller cola wars/I can’t take it anymore.”
-Billy Joel

The Safdie Brothers aren’t The Coca-Cola Corporation, but I was in awe when “The Stranger” appeared in Uncut Gems. For Joel, quite possibly, a licensing first.

Binkley is Linus sans blanket.

Edith G
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Edith G
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November 10, 2022 6:16 pm

I loved it JJ, growing up in the 80’s left me with some musical memories that came from ads, because most of them were translated in the speaking parts from the original commercials.

I don’t think that ads have the same impact anymore, of course music is still used, but in my country, in order to avoid paying royalties, advertising companies choose to do lame covers that don’t sound good at all (we have to consider that most of Hispanics, me included, don’t have the best English pronunciation).

LinkCrawford
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LinkCrawford
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November 13, 2022 8:55 pm

A handful of songs that I really remember learning from their use in commercials:

Royksopp-“Remind Me” used by GEICO Insurance
Trio-“Da Da Da” used by VW
Jet-“Are You Gonna Be My Girl” used by iPhone
Sofi Tukker-“Thats It (Im Crazy)” used by iPhone
Lou Reed-“Walk on the Wild Side” used by Honda Scooters way back in the mid 1980s!

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