Product Placement In Music, Music In Advertising, And Selling Or Getting Sold
Just recently, the latest Dell commercial began with the post-Brit invasion guitar licks and nasal whine of The Strange Boys, an awesome band from
Austin Dallas, Texas and my first reaction was surprise. Somebody at Dell has some goddamn taste! My second reaction: happiness. For someone had given the Sambol boys a check.
This is a far cry from the reaction I had the first time I heard my favorite Beatles song used in a tennis shoe ad. No, for these days, commercials, soundtracks, and ad campaigns are the new A&R. Thanks to someone deep down in the pits of some marketing agency with excellent taste in music, we are able to find a Geico commercial more palatable, and in return, an indie band can get enough gas in their van to make it from Wilmington to Asheville. (You didn’t think they traveled the world solely by the sales at the merch table, did you? The $5 cover at the door when only ten people showed up?) While I don’t have any feelings one way or the other regarding any of those companies, I do thank them for giving these bands exposure they otherwise would not get.
Soundtracks have the same effect. What more is HBO’s True Blood than a chance to watch sexy, naked vampires get it on while listening to kick-ass music? As long as people can stand to keep watching Sons of Anarchy on FX, Scott H. Biram and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club will keep getting recognition and hopefully some royalties.
I know what you are thinking. Or perhaps, I should say I know what some of you are thinking. And with all full disclosure, I am basing this assertion I had with an unnamed, dirty hippie-chick from a local band. She took the position that these bands were selling out and had somehow compromised their music by accepting money from these corporate entities. That somehow the message of the band that drove thousands of miles and played shitty bars for more than 45 weeks of the year to drunks (or inebriated die-hard fans, as I like to refer to myself) has altered because they took what basically amounts to “free money,” if ever there were such a thing.
This same girl who lives on government handouts, her daddy’s money, and produces records that, deep down inside, she hopes no one buys because she is truly “punk rock,” chastises anyone who makes money honestly…
How different is this from the position Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys
takes took? In his will, he states that he bars the use of any and all of his work from ever appearing in advertising. Is this the same man who likes to “rock my Adidas / never rock Fila?” Not to sound grim — and I grew up loving the Beastie Boys, despite them being New Yorkers — but what if a Beastie Boys song helped promote awareness of stomach cancer?
It’s not like anyone’s had to change their brand or message by accepting these checks. It’s not like they’ve stooped to some nefarious corporation and are succumbing to their bidding all in the name of collecting some greenbacks. While some ads have bordered on lack of taste, I can only imagine how life would have been if someone canned and marketed poke greens for Polk Salad, if a practicing physician were actually named Dr. Feelgood, or if Chuck Berry worked for the Memphis Visitors and Convention Bureau. I myself have wondered why hospitals don’t fight to name their infirmaries after St. James or why Dole or Chiquita never approached Billie Holliday for the rights of “Strange Fruit.”
Selling out is a term used by junior high kids and hipster bands that never want to have an impact. So be it. I enjoy the fact that these bands are able to come to my neighborhood and that I can enjoy them live on my modest budget. If I were a millionaire, I’d have them play my birthday party. But I’m not, so I’ll settle driving out to High Point next weekend to catch Wayne “The Train” in a shitty bar or up to Martin’s Downtown in Roanoke for whatever they may stir up.
So I promised a Top Ten list, didn’t I? Enough preaching…
TOP TEN SONGS FOR COMMERCIALIZATION
Oh hell yes it does. While the two country kids from Arkansas faded into obscurity after a couple of high profile years with Capitol records, they knew two things: Fame can be fleeting and Girls Talk. It wasn’t a copyrighted product that Bobby Adamson and Woody Murray shilled in their 1955 bopping number, but rather their selves and their own sexuality.
How much can we say about cars in American culture? Cars have shaped our culture, transforming us from strictly urban dwellers, to how we eat, to what time of year our television shows air. Cars have been the number one advertisers since they competed with gasoline (which goes into cars) for spots on early TV. Every brand seems to have an iconic song. Ford gets some love from Reverend Horton Heat, Jaguar from the Who and Chuck Berry, and everybody who’s anybody has sung about a Cadillac. One of the sexiest cars, the Galaxie 500, gets some love from Drowning Lovers and Reverend Horton Heat. Sam McGee does some old time with the Chevy and the Beach Boys broke free from the deuce coupe to sing about a two-wheeled Honda. So with all of those, why on earth did I choose “Bitchin’ Camaro,” you ask? Coin flip.
Man, they’ve been singing songs to put a wild man in the White House since “The Hunters of Kentucky” was used to elect Andrew Jackson in 1824 and 1828. “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” (W.H. Harrison), “Happy Days are Here Again” (FDR), and “I’m Just Wild about Harry” (Truman), are prime examples of electioneering, but Sinatra, one of the biggest stars of the era, pulled out all the stops when he took his already hit song “High Hopes” and changed the lyrics to stump for his crony John F. Kennedy. The song (with the help of Momo Giancana) propelled the young senator from Massachusetts into office and changed the course of history.
For all of you who — like me — went to college at east Texas’ Stephen F. Austin State University, and has ever made that midnight trip into Houston or its environs, I don’t need to explain what the bearded ones are shilling in this song. For the rest of you… two words: Chicken Ranch.
No list of music dealing with advertising, branding, or product placement would be complete without the inclusion of this instrumental. From now until eternity, it will conjure images of The Wheel, nylons, and Play-tex. For me, anyway…
This song is ridiculous, but since junior high this is the only thing I can think of when I see a Harley out on the road. Canned Heat is probably more appropriate for most people, but not for me.
My iPod was purchased specifically so I could listen to songs about whiskey drinking on whatever floor I find myself, but this one gets the toe to tapping. The music stylings of Pete Bernhard (guitarist), Lucia Turino (bassist), and Cooper McBean (banjo and gee-tar) rock on stage or recorded and are a must-see anytime they make it near your town. Go see them.
I have long believed that The Who Sell Out is one of the greatest concept albums of all time. From the cover images of them promoting Heinz Baked Beans or Odorono body deodorant to their pitches for the acne cream Medac to little jingles between songs that sound like they come direct from the BBC’s airwaves. But “Odorono,” the heart-wrenching tale of a singer who fails her audition due to her failure to apply deodorant, reigns supreme.
No company in history had done more to foist itself into the national consciousness than Coca-Cola. Even before televisions, the soda company from Atlanta sent agents out to paint their scripted logo across barns in the countryside, a precursor to American billboards. So successful was this campaign that singers infuse the brand into their music naturally, and probably without realization. “Drinking a coke” in the South can simply mean “having a soda” of any brand… even Pepsi. Oddly enough, Pepsi, “The Choice of the New Generation” — for the past three generations — has had a more difficult time achieving the same effect. While they use pop stars of the day — like Michael Jackson or Britney Spears — they don’t tap into the consciousness the same way as Coke. Is it because it’s easier to rhyme with Coke or Cola or is the brand just that much more iconic? Who knows? But one thing’s for sure, they know how to make the world sing (in perfect harmony).
A toe-tapper and filled with biting satiric irony… delicious. I’ll take two! Paul Simon is no stranger to commercialism and in the early Sixties, was quite the commenter on consumerism, alienation, and American culture. But this B-side from “The Dangling Conversation” and deep track from Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme hits all the right chords by attacking consumer culture and managing lyrics that sound as if ripped directly from a late-night commercial. As to what the Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine that could “neutralize your brain” and “eliminate your pain…” we could only guess.
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(also, come visit me at The Rectory: http://reverenderyk.blogspot.com)