These Songs Are Colossal Sellouts

This album cover from The Who in the 1960s was prophetic -- they have sold out more than any other classic rock band, shilling for several car companies.

The Superbowl comes in five days.  Along with anticipating the epic battle of the Pats vs. the Giants, we also look forward to the equally epic commercials.

No doubt at least one of them will feature a song from the 1960s or 70s, especially if the target market includes middle-aged people with expanded waistlines and wallets.  Watching the ad will take us back to a time when we were skinny and rebellious and cool, and we will feel wistful and nostalgic.

Does anybody else feel a little discomfited when a former rock/counterculture/youth anthem turns commercial?  It’s like seeing your high school crush walking the streets in the red light district, or working at Walmart.  Even Ferris Bueller, who epitomized coolness for those who grew up in the 80s, gets spoofed in a Honda ad on Sunday.  (The ad is brilliant, by the way.)

Indeed, most of these ads are brilliant – we watch because they dazzle us with 21st-century special effects, even as they make us nostalgic with songs from 40 years ago.  Michael Bay directed the Chevy commercial featuring Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.” It’s impossible to stop watching.

Yet seeing Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” in a Cadillac commercial (which during Led Zeppelin’s heydey was a car for gangsters and 70-year-olds) feels sad and crass. Almost as sad as seeing Robert Vaughn (the actor who played “Napoleon Solo” in the 1960s TV hit “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”) shilling for a personal injury law firm on late-night TV.  The Who – which had a 60s album entitled “The Who Sell Out,” have sold out big time, lending their songs to Nissan, Saab and even Hummer.  In a real ironic twist, their song “I Can See For Miles,” from “The Who Sell Out” was co-opted by Sylvania for a headlights ad.

Even one of my favorite songs from the psychedelic 60s – Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” a 45 record that became scratched from my overuse — showed up in an ad for Target last summer.

Maybe advertisers want to give their product some edge with people who are no longer edgy by reminding them of when they were.  The ads rewind us to the thresholds of our adulthood, when we had loads of time and anything was possible, and when we’d scurry to the record store and scan the cubbies of 45s for the latest AM radio hit.

So here’s a list of some of my favorite sellout songs, with a few links to the ads that have forever tarnished their memory…songs that stirred me as a teenager and young adult and that now remind me of how quickly the years have passed.  I’ve also included two sellouts from newer bands.  I first heard these on a commercial and liked them enough to download the entire songs.

So I guess it can work both ways.  Maybe the ads will introduce a new generation of listeners to some great classic rock, and give them one more thing to talk about with their parents.

Please add to this list!  And for more reading about the intriguing topic of music in TV commercials, visit this excellent blog, musicontv.

My List of Top Colossal Sellouts

“All Together Now” by The Beatles (Cover version, for Budweiser)

“Won’t Get Fooled Again,” by The Who (for Nissan)

“Do Ya,” by ELO (for Monster.com)

“Happy Together” by the Turtles (for Heineken and others)

“Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf (for Chevy)

“Vertigo” by U2 (for Apple)

“Picture Book,” by the Kinks (for Hewlett Packard)

“Pictures of Matchstick Men,” by the Status Quo (for Target)

And two newbies:

“Chelsea Dagger,” by The Fratellis (for Amstel Beer)

“How You Like Me Now,” by The Heavy (for Kia)

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5 thoughts on “These Songs Are Colossal Sellouts

  1. Oh, I’m so old! From your list, the only song I remember is “Happy Together” and I’m not altogether sure of that one! I might hum along with something else if I happened to hear it, but purely by accident.

    I go back further, to when the Kingston Trio “sings for 7-UP!” and I actually wasn’t aware of that until I found it on a KT collection already labelled Oldies but Goodies.

  2. I found the Fratellis after their song Flathead was used in an Apple commercial, and I downloaded the whole album. Same for the band The Asteroids Galaxy Tour – their song The Golden Age was used in a Heineken commercial and I liked it enough to buy the album.

    On the other side, I was completely crushed when I heard the Violent Femmes song Blister in the Sun in a Wendy’s commercial.

  3. No fair!! You work in that rarefied world of high school hallways teeming with bodies whose music and musical tastes keeps them moving strong and pulsing through life. Staying current and keeping up with artists, titles and words? I salute you, your stamina, but especially your words.

    Caffeine has replaced the pulsing reflect for me along with a lovin’ spoonful of sugar, sugar. (Did I just write that?..so bad….)

    • Thank you for writing! I too depend on the stimulating jolt from caffeine (three mugs a day; no sugar; and only in the morning.) But music continues to move me as well…not only the classics from the 60s and 70s but also some newer stuff, which my kids introduced to me. (Shins, MGMT, Lady Gaga, Muse.) My 13-year-old loves the Beatles and knows every word to their songs.

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