Thursday, November 9, 2006

What IS that song?

As you probably know, there is an ever-growing trend to use songs in commercials. Let me reword that: there is an ever-growing trend to use pre-existing songs in commercials. Sure, we've long had advertising jingles written for specific companies, but more and more of what we hear on commercials these days was already completed long before the ads were conceived. This is a mixed blessing. On one hand, it gives exposure to songs that may otherwise go unheard or forgotten. On the other hand, unless the commercial identifies the song and artist somewhere, it leaves you wondering what you're hearing. This is especially annoying in those spots whose songs are so prominent that you're likely to forget what's actually being advertised! So, here are some recent television commercials and the songs that you hear on them:

Tide, "the difference between smelling like a mom and smelling like a woman": Any self-respecting '60s pop fan already knows which song is featured in this spot, but I must say I find such use disheartening. Sometimes a song will become associated with a product, tagline, or cause that no fan of the song would want to associate it with. Perhaps you remember the Johnny Cash estate's decision NOT to allow "Ring of Fire" to be used in a commercial for hemorrhoid medication, a rare example of good taste prevailing. But here we have a mother with a baby, the infant's head over mom's shoulder in the vomit position, and then we see the same woman romancing with her sweetheart. A female voiceover artist delivers the first half of the idiotic tagline (isn't a mom by definition a woman?) over the baby scene and the second half over the romance scene. What ties it all together? The Ronettes' 1963 classic "Be My Baby," one of the greatest hits in the recorded catalogue of legendary producer Phil Spector! I'll never be able to enjoy that song again.

Vonage: You know it. That "woo-hoo, woo-hoo-hoo" song. It's "Woo Hoo" by The's, an all-female Japanese rock 'n' roll band that has been around for 20 years. A slower, more rockabilly-oriented version of this, er, song was an American hit in 1959 for a Virginia group called The Rock-A-Teens. To confuse matters, a Georgia band formed in the '90s named itself The Rock*A*Teens [sic] after you-know-who, and also recorded a version of you-know-what.

Freestyle (diabetic testing device): "Everybody's Gonna Be Happy" by The Kinks. This was a moderate hit in the UK in 1965, and in the US it was the B-side of another moderate hit, "Who'll Be The Next In Line." Strange how The Kinks' songs seem to be popular among advertisers. Several years ago, a Jolly Rancher commercial prominently featured "All Day And All Of The Night" ("I believe that you and me last forever"), and a Hyundai commercial used a cover of "Set Me Free."

Ford, Warriors In Pink: This spot aired all throughout October, aka Breast Cancer Awareness month, and given that information you can figure out what a "Warrior In Pink" is. The song is "I Run For Life" by Melissa Etheridge. Dating from 2005, it's a reflection of her own battle with the all-too-common disease.

Planters Nuts: Just once and never again, I saw an ad with a song that went, "You can knock on my door anytime you're passing by..." I was amazed because that number is rather obscure, yet I recognized it immediately. It's "Step Inside" by The Hollies, a late '60s album cut from their requisite "Let's make the next Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper" phase.

Target: There have been many tunes used in Target commercials, but I'll zero in on "Shape Of Things To Come" by Max Frost & The Troopers. Who? A studio group cobbled together to record this opus for the late '60s teen exploitation flick Wild In The Streets. The song was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who wrote so many other hits that I can only tell you to Google their names and prepare to be amazed. "Do Ya" by ELO (Electric Light Orchestra, for the uninitiated). Birmingham, England's The Move had much success in the UK and "on the continent" during the late '60s and early '70s, but as The Move began to grow stale, they evolved into ELO. "Do Ya" is the one song both bands have in common: The Move's version was a throwaway B-side that somehow managed to crack the US charts in 1972, becoming their only American hit! Maybe that inspired ELO to redo it a few years later.

Dell: Dark, dramatic pan shots of a laptop. Sexy, intriguing, mysterious. And what do you hear? Ominous guitar riffs, screeches of "Ohhhh, yeah!" and a wailing harmonica. It's "You're Gonna Miss Me" by The 13th Floor Elevators, one of the all-time classic psychedelic hits by one of the most legendary bands ever to come from Texas. Like all long-haired rock musicians in Texas in the '60s, the Elevators were persecuted like crazy. That story is well-documented elsewhere, so I won't attempt to recapture it here.

Medium (TV series): "Walking With A Ghost" by Tegan and Sara, the finest Canadian identical twin lesbian act in the business! I also like The White Stripes' cover version, in which Jack sings "Please don't exist" instead of "Please don't insist."

Copyright © 2006 S.J. Dibai. All rights reserved.