Whatever Happened To Rock 'N' Roll?
By Erin Bruno
Before iPods, Mp3s, and MTV, music used to be about one thing: music. Pure and simple. The extent of consumerism involved in the sale of music was fans purchasing records, music magazines and the occasional band tee shirt. For the past two decades music consumerism has grown extensively and now, in the twenty-first century, the over-commercialization of bands and solo artists has ruined the true essence of music. There are many examples of how music has been over-commercialized, but one example that seems to eat at me more than the others is the growing trend of using popular songs in TV commercials. The music my parents grew up listening to is now being used to sell everything from cars to soft drinks to cell phones. I would expect modern musicians and artists to sell their songs to commercials, but when I hear songs from the Sixties and Seventies being crucified by Coca Cola commercials it almost makes me sick.
This trend of using popular music in TV commercials began sometime in the mid- 1980s. Slowly, corporations targeting niche market groups through the use of music in advertising replaced the good old days of the TV commercial jingle. Now when you turn on your television, there’s a good chance you are going to hear a song from decades ago playing in the background of some cheesy commercial.
The most recent example is Target’s use of The Beatles’ “Hello, Goodbye.” But it doesn’t stop here. Let me run down a list of a few of the most appalling examples of commercials that use classic rock songs:
Zales: The Yardbirds’ “For Your Love”
Applebee’s: Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire”
Clinque (Happy Perfume): The Turtles’ “So Happy Together”
Royal Caribbean Cruise: Iggy Pop’ “Lust for Life”
Coca Cola: The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What you Want”
HP Computers: The Who’s “Baba O’Reily”
HP Computers: The Kinks’ “Picture Book”
Victoria Secret: Bob Dylan’s “Love Sick”
American On-Line: Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely”
Volkswagen- Nick Drake’ “Pink Moon”
Cadillac- Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll”
Apple iMac Snow- Cream’s “White Room”
Mercedes- Benz: Janis Joplins’ “Mercedes- Benz”
US Postal Service: Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like An Eagle”
Wrangler: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son”
Most of the bands listed above originally stood for the ideal that rock n’ roll was about rebelling against authority, conformity, and social norm. Now these songs are being used to sell exactly what they were singing against.The Who’s rock-anthem, “Baba O’Reily,” that sang about the wastelands we create in our world, is now being used to sell HP Computers? Iggy Pop’s early-punk era songs about drug addiction are being paired up with Caribbean cruises? Bob Dylan, a noted folk/rock songwriter and poet, is singing in commercials trying to sell underwear and bras? Nick Drake, an underground folk singer, who committed suicide before even making it big, is being used to sell Volkswagen cars? What kind of world are we living in? Really? I personally do not understand how any human familiar with these artists could not be personally offended when they hear these songs on commercials.
In a lot of cases, the original artists have lost the rights to their songs making these classic songs up for grabs by the bidder with the most cash. But there are still many cases when classic rock artists intentionally sell their music to commercials. Veteran rocker Randy Bachman (The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive), is an example of an artist who signed his song “Takin’ Care of Business” over to an Office Depot commercial. NPR Online reported, “Bachman has no regrets, calling the partnership a ‘perfect marriage’ between a song and a product. The money isn't bad either, though he won't disclose how much he made from the deal. ‘You make more in one year with that commercial than you do in your entire lifetime of your band in the '70s with that song,’ he said.” (www.npr.com)
The old concept of “selling-out” apparently no longer applies to a musician in the twenty-first century. Just the fact that your music is out there and is popular is indicative of some sense of commercialization. I mean, face it, with all the technology out there today, it is impossible for a musician to be popular and completely steer clear of “selling out.” Also, while the Internet, iPod and other technologies have made it easier for more musicians to be heard, the influx of all these musicians has made it increasingly hard for bands to distinguish themselves from the others. Therefore, getting a song in a TV commercial is a great idea for a struggling band/musician in 2008. Take the most current example of Yael Naim, an Israeli singer whose tune “New Soul” is featured in the newest Macbook Air commercial. Her buzz scaled up to 550% in only a week and a surge of people began searching the net for that “macbook air commercial song.” (Yahoo.com)
However, how does all this apply to a band that is already a classic legend? I suppose these bands and musicians, like Randy Bachman, among others, figure that in order to compete with the modern musicians out there today, they must conform to commercializing their music in advertisements, films, and through other mass media. They also want new audiences to hear their music. Unfortunately, the result of all this is that my generation and younger generation will become familiar with these great classic songs, but only through commercials and sugar coated media. These “fresh” and younger audiences will identify great rock legends, such as Led Zeppelin or The Rolling Stones with cars and soft drinks.
With this over-commercialization of rock music, it is sad to say that the good old days of rock n’ roll, in its pure and authentic form, are long gone. I suppose it is inevitable that all music must commercialize itself in order to be heard by a mass audience that has been trained to listen to the music fed to them. Music, like most art, as a result of reproduction, is now a commodity, a product. Inevitably, rock music cannot separate itself completely from the mainstream, although it was formed on ideals of rebellion and radicalism in an underground forum. Author David Armstrong summed up this idea decades ago in his 1984 book, A Trumpet to Arms: Alternative Media in America: “Taken from their original context and sweetened by the merchandisers of mass culture, alternative values and concepts are changed even as they change society. Thus, once far-out expressions of cultural radicalism, such as rock music… which received early and exhaustive attention in the underground media have been thoroughly absorbed into mainstream culture, stripped of their challenging context, and marketed as accoutrements of the good life.”
Although, to true rock fans, it still seems like a travesty that classic rock songs are being used to sell products and that the original meaning of these songs has been lost forever. The only true link these songs have to their advertisements are the babyboomers watching these commercials. Corporations are fully aware that the babyboomers grew up listening to these songs and therefore, they will identify their favorite songs with the product they are being advertised with. Unfortunately, this gimmick does work and that’s why it continues and grows. This means we have to be more conscious and active of what we are being fed by the mass media, whether it is music or a news report. Research what you see and hear on the television, because there is always a deeper meaning underneath the bright glow of the television set.