Presenting ten songs that have lost their luster thanks to ironic, faux-emotional or too emotional advertising. This feature is brought to you by Ritz Crackers; bringing the ritzy taste of alternative music to CHARTattack since 1996.
Steppenwolf – Born to be Wild
The sound of gritting your teeth, jumping on a motorbike that your significant other hates and driving into the desert for a “trip” and maybe shoot a lizard—this is “Born to be Wild.” A heavy metal song that can barely be considered heavy anymore with the ironic pretense surrounding it, “Born to be Wild” is the case example for songs ruined by commercials.
It’s pretty much guaranteed that if a man is listening to “Born to be Wild” while fantasizing leaving his drab dead end job, you will laugh at him because he’s a dumb loser. It’s sad really, because being a badass is no longer a thing and no one is born to be wild anymore, unless you drink Diet Pepsi or something.
Iggy Pop – Lust for Life
I’m really sore about this one. This thing was all over Nickelodeon when I was kid, spoiling this classic for me at a time when I would have thought “Iggy Pop” was a nickname for someone who farted a lot. Instead of appreciating the song’s harrowing lyrics about heroin addiction and the vibrant characters it describes, I will forever associate with a commercial with a tone that I can only describe as “You think this is a regular cruise? Fuck you. Check that gnarly ice, bitch.”
Sarah McLachlan – Angel
How do you make an already emotionally rapturous song even sadder? Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” is one of those ballads with puppy-eyes staring up at you, clawing and pawing at your heartstrings like a chew toy. But with the power of editing, there are now connotations of sad and/or dead dogs and cats attached to it, which should make you feel guilty you monster.
“Angel” is ruined in the sense that every time I hear it I begin to cry, then feel compelled to give my dogs all of my money, but they’re just dogs and they’re not economically inclined so they just spend it all on stupid shit and I’m left broke with a bunch of dogs to take care of! It’s unfair and I literally have to change the channel whenever it’s on.
Peter Bjorn and John – Young Folks
The whistle heard ‘round the world. I actually really like Peter Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks”—it’s catchy and the Swedish to English idiosyncrasies are endearing. But, this is a case of things getting co-opted and played and replayed until the whistle is no longer charming, but a death call with a shotgun, “Yo, “Young Folks,” comin’!”
In a song that’s mainly about being happy with just hanging with the ones you love, advertisers mangle it into a message of being happy with buying things. Especially the young folks, because you have to indoctrinate them early with whistles, which become a Pavlovian sign for “PURCHASE.”
Black Keys – “Tighten Up”
With the Black Keys vs. Pizza Hut gate 2012 happening, it may be hard to remember that the duo have attached themselves to shitty commercials before. I mean, there’s nothing particularly wrong with the Molson M commercial, which uses Brothers single “Tighten Up.” The product placement even makes sense—the Black Keys are a rock band (sure), they drink beer (duh), and Molson is cool (probably).
But, the commercials are so generic, so uninteresting that they threaten to collapse a song that’s not generic, but a revivalist of real rock and blues. So the catchy riff sort turns into the asshole in the bar with a dumb-shit grin grabbing a beer and asking, “Where’s all the pussy at?” At least most of this can be offset by the fact that the Black Keys have some fantastic music videos.
Blur – Song #2
Blur’s best known song is also their least sincere, a parody of grunge that flew over everyone’s head and into their television sets. Or perhaps because it fits Xtreme marketing so well. But it was everywhere, including a short film starring a little-known Clive Owen.
Though more artful than the others, I don’t really know what’s going on in this ad. Who is Clive Owen evading? Why is he calling Madonna “sir?” What is the guy on the phone insinuating at the beginning? It’s probably some kind on mnemonic device to get you remembering their fast car goes zoom. But for me, the most memorable aspect is Madonna’s performance. Seriously, she must be a really awful actress if she even can’t “act” like a tiresome, entitled ass.
The Verve – Bittersweet Symphony
This song was my JAM in fifth grade. I would put the single's tape in my Walkman and announce my arrival to homeroom with the song's already-iconic string section. And then it was everywhere. In the hallways, at football games, and on TV, and in this Nike commercial. And it's a damn fine song, but its string section has been attached to almost every televised inspirational moment since its release. Ironically, it was used without the band's permission, which kind of undercuts the “David and Goliath” message, but who cares. Look at that kid trying to play football! He's trying so hard but he's too small and aggghghghghgh!
Moby – In My Heart (Nokia N-Series)
Remember when cell phones first got cameras on them, and everyone lost their shit? Of course, we didn’t realize the videos were orgies of blurred and distorted megapixels, and that the phones could store all of four seconds of them. That’s at least partially thanks to slick commercials like this, with their phony life affirming imagery. I got chills hearing that reverb-soaked crying baby stock sound, and not the flattering kind.
Tone Loc – “Wild Thing”
There’s something about the first few seconds of “Wild Thing” that activates the “Cheeky Cortex” in the brains of 40-60 year old white men and women, which prompts them to understand that what they’re seeing is subversive, whether or not it actually is. Science.
But “Wild Thing” isn’t just limited to the world of weird dog TV commercials: you can also find it in trailers for a whole bunch of terrible movies, a list of which reads like a declaration of crimes against cinema. But none of this will hamper Loc’s credibility, whose laid-back demeanor and uniquely gravelly baritone will always be perfect for rapping about a good time, and children’s shows.
The Temper Trap – Sweet Disposition
The Temper Trap’s “Sweet Disposition” is the sort of U2 rip off that’s just catchy and (potentially) heartfelt enough for you to say, “Sure, I can listen to this whenever it’s on.” Oh, how you would eat these words. Apparently every advertising company in the world had the same insane reaction to it and decided to put it in every commercial for the year and play it forever.
With already vague lyrics that are so encompassing of lyfe, it be appropriated for every situation, sucking it of any of the little meaning it had already. New Chrysler? Sweet disposition. Loving Rhapsody and life? Sweet disposition. Getting to watch sports on TV? Sweet disposition. Emotional bombast has never been more trite.