Political Animal


February 03, 2013 5:22 PM The times, they have changed

By Kathleen Geier

Very rarely do I find myself disagreeing with Paul Krugman. But I do take exception to this post. In it, Krugman writes that he was disturbed by the use of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” in one of the Super Bowl ads. After all, didn’t The Stones denounce advertisements and consumer culture in the lyrics of their most famous song, “Satisfaction”?

Paul, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that shipped sailed a long, long, long time ago.

As far back as 1963, which would be two years before the release of “Satisfaction,” The Stones made a commercial for Rice Krispies (I’ve embedded the YouTube below). The jingle in it was was co-written by Brian Jones and one of the guys from J. Walter Thompson, and the ad aired on British TV in 1964. Fans of Mad Men (of which I am definitely one!) may recall that it was alluded to last season, in an episode where Don Draper tried, but failed to get the Stones to do an ad for one of his clients.

I don’t know the in-depth history of the use of rock music in commercials, but I do know the Stones weren’t the only ones. The Who recorded some jingles early in their career, and they parodied ads in their 1967 concept album, The Who Sell Out. Also, as Tom Frank documented in his first book, The Conquest of Cool, during the 60s, Madison Avenue was becoming increasingly interested in young people and the counterculture, and rock music was a part of that.

However, as was the case with the Stones commercial, the rock music in ads tended to be specially written jingles. It’s my impression that the use of rock and pop songs in TV commercials didn’t really take off until the 1980s. But once those gates were open, there was no turning back.

Forget “Sympathy for the Devil” — there is pretty much no song that has been held so sacrosanct that it’s been protected from the hucksters trying to manipulate you into buying something. Bob Dylan’s “The Time’s They Are A-Changin’,” the idealistic anthem that stirred a generation? It’s been used to sell insurance. Sly and the Family Stone’s paean to an anti-racist utopia, “Everyday People?” They used it to sell cars.

See, this is one reason why I love punk rock. Don’t get me wrong — I love a catchy pop tune as much as anybody. In my opinion, the likes of Katy Perry and Taylor Swift get a bad rap in some snooty quarters. But punk has many irresistible charms for me, and one of them is that some of the best punk is virtually uncommodifiable, still.

True, rather to my astonishment, I have heard songs by The Clash, The Buzzcocks, and The Ramones in TV commercials. But on the other hand … do you think they’re ever going to use Black Flag’s “Depression” to advertise anti-depressant medication? Or Teenage Jesus and the Jerk’s “Orphans” as an adoption PSA? The Sex Pistols’ “Bodies” in an ad for a pro-life candidate? The Dead Kennedys’ “Holiday in Cambodia” to sell you … well, a holiday in Cambodia?

No, I didn’t think so.

There is something that sounds bracing, radical, un-bought out about much of that music … still. In a world where we’re inured to so much, and where almost everything is virtually co-opted, that is saying a great deal.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee


  • SadOldVet on February 03, 2013 6:53 PM:

    Thanks for your postings this weekend, Kathleen. Your work and that of most weekend subs for Ed 'Cut & Paste' Kilgore make The Political Animal worth reading on the weekends.

  • c u n d gulag on February 03, 2013 7:10 PM:

    What's next for classic R&R songs, Viagra using the Rolling Stones, "Mothers Little Helper" - but from the Fathers perspective, with Dad taking the little blue quicker-pecker-uppers?
    "What a drag it is getting old.
    Things are different today,
    I hear every Father say..."

    So, yeah, thankfully most Punk can't be used for commercials.

    I can't see the Louisville baseball bat company using The Ramones "Beat on the Brat With a Baseball Bat," or the Trojan company using Richard Hell and the Voidoids "Love Comes in Spurts, Oh No It Hurts."

    I realized I was getting really old when, about 20 years ago, I was in the car and tuned to an easy-listening R&R station, and I heard "White Rabbit," by Jefferson Airplane.
    If one of the greatest drug songs of all time is now an "easy-listening" station, I'm really getting very, very old.

  • Joe Strummer on February 03, 2013 10:11 PM:

    'n every gimmick hungry yob digging gold from rock 'n roll,
    Grabs the mike to tell us he'll die before he's sold,
    But I believe in this and it's been tested by research,
    He who fucks nuns will later join the church.

  • Iggy Pop on February 03, 2013 10:13 PM:

    Also, my song about heroin use has been used for cruise ship commercials.

  • Iggy Pop on February 03, 2013 10:17 PM:

  • Luis on February 03, 2013 10:43 PM:

    Reminds me of the SNL skit from long ago, "Sold Out Gold."

    "Hey! You! Leggo My Eggo!"

  • biggerbox on February 03, 2013 10:59 PM:

    oh, you charming youngster.

    Live long enough, and you can expect to see "Holiday in Cambodia" in an ad. That way you feel about punk now? That's the way we felt about certain rock bands then.

    It may not be a travel ad, though. Probably a Gap ad in a year when fashion comes round again to wearing black clothes as trendy.

  • ceenik on February 04, 2013 1:22 AM:

    I think Kathleen's right that punk is more resistant to commercialization. Sure, there will always be some old punk songs that can be re-purposed and some old punks who are either desperate for money or pure sellouts. Still, punk's aesthetic was/is more antagonistic, more strongly anti-capitalist than rock in general.

    I'm old enough to remember when rich rockers like Clapton started selling out for the big bucks and Neil Young slammed them:
    Ain't singin' for Pepsi
    Ain't singin' for Coke
    I don't sing for nobody
    Makes me look like a joke
    This note's for you.

  • Simon S. on February 04, 2013 8:00 AM:

    My thought on hearing that commercial was, "Well, that's got to be the Rolling Stones. It's pathetically tuneless."

  • martin on February 04, 2013 8:26 AM:

    It's not a matter of Punk being co-opted, it already has (you mention the Ramones, and the allusion above to Iggy Pop.I've also heard The Pogues). It is a question of who will sell out. The songs can't be used without permission. Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits are famous for not letting their songs be used, and I'm sure there are others.

    It's the singer, not the song (to co-opt a phrase).

  • ninja3000 on February 04, 2013 9:23 AM:

    The Who, the Yardbirds and the Zombies (I think) recorded ads for Great Shakes back in the '60s, with jingles written by them.

    The Doors agreed that they would never let their songs be used for commercials, which led to an infamous episode with Chevrolet in 1967.

  • Jennifer on February 04, 2013 9:44 AM:

    I guess he forgot about Microsoft using "Start Me Up" in the '90s.

  • zandru on February 04, 2013 11:31 AM:

    I'm afraid I don't understand how performing a commercial jingle in 1964 (as opposed to leasing one of their songs for inappropriate commercial purposes) is "selling out."

    That said, when I hear one of my old favorites in an ad, I generally enjoy the music while (usually) deploring the use. I did like the Mercedes ad. Was that Willem Dafoe as the dark prince?

    If so, I assume that he, too, was "selling out."

  • MuddyLee on February 04, 2013 1:14 PM:

    I would actually like to hear some commercials using music from these sources:

    Melvin Van Peebles - Brer Soul
    The Fugs - It Crawled into My Hand, Honest
    Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica

  • SecularAnimist on February 04, 2013 1:26 PM:

    Kathleen wrote: "The Who ... parodied ads in their 1967 concept album, The Who Sell Out."

    "The Who Sell Out" was really more of a tribute to commercial radio than a parody.

  • SecularAnimist on February 04, 2013 1:31 PM:

    One of my favorites was Circuit City using The Cars' hit song "Just What I Needed" in their commercials.

    Of course they only used the hook from the chorus, leaving out the line "I needed someone to bleed".

  • Streetlight on February 04, 2013 2:06 PM:

    In the early 60s, Coca Cola was using popular rock n' rollers for many of its jingles, including The Everly Brothers, The Box Tops, Freddy Cannon, The American Breed, and Roy Orbison, as well as pop stars such as Lesley Gore, the Vogues, and Jan and Dean. I believe that the Beach Boys also did some jingles. Of course, even in the fifties, many radio stations used ID spots that featured rock n' rollers.

  • Johnny on February 04, 2013 4:45 PM:

    Jefferson Airplane did radio ads for Levis. Some of the most hallucinogenic advertising ever at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQtGaQ5tvPA

  • Jose Hipants on February 04, 2013 9:27 PM:

    Capitalism devours everything. Punk will not be spared. William S. Burroughs, famous for writing about heroin and erotic asphyxiation, did some memorable ads for Nike.

    Just Do It.