TV commercial makers know a good song when they hear one. It has come to Mister Boomer’s attention that recently there has been a virtual plethora of TV commercials that use songs from the boomer era. One of the latest to cross Mister B’s path is the song Brand New Key. Sung by Melanie in 1972, it now backs a Hewlett Packard commercial.
Melanie was one of those artists who had been around forever, playing with some of the greats of the time. In fact, she happened to be on the bill at Woodstock, yet comparably few people knew much about her until her first U.S. hit, Candles in the Rain, in 1971. A year later, Brand New Key was released. Some radio stations refused to play it because they perceived the lyrics to be a double entendre for sexual innuendo. It became a hit anyway, possibly — who knows? — because of it. (For Mister B, the song was pretty high on his dislike list, preferring her ironic Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma. Besides, he is still trying to figure out the lyrics to Louie Louie.)
Many of us gave a mighty boomer “right on” to artists like Bruce Springsteen for refusing to have his songs used in commercials. The whole 60s anti-establishment thing seemed the direct opposite of this type of commercialization. The words that often came to mind by boomers when referring to artists who allowed their songs to be licensed were, “sell out” and “sacrilegious.”
Now that decades have passed, it’s no longer a handful of songs that are being pressed into the service of commerce. Songs by Bobby Darin, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop (did Carnaval actually listen to the lyrics to that song?), The Shirelles, The Yardbirds, Johnny Nash, The Kinks, Herman’s Hermits, The Ronettes, The Turtles, The Fifth Dimension, The Isley Brothers, The Partridge Family, The Association, The Spencer Davis Group (that one really hurt Mister B!), Barry White, Led Zeppelin, Donovan, Al Green and The Beatles, to name a few, have made their way onto our TV screens to sell everything from cars to cruises, mops to allergy medicines, and everything in between.
Double whammy: The Easy Rider himself and Gimme Some Lovin. Oh, the horror!
In case you haven’t played your scratchy Spencer Davis Group 45 in a while, here’s a version in a rare, priceless video:
In some marketing-universe way, it probably makes sense. After all, the boomer generation is the largest demographic the marketing world has ever seen. Still, many of these commercials aren’t aimed at boomers. It appears they are aiming at the two generations after the boomers — today’s homemakers and parents. What can we make of that?
In days of yore, people would play the Victrola in their homes, when they could afford the contraptions, at designated times and special occasions. For our parents’ generation, they most often heard new songs on the radio and in clubs. Boomers kept the radio tradition, but with the advent of rock ‘n roll, bought records to play at home in astonishing numbers. Once boomers started families of their own, their music went along with them. Many a child now in their twenties or thirties grew up listening to the great music that we boomers put forth, and thus will recognize the tunes on TV.
Mister Boomer has a friend whose son discovered Jethro Tull and King Crimson in his teenage years. Another swears her daughter’s favorite bands are The Beatles and The Mamas and the Papas. Many a child of boomer parents loads sixties music onto their phones and iPods, not because they have to, but rather because they like them.
So what are we to make of boomer music used in TV commercials? In an era when a new song used in a commercial can often mark it as an upcoming hit, the use of oldies — OUR oldies — obviously isn’t going away any time soon. Maybe we should look on the bright side. With the songs only a quick download away, the music of our era is alive and kicking, and some of those musicians even get to benefit from the uptick in interest.
Mister B will try and lighten up, too. He is now reminded that he has to go online to buy a few songs that didn’t make it to his vinyl record collection.
What do you think of boomer songs used in TV commercials?