Rant-Man’s Notebook: It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me

There’s something so very very wrong with the current Cadillac commercials. Led Zepplin in a Caddy ad is as absurd as James Brown in a laxative ad. Oh wait, they did that.

There’s this weird trend now of using bits of “classic rock” (baby boomer music) in ads where it really doesn’t belong. Sometimes it’s incongruous, like that allergy medicine that’s using the overture from “Tommy” for no readily-discernable reason. Other times it’s just plain wrong, like that Target ad with the Devo song. A friend pointed that one out to me. In the ad, there are all these freaky-looking people carrying on about all the neat stuff Target has, while Devo sings about the “beautiful world”:

It’s a beautiful world we live in
A sweet romantic place
Beautiful people everywhere
The way they show they care
Makes me want to say
It’s a beautiful world
It’s a beautiful world
It’s a beautiful world
For you, for you, for you
It’s not for me

Target leaves off the last line there, “it’s not for me,” and destroys the entire point of the song. Devo is singing about alienation and exclusion, about a “beautiful world” that holds nothing for them, and Target presents it as exactly the opposite.

The worst offenders seem to be the car companies. Don Henley thought he was clever when he wrote the line about seeing a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac. Any day now, there will be a Cadillac ad with a Grateful Dead song in it, and that’ll probably kill ol’ Don. There have been too many monstrous abuses of songs in car commercials to even name them all. The one that really offended me was Toyota’s “I Call That a Bargain” campaign. Here are the lyrics:

I’d gladly lose me to find you
I’d gladly give up all I had
To find you I’d suffer anything and be glad

I’d pay any price just to get you
I’d work all my life and I will
To win you I’d stand naked, stoned and stabbed

I’d call that a bargain
The best I ever had
The best I ever had

I’d gladly lose me to find you
I’d gladly give up all I got
To catch you I’m gonna run and never stop

I’d pay any price just to win you
Surrender my good life for bad
To find you I’m gonna drown an unsung man

I’d call that a bargain
The best I ever had

Gee, I don’t know… does that sound like he’s talking about getting a good deal on a car?

Even worse is the one for Chevy, “I’m your vehicle”:

I’m a friendly stranger in a black sedan
Won’t you hop inside my car.
I got pictures, got candy
I’m a loveable man
And I can take you to the nearest star.
I’m your vehicle baby
I’ll take you anywhere you wanna go.

I’m your vehicle woman
But I’m not sure you know
that I love ya
I need ya
I want ya,
got to have you child,
Great God in heaven you know I love you.

And then there’s Ford’s “Taking it to the Streets”:

You don’t know me but I’m your brother
I was raised here in this living hell
You don’t know my kind in your world
Fairly soon the time will tell

You, telling me the things you’re gonna do for me
I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see
Takin’ it to the streets, takin’ it to the streets
Takin it to the streets, takin’ it to the streets

Is there some part of this that I’m missing? These songs make no sense in the context of a car commercial. I won’t even go into Mitsubishi’s use of the Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week,” a choice I can’t possibly explain. Or maybe I’m overthinking it. Fatboy Slim, Styx, Billy Preston and Shirley Bassey have turned up in car ads lately, so how about this: We see lots of beauty shots of an SUV roaring through mud and sand in the wilderness, and there’s music playing, which the narrator talks over, until it gets to the key lyric: “Where the streets have no name.” Hey, it makes about as much sense!

Another example is the time when Mercedes-Benz used Janis Joplin’s “Oh Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes-Benz?” in an ad, utterly devoid of the irony Janis intended. There are dozens of others. It seems to me that somebody should go ahead and pick out some other songs that the ad biz could go ahead and demolish. There are songs that mention products in them, and could be used in an ad the same way this one was, again without irony. Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is one; Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” is another. The Kinks’ “Lola” has a mention of Coke in it; that would make a nice ad, wouldn’t it? They could use RuPaul as their spokesperson, to compete with Britney.

The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride” is a natural for Greyhound Bus, and Amtrak could go ahead and pick up Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath.”

Remember that ’60s protest song by Country Joe and the Fish, the “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag”? They could take a little snip of it and use it for a commercial… The part that goes

One, two, three, what are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn
My next stop is Viet Nam…

It could be an ad for the Viet Nam airline.

Another possibility along the same lines is to snip out a single lyric from Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky.”

“Goin’ up to the spirit in the sky…
…the spirit of American Airlines.”

Here’s one:

There’s a lady who knows
All that glitters is gold
And she’s buying
A stairway to Heaven…
…Visa. It’s everywhere you want to be.

American Express has a card called Blue. They might as well just use Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue.”

A few more possibilities:

Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen) – Nike
Let’s Spend the Night Together (Rolling Stones) – Motel 6
Purple Haze (Jimi Hendrix) – Prozac
Where Have All the Flowers Gone? (Pete Seeger) – Claritan
I Wanna Be Sedated (The Ramones) – Sominex
London Calling (The Clash) – AT&T
Light My Fire (The Doors) – Duraflame
Whiter Shade of Pale (Procul Harum) – Oil of Olay
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (AC/DC) – Roto Rooter
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (U2) – Yellow Pages
Truckin’ (Grateful Dead) – Ryder Rent-a-Truck
Mellow Yellow (Donovan) – Chiquita Bananas
I Can’t Get No Satisfaction (Rolling Stones) – Viagra
You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin (Righteous Brothers) – Viagra

But I’m not going anywhere near the Beach Boys hit “Good Vibrations”….

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