If you’re in any way interested in the Olympics, you might remember reading a while back that there’d been a mild controversy on the other side of the Atlantic about the use of The Clash’s classic song “London Calling” in some of the promotional videos for the games in London next year. (Since then, it’s turned out that The Clash are the least of London’s PR problems, but still.) Anyway, the whole thing has been playing on our mind for the last couple of weeks, until we realized what bugged us so much about it — the fact that “London Calling” is being used to promote anything. This isn’t unprecedented, of course — the song has been used in commercials before — but even so, it hasn’t joined the ranks of songs forever ruined by advertisements. As advertisers know only too well, once an image associates itself to music and lodges in your head, it’s damn near impossible to get rid of. And unfortunately, it’s too late for the songs we’ve collected after the jump — are there any that spring to mind for you?
José González — “Heartbeats”
A beautiful song and a beautiful interpretation of The Knife’s original (which was pretty fantastic in its own right). And yet, sadly, it’ll forever be accompanied by images of a million environmentally questionable rubber balls bouncing through the streets of San Francisco.
Jet — “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?”
To be honest, we were never really fans of Jet’s factory floor lumpen rock, nor their shameless lifting of the drum intro to “Lust for Life” for this, their biggest hit. But if this song was mildly irritating the first time round, it was face-clawingly maddening after the bazillionth time we heard it on those bloody dancing-silhouette iPod ads that were everywhere circa 2005.
Train — “Hey, Soul Sister”
Another song cast out of the realms of the “Not great but reasonably inoffensive” into the depths of “Argh, turn that fucking song off now!!!!!” territory by its use in various Samsung advertisements. If we hear that guy singing, “Hey! He-e-e-e-e-ey! He-e-e-e-e-ey!” one more time we are going to step into another dimension, permanently.
The Rolling Stones — “Start Me Up”
Readers raised on Windows XP and various iterations of Mac OS X may regard this one with bewilderment, but if you’re old enough to have been around to endure the incessant barrage of publicity that accompanied the launch of Windows 95, you’ll remember it, whether you want to or not. Word at the time was that Microsoft had paid the Rolling Stones some $10 million to license the song, although this figure has been questioned since. However much it was, the software giant got their money’s worth — you couldn’t turn on a TV in 1995 without seeing an ad featuring beaming computer users clicking on Windows 95’s new “Start” button.
Nick Drake — “Pink Moon”
This ad sold lots of Volkswagens and lots of Best of Nick Drake CDs. Everybody wins, right? Well, sure — except for those of us who find ourselves skipping over the first track on Drake’s second album every time we play it, because of the fact that despite our best efforts, it inevitably conjures up images of grinningly inane 20-somethings off for a night drive.
Vampire Weekend — “Holiday”
Seizing the opportunity to make a heap of money when they saw it, Ezra Koenig et al licensed this song to not one but two companies last year: Tommy Hilfiger and Honda. Result: irritating ubiquity and an urge to never, ever, ever hear Koenig’s jaunty proclamation, “Holiday, oh holiday, and the best one of the year” again.
The Seekers — “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”
In which large global brand realizes that cashing in on a burgeoning counterculture is the formula for making epic wads of cash, thus paving the way for the commercialization of pretty much anything and everything that might have at one stage had at least some modicum of ideological integrity. Thanks, Coca-Cola.
Phoenix — “1901”
Cue the sound of a million football fans asking, “Hey, what is that song?” after they hear it for the thousandth time during a time-out break.
Violent Femmes — “Blister in the Sun”
If you wondered what on earth Violent Femmes were thinking here, you’re not alone — so did they. Or, at least, so did bassist (and strict vegetarian) Brian Ritchie, who clearly didn’t get a say in the decision to license the song to Wendy’s: “For the fans who rightfully are complaining about the Wendy’s burger advertisement featuring ‘Blister in the Sun,'” he told the blog On Milwaukee in 2007, “[singer] Gordon Gano is the publisher of the song and Warners is the record company. When they agree to use it, there’s nothing the rest of the band can do about it, because we don’t own the song or the recording. That’s showbiz. Therefore when you see dubious or in this case disgusting uses of our music you can thank the greed, insensitivity and poor taste of Gordon Gano, it is his karma that he lost his songwriting ability many years ago, probably due to his own lack of self-respect as his willingness to prostitute our songs demonstrates.” SLAP.
Lou Reed — “Walk on the Wild Side”
Oh, Lou. Did you really need the money?