We were fascinated to see yesterday afternoon that Dangerous Minds’ latest YouTube discovery was… a vintage radio ad for The Velvet Underground. Quite apart from the fact that the ad in question is weird as hell, we were amazed by the simple existence of such a promo for a Velvet Underground album, and the whole thing got us thinking: If Lou Reed et al were getting plugged on radio back in the day, surely there must have been other, similarly unexpected slots? Sure enough, looking for radio ads for ’60s and ’70s bands turns out to be one hell of an awesome YouTube rabbit hole. Record companies shelled out to promote bands you’d never, ever expect, and there’s a certain bizarre charm to the resultant commercials — especially when it’s clear that whoever wrote the ads didn’t know what on earth to make of the band in question. We’ve shared a selection of the best!
The Velvet Underground
So, first up, the ad we heard yesterday in all its weird glory. The announcer comes across like a sort of vaguely terrifying therapist, speaking in unctuous tones about “not knowing how you feel,” then proposing The Velvet Underground’s self-titled third album as the answer: “it will tell you how to feel.” He also proclaims the album to contain “expressions of a new dimension in honesty, purity and feeling” and to provide a place “where you can find your love, your hope… your reality.” We humbly submit that if Lou Reed’s lyrics are the answer, then you have serious, serious problems.
This one is even better, though. There’s a real verbose poetry to these ads that puts copywriters today to shame: “In the midst of all the make-believe madness, the mock depravity and the pseudo-sexual anarchists, Lou Reed is the real thing!” Wooooo! That’s the kind of guy whose albums we’d want to spend our hard-earned pocket money on! Check out the weird edit of “Make Up” that commences the ad, too — a legacy, we imagine, of trying to cram as much into 60 seconds as possible.
“Times are usually tough in Aston, the funky section of Birming-ham, England,” intones the narrator of this curious FM radio spot, which promoted Black Sabbath’s debut album on the US airwaves back in 1970. He goes on to suggest that Black Sabbath’s music “reflects their harsh environment,” making it sound like they’ve grown up on the windswept steppes of Siberia rather than the back blocks of Brum. The result, apparently, is “music as gentle as an open wound.” Who could resist?!
The Sex Pistols
“They said no one could be more bizarre than Alice Cooper, or more destructive than Kiss… They had not seen the Sex Pistols!” A gloriously Troy McLure-esque legacy of the time when Johnny Rotten et al — “Banned in their home country!” — genuinely terrified parents and respectable folk the world over.
And speaking of Kiss, here’s a real gem: a radio commercial for… a Kiss radio! Yes, back in the day, you too could own a Kiss-branded transistor (available by mail-order only!) And if you happen to still own such a thing, we imagine you could probably offload it for a pretty tidy sum on eBay.
Some devoted fan has gathered not one but four commercials for “Britain’s heavy metal champions” and their “headbanging rock and roll.” One of them promotes a show where they supported Ozzy Osbourne, an event that probably cleaned out local drug dealers for weeks. Our favorite is the one that involves a sternly disapproving mother giggling through clenched teeth and observing that “for the life of me, I can’t figure out what kids like about this music,” before succumbing to the glory of Lemmy’s and co’s hirsute über-riffs. They don’t make ads (or bands) like this any more.
“Quark, Strangeness and Charm is Hawkwind’s new album, and it’s everything its title suggests.” Sometimes this shit just writes itself, eh? (We’re not entirely sure how they fulfill the quark bit, mind you — top? Bottom? The mind boggles.)
This commercial for Zappa’s 1969 album Hot Rats takes 45 of its 60 seconds to mention the identity of the music’s creator, and ends with a heartfelt appeal to listeners to “please don’t be put off by this fact, try to be objective, and buy the record anyway.” Reverse psychology, thy name is…
Blue Oyster Cult
So… Mad Men neglects to mention the shitload of psychedelics that were obviously going around ad agencies back in the day, eh?
Iggy and the Stooges
This faux-Biblical one-minute slot featured a portentous retelling of the genealogy of ’70s glam, starting with Iggy and moving though Alice Cooper and David Bowie (borrowing the music of both artists to do so, something that’d never fly these days.) It goes on to proclaim Iggy and his band to be “some of the most bizarre performers in rock ‘n’ roll today,” a backhanded compliment if ever there was one. Still, what we’d give to have been able to go to the shows it was advertising — they played two in one night, and the door charge was a princely $4.