At some point, everyone has heard a favorite song blast from the TV or radio, only to have their rising expectations dashed on the rocky shoals of an announcer's voice pitching new improved corn meal (or galoshes. Or donkey trimmers. The product itself is irrelevant). Unless you listen to country music, in which case original commercial jingles are probably the only part of the hour you look forward to.
The disappointment of a tune licensed to bits sours even more when the product has nothing to do with the song, and in some cases, contravenes it. What advertisers need to understand is that music MATTERS to people. Unfortunately, the more resonant the song, the likelier it will end up in this rogues' gallery.
Here are four commercials that absolutely do not care what the lyrics to their songs mean.
SUBARU -- "Hockey Mom"
Compromising: The Pogues -- "If I Should Fall From Grace with God"
Our most recent infraction is a foot-stomper from legendary folk band The Pogues. The Irish are very proud of their English band and its anti-English ballads, so using any of their music was a risky move for Subaru. The automaker could have opted for one of the drinking tunes, but then would have risked losing that coveted drunk driver demographic, and chose instead the raucous assertion of life, land, and liberty against all authority, even the Almighty. Which, in a game as territorial and brutal as hockey might be fitting, but either this is the coolest mom in town, or somebody's co-opting a cherished tune.
We're not discounting the coolest mom hypothesis, mind you. The lookers usually are.
ROYAL CARIBBEAN -- "Leave Me"
Compromising: Iggy Pop -- "Lust for Life"
Holy hackjob, Batman! Iggy Pop recorded this hypnotic song with David Bowie when the two of them were on the outer rim of their lengthy attempt to quit coke and heroin. Recording this album is probably the reason they're both even alive today, so in that regard, it was...tasteful(?) of Royal Caribbean to edit out the line "liquor and drugs" with "feels so fine" from Pop's song about the desperate way of life he was trying to escape. You stay classy, Royal C.
WRANGLER JEANS -- "Fortunate Son"
Compromising: Creedence Clearwater Revival -- "Fortunate Son"
Sorry, you get a video about the video for this one. But you get to hear the whole song! "Fortunate Son" crystallizes the outrage of a war nobody asked for being fought by everyone except the children of the rich old bastards running it, indicting the false patriots who talk big game but ask others to make sacrifices they can profit by. It is also one of the best songs ever written by a band that spat out hit singles like it couldn't be bothered making crap. So when a brand of jeans wanted to tap into some of that sweet, post-9/11 patriotic fervor money people dropped on anything with a flag, they knew they'd need a great rock song. John Fogerty's vocals are hustled off stage before he gets to say, "they point the cannon at you." Then again, Wrangler's spokesquarterback is his own worst enemy, so maybe this is a deeply symbolic critique of a divided America? All we know is Fogerty wasn't happy, which had some effect on yanking the ads.
MERCEDES-BENZ -- "Mercedes Benz"
Compromising: Janis Joplin -- "Mercedes Benz"
This one's the worst. Three days before she died, Janis Joplin recorded this song about a poor person addled by modern capitalism into praying for material goods rather than the happiness they supposedly bring. It's ironic in that not-at-all-funny way because it's about being screwed so many ways from Sunday you don't even know how screwed you are. But because advertising's job is to make things mean what we need them to mean, it becomes a prayer that brings all humanity together because, say, people really love that Mercedes-Benz. The best part is that the singers include a grunge chick, a bricklayer, and a shepherd, none of whom can afford a Benz.
Benz has used the song as recently as February of 2011, so it's not like this is a onetime goof. Of course, Joplin actually owned the Porsche mentioned in the song, so make of that what you will.