Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Best Song From A Commercial.

I never really listen to the radio anymore, and I blame modern society.

Modern society has ruined me for, oddly enough, modern society. All these advances in our civilization make me intolerant of most aspects of our civilization. For example, I can't watch live TV anymore because a couple years back, we got a DVR and now I tape most of my shows and fast forward through the commercials. So when I'm watching live TV, I can't skip the commercials that I don't like, and I get frustrated and it takes away from the show.

Speaking of fast forwarding through the commercials, how long do you suppose it will be until advertisers figure out a way to make commercials that appear only when fast-forwarding. Suppose, for example, an advertiser inserted into a broadcast a commercial that was so slowed down it would be unintelligible, and that commercial would not appear in the live broadcast. But watch it on tape, hit fast-forward, and the super-slow commercial revs up and appears so that while your show is fast-forwarding, you hear something like "Eat At Burger Barn, Home of The Four-Pound Egg Burger," and see a picture of the Four-Pound Egg Burger.

You don't think they'll do that, but you didn't think, either, that they'd come up with those little ads on the tv shows where Bill Engvall walks along the bottom of your show doing stuff while you're trying to watch Monk, and they did that, didn't they? Advertisers are smart and desperate; I'm surprised they haven't done the fast-forward commercial already.

And I won't apologize for giving them that idea (although I will, as usual, expect royalties) because I wholeheartedly support advertising, and so should you. If it wasn't for advertising, you'd have to feed dollar bills into the slots on your computer while you looked at websites, and People Magazine would cost twenty bucks per issue.

Far from being against advertising, I'm in favor of more advertising. I think bands should sell two kinds of albums-- one with ads, and one without. Give away the "ad-supported" album, but set it up so that the listener can't skip or delete the ads. I'd take that album every time. Books should have ads in them, too -- magazines do, and they're totally cheap. I'd buy way way more books if they didn't cost $28.95 per book. Put a couple of ads in there, charge me $10, and I'm going to load up on them.

(Book ads will really come into their own when books are all downloaded like music is now, so you can have a book and the soundtrack and some commercials or ads if you want.)

I have a love-hate relationship with ads, because like I said, I want ads to be around so that stuff is cheap for me, but I also frequently skip them because they're boring or discussing things I don't care about. There's too many ads for cars, and not enough ads for movies and Four Pound Egg Burgers. I don't skip ads that interest me; I just skip the ads that are dumb.

That shows another side of advertising. I don't just love advertising because it can give me stuff cheaply by letting advertisers pay most of the cost of my music and books and movies and TV shows; I also like advertising because it lets me know about things that I like or might like; advertising, in that way, serves a second very useful purpose, and one that's necessary because modern society no longer does a good job of telling me what I might like-- which, after all, is what it's there for: to convince me to get more of what I like, or to get something that I didn't know I would like but which it turns out I do like.

Advertising nowadays does that both directly and indirectly; directly, it tells me that I'll like a Plum Card from American Express, or that I'll like Barack Obama, or that I'll like a Four Pound Egg Burger. Indirectly, it tells me, more and more, that I'll like a certain song or artist or kind of music and gives me music to like.

That's why I can't listen to radio anymore: Modern radio does a very poor job of giving me music that I like. Modern radio doesn't appeal to me at all. I listen to a radio station and I not only get stuck listening to ads that I don't like and can't skip, but also to DJs talking about dumb stuff, music from artists that I can't stand, and in the end, I get nothing out of it. They don't play the music I like, and they don't play music I'm likely to like, so modern radio holds no appeal for me. I end up listening to my iPod in the car more and more these days; with 7,940 songs on it, I can drive a long time before I run out of music I like.

But that leaves me in a bind, because if I only listen to music I already have, where will I find out about music I don't have but might want to have? Radio can't do that job, and if I leave it up to what the kids put on the computer, I'm at risk of Miley Cyrus overload.

Once again, it's advertising to the rescue. Advertisments are the number one way I learn about music now, far outstripping music blogs for turning me on to great new bands or songs.

A quick review of the songs I've first heard on an ad and then ended up buying the song or the album yields an impressive set of awesome songs, ranging from Are You Gonna Be My Girl by Jet to "Well All Right," by The Hives:

to the song that nobody will ever forget the chorus to, "1 2 3 4" by Feist, to "That Great Love Sound" by The Raveonettes to "Molly's Chamber" by Kings of Leon (those latter two groups are against you hearing their music and won't let videos be embedded; they'd rather that their music not be publicized in any way, apparently) to possibly the most famous commercial song of all:

Yes, "The Volkswagon Song" By Those Guys Who Wrote The Volkswagon Song. A whole generation knows about that band ("Those Guys Who Wrote The Volkswagon Song") because of that ad.

Advertising is my new radio; I bet that easily 1/4 of the songs on my iPod right now are the direct result of hearing a song in a commercial and getting hooked on that band, although it sometimes works in reverse and I like a band and then see that they've decided to make a little money selling their work, something I wholeheartedly support, too. I don't consider it "selling out" when Modest Moust agrees that "Gravity Rides Everything" is a great way to sell cars to housewives. I consider it "making a living" and wish they'd do it more; if I have to watch commercials, at least I can watch them with music that I love; more and more, I hear great songs in ads and never on the radio.

As great as all those songs I listed are, though, they all take a backseat to the song that really started it all.

I'm pretty sure that there was music in commercials going all the way back to when commercials were invented. I'm pretty sure, too, that some of that music, at least, was music that began its life as a song that was not written for the commercial, but instead had its own independent existence, the way The Cure's "Pictures of You" wasn't originally intended to be a melodic and pensive way to get you to buy cameras.

But whatever music used to be used in commercials is irrelevant, because music in commercials really caught on and changed entirely with just one song and one commercial; before that song/commercial, music was just the background to whatever was being sold. After that song/commercial, music became something to identify with the product and the brand and the company; the music went from being ambiance to being something that was being promoted equally with the product. (So much so, in fact, that K-Mart actually put the band and song's name on its commercials that used "That Great Love Sound," a song the Raveonettes will let K-Mart run incessantly on TV, but which they won't let me embed here.)

That commercial was for a car; I don't remember the car brand at all. What I remember is that the car was used to haul The Stinky Chair, and hence, the song in my mind will forever be known as "The Stinky Chair Song." Here's the original commercial:

Whatever the car, I loved that song and immediately had to go out and track down the song and the band, learning that it was some group called "Trio" and the song was called "Da Da Da."

That song, Da Da Da, by Trio, is The Best Song From A Commercial because it was more than just a song; it was a cultural force, a tidal wave of influence that singlehandedly spawned a whole industry of musical commercials where the music was as important as the product being sold-- not just to create a mood or image, but to be a product tie-in, if you will; suddenly, ads were selling not just a product, but the music, with the music being a sort of Happy Meal throw-in toy for the product -- a side thing that made you want to get the music and which served to put the commercial (and hence the product) back into your mind.

The song itself was the perfect thing to do that: quirkily out of the ordinary, a song most people had never heard before, but one that instantly got your attention (maybe because it was quirkily out of the ordinary.) Putting that song into the commercial was genius move on the part of advertisers, becuase it caused people to pay attention and talk about the commercial, and spawned this new era of commercials, an era when people like me watch commercials to hear new music, so I'm more likely to watch the ads to hear the music. An era when people like me go buy the records from the artists in the commercials, so bands are more likely to want their music in an ad; and an era when putting a song into a commercial meant that the song will be forever associated with their product, whether that product be...

...okay, so I can never remember the products themselves; the commercial might as well have been selling stinky chairs. But, despite that, making great music the centerpiece of commercials was a genius move that began with Da Da Da, The Best Song From A Commercial.

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