While I was supposed to be working, I got into a Facebook discussion about music. Pretty quickly, it ended up into a discussion about music for car commercials, and how exceedingly rare it was to have decent, cool music in a television spot.
One of the stories that gets more or less daily traffic here at BestRide is the story we did on Acura’s use of the Sid Vicious cover of “My Way” to introduce the new TLX.
It’s not that it’s a bad song. Martin Scorcese used it at the end of GoodFellas, which had one of the top five soundtracks of the 20th century. But it just felt weird and out of place pushing an Acura.
Davey G. Johnson from Car and Driver mentioned that he was getting a burrito a dozen years ago was surprised to hear the intro from Radio Birdman’s “New Race” playing in the taqueria. Turns out, it was in a Spanish language commercial for the Toyota Corolla. Now THAT’S cool.
Mazda’s ad featuring Bo Diddley’s “Roadrunner” a few years back was pretty inspired, too.
Finding good music for car ads isn’t easy, though. You’d like to use songs with wide appeal like “Magic Bus” or “Route 66,” but those songs come along with a bill for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
So you try to find cool songs, but sometimes cool songs are a little TOO cool.
You need a song that’s not about the joy of sexual relations with slaves (See: “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones, once used in a Pepsi ad), or about the pleasure of being a smack addict (See: “Lust for Life” by Iggy Pop, which was featured in Royal Caribbean cruise ads), and it’s not about the abject desperation of London, 1979 (See: “London Calling” by the Clash, which ended up in a Jaguar ad in 2002.)
Here’s five killer rock and rolls songs that won’t cost a fortune and have lyrics that won’t embarrass the white-haired board members at the next golf outing:
The Buzzcocks — What Do I Get
I’m shocked that “What Do I Get” never made it to a commercial. With a chorus like that, I can just see Joe Sixpack driving some crappy 1984 Plymouth Colt, lusting for a fully-loaded compact car like a Ford Fiesta with frosty air, Bluetooth integration and sat nav.
(For the record, the Buzzcocks’ “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” was in an AARP commercial, which makes me want to stick my head in a gas oven.)
(EDIT: Apparently, What Do I Get was in a Toyota RAV-4 commercial circa 1999. CRAP! This is why I’d get fired if I worked at an ad agency.)
The Melvins — I Can’t Shake It
Sometimes, car commercials just need a guitar hook that makes the gas pedal sink to the floor. That’s the deal with “I Can’t Shake It.” It’s a cover of a song from an Australian heavy metal band called The Angels, which released it on its 1979 album No Exit. Great White covered it on a live album called Stage in 1995.
I’m a big fan of the Melvins’ cover, which showed up on a Gearhead Records split single in 1998.
The Riptones — Extra Sauce
Instrumentals tend to be good car commercial songs because you avoid all the issues with inappropriate lyrics. I like The Riptones song “Extra Sauce” enough that I used it in a vintage scooter video I put together a few weeks ago. Why the Riptones aren’t famous and Florida Georgia Line is often keeps me awake at night.
Sonic’s Rendezvous Band — City Slang
This is Davey G. Johnson’s pick, which he calls “One of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll songs by anybody, anywhere. Ever.”
Sonic’s Rendezvous Band is a collection of veterans of the late 1960s/early 1970s music scene including Fred “Sonic” Smith from the MC5, Scott Morgan from the Rationals, Gary Rasmussen from The Up, and the driving force behind Iggy Pop in the Stooges, Scott Asheton. The band released only this song in 1975, and was so broke that it pressed the same song on both sides of the single.
It is 1970s, post-apocalyptic Detroit distilled into a neat, 5:21 package. Are you listening, Chrysler?
Bottle Rockets — Radar Gun
Yeah, if you can’t figure out how this would fit into a car ad, you deserve that 1985 Mercury Topaz you’re driving.