Sometime in between hearing The Pogues’ “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” in a minivan commercial and the words “Whaaaat the FFFFF?” fully processing in my brain, I decided to cathertically compile the following list of the 20 Most Inappropriate Songs Ever Used In Commercials. This subject has been broached numerous times online before, but before doing some research (some Google, but mostly library microfiche), I had no idea just how widespread this phenomenon was. Prepare your “huh?”s now:
20. Wendy’s – “Blister In The Sun” by Violent Femmes
Nothing gets people in the mood for some Value Menu chili quite like one of pop music’s most notorious masturbation songs! I love Wendy’s and make it a point to stop there on any road trip, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been quite… that… excited about the fry-Frosty combination. Could they not acquire the rights to “Longview”? Or that little-known Springsteen song, “I Am Literally Masturbating Over Spicy Chicken?”
19. Royal Caribbean – “Lust For Life” by Iggy Pop
In one of the most egregiously woeful marriages of “whimsical activity” and “song about heroin addiction full of William S. Burroughs references and name of dead heroin dealer,” Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” once posed undercover as an acceptable soundtrack for Royal Caribbean. The commercial strangely did not include the lyric “Of course I’ve had it in the ear before,” which is not a reference to needles or penises, but actually to the wonderful jazz stylings offered on Royal Caribbean’s “Swing Night Thursdays.”
18. AARP – “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” by The Buzzcocks
Taking a punk band’s lyrics at face value is always a smart move — when The Buzzcocks keep repeating “Everybody’s happy nowadays” (in between casual mentions of “Life’s an illusion, love is a dream”), they definitely mean that things really are perfect now, that AARP members are having a great time, and that The Buzzcocks’ musical career is over because what’s even left to sing about? If they really wanted to move some AARP cards, I might’ve taken a second look at “Orgasm Addict.”
17. Windows 95 – “Start Me Up” by The Rolling Stones
Much of the controversy surrounding this much-publicized ad campaign centered around how much money Microsoft was paying for the rights to the Stones’ sports-arena classic, while no one seemed to care that it’s a song about giving a dude a boner, kind of like how your Windows computer gets an “On” boner whenever you press the start button. Even more controversial was Microsoft’s insistence that Mick Jagger re-record the line “You make a dead man come…with interface!”
16. Lincoln – “Space Oddity” by David Bowie
Cat Power covered David Bowie’s classic “Space Oddity” for this car commercial, which nicely syncs up starting a car with the lyrics about Major Tom grabbing his helmet and blasting off into space. Unfortunately, it cuts off before the part where Major Tom gets trapped in space, says goodbye to his wife, contemplates his own helplessness, and loses transmission. Basically, it’d be like Southwest Airlines airing an ad with footage of Amelia Earhart’s triumphant take-off.
15. Mitsubishi – “Uncontrollable Urge” by Devo
I couldn’t find video for this one, but Devo’s “Uncontrollable Urge” has been used in a number of commercials, including most recently for the 2005 Mitsubishi Galant’s “Accident Avoidance Test.” Obviously, the “Yeah Yeah Yeah!” part of the song is upbeat and nicely unspecific, but the rest of the song — “Got an urge, got a surge and it’s outta control / Got an urge I wanna purge ’cause I’m losing control” — is pretty clear. He cannot control his urge to avoid car accidents.
14. Subaru – “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” by The Pogues
Here’s the aforementioned Pogues ad — on second glance, I see nothing oddly disparate between kids hopping in a van to head to hockey practice and a song about a man pondering the dreary aftermath of his own death. GONNA HAVE TO DO IT SOMETIME, kids. Subaru.
13. Applebee’s – “Happy Together” by The Turtles
The song itself isn’t inappropriate, but two members of The Turtles actually sued Applebee’s for changing their lyrics to “Imagine steak and shrimp, or shrimp and steak / Imagine both of these on just one plate” after consulting the record company but not them. Basically, if Advertising were a galaxy, unauthorizedly changing the lyrics of a wonderful 60s love song to be about microwaved surf n’ turf would be the matter-sucking black hole at its center.
12. Nissan – “How Soon Is Now” by The Smiths
Nissan: There’s a club if you’d like to go, you could meet somebody who really loves you, so you go and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home and you cry and you want to die. Catchy.
11. H&R Block – “Taxman” by The Beatles
“Now my advice for those who die: declare the pennies on your eyes.” Just one example of the fine tax advice our trusted reps at H&R Block can offer. Not mentioned in the song: Free magnetic calendars!
10. Garnier Fructis – “Diamonds and Guns” by The Transplants
This punk song was a natural fit for Garnier, since it covers all the bases — Diamonds, Guns, Bombs, Heroin, Lavender-Scented Scalp Moisturizers, and Bitches. That one thing was implied (the diamonds thing).
9. Wishbone Salad Dressing – “Bump” by Spank Rock
Ahhh, bummer! The salad dressing commercial ended before they got to the line “P*ssy pounders have got my back, they all over the place.” See, the singer pounds p*ssy like Wishbone Salad Dressing pounds your family’s taste buds. Why isn’t that explanation on the bottle, in giant cursev?
8. Nike – “Revolution” by The Beatles
What’s more revolutionary than the world’s #1 shoe brand? NOTHING. Except for maybe Wal-Mart. Fortunately for Nike, this ironic usage of “Revolution” would get out-embarrassed a decade later.
7. Ortho Tri-Cyclen – “There She Goes” by The La’s
“Lust For Life” worked so well for that cruise line, might as well keep the heroin songs coming – this Sixpence None The Richer cover nicely fits the product, particularly the line “There she goes, pulsing through my vein,” like a birth control pill pulses through your veins very healthily. In fact, let’s stop beating around the bush and just straight-up use “Heroin” by The Velvet Underground for something (“When the smack begins to flow, DR. PEPPER.”)
6. Cesar Dog Food – “I Think I Need A New Heart” by The Magnetic Fields
I couldn’t find video evidence of this commercial either, as it’s seemingly been extinguished by someone who realized that dog food doesn’t actually have a lot to do with a human being declaring his innate inability to love, because humans don’t eat dog food, dogs do. So what sense does THAT make?
5. Wrangler “Fortunate Son” by CCR
“Fortunate Son” is already a classically misinterpreted song of “Every Breath You Take is a love ballad” proportions, as its classic-rock thump and references to flags and the constitution are usually enough to convince middle-aged white dudes to overlook its harrowing message about the cost of patriotism always falling on the poor. Actually, wait… the commercial is all scenes of well-off white people enjoying leisure activities in jeans. Maybe they knew exactly what the song was about. Carry on. (Click the pic below to watch):
Double Pogues! At least most of the ads on this list had the common sense to use the non-objectionable portions from their songs; this Cadillac commercial, in a blatant contrast, uses the actual lyric “So I saw that train and I got on it with a heartful of hate and a lust for vomit / Now I’m walking on the sunnyside of the street,” banking on Shane McGowan’s indecipherable accent to disguise the song’s crushing pessimism. They didn’t take three seconds to Google the lyrics so they could be like, “Wait, how about instead of doing that, we not?”
3. Levi’s – “Holiday In Cambodia” by The Dead Kennedys
In 1998, the Dead Kennedys band members sued lead singer Jello Biafra over his apparent refusal to allow this song to be in a Levi’s Dockers commercial, though I can’t imagine why — it’s just a nice, happy song about the Pol Pot regime mass-murdering their countrymen…in pants! Even if Levi’s had trouble getting the rights to this one, there’s plenty of other Dead Kennedys songs that just scream “pants commercial.”
2. NFL – “Everyday Is Like Sunday” by Morrissey
As if the unholy alliance of Morrissey and the frickin’ NFL isn’t pants-sh*tting enough, the NFL used the ONLY non-soul-crushing sentence in “Everyday Is Like Sunday” for its 2008 ad campaign. Literally the next line in the chorus is “…Everyday is silent and grey,” then it returns to verses about wishing for the apocalypse, presumably while receiving live score updates.
1. Pepsi – “Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones
Wait, real quick – before we air this commercial for a multibilliondollar enterprise in front of hundreds of millions of people, should we double check to make sure this animated fly isn’t singing a song about HAVING SEX WITH SLAVES? Nahh, it’s probably a song about how good literal brown sugar tastes. Kind of a departure for the Stones, really – considering how many of their songs are about having sex, it’s kinda odd they’d score a huge hit singing about baking elements. That band really is versatile – great work all around.