The Sound of Advertising: Beatles for Sale

Beatles For SaleFor those of us who came of age in the 1960s, The Beatles are sacred ground. They provided the soundtrack to our lives. When I hear “Revolution,” I’m immediately transported to the summer of ’68.  I walked into Korvettes (ask your grandparents) and purchased the 45 RPM single (ask your parents) of “Hey Jude” b/w “Revolution” with its sleek black sleeve and knocked-out script typeface that read, “The Beatles on Apple” and, of course, that iconic granny smith apple label on the disc.

But unfortunately, in 1987, the collective memories of my generation were hijacked and taken for a ride when Nike blasphemously used “Revolution” in one of its ads—the first Beatles song to be licensed for use in a television commercial. (In 1965, “Help” was used in a Lincoln/Mercury car ad, but not the original Beatles recording.) It didn’t seem to matter much that Apple Records and the three surviving Beatles were vehemently opposed and eventually sued Nike because the rights to more than 260 classic Lennon/McCartney songs aren’t owned and controlled by The Beatles but by Sony/ATV (Michael Jackson’s estate). Shame on them!

Since 1987, original Beatle recordings have been used in countless television commercials— including “Come Together,” “Getting Better,” “All Together Now,” “Good Day Sunshine,” “Taxman” and “When I’m Sixty-Four”— to sell everything from diapers to insurance. George Harrison said it best: “Every Beatles song ever recorded is going to be advertising women’s underwear and sausages. We’ve got to put a stop to it in order to set a precedent. Otherwise it’s going to be a free-for-all. They don’t have any respect for the fact that we wrote and recorded those songs, and it was our lives.”

Associating a classic song with an iconic brand never works for me. Whether it’s The Beatles, The Stones, Sinatra or Stravinsky, the artist’s original intention and message is often subverted, diverted and/or perverted.

So how do you feel about your favorite songs being appropriated in TV ads? Does it stir up good memories and help to create a stronger bond with that brand? Or does it dilute the musical and lyrical impact of the original song? Do these commercials help bring the music to a new audience?

And how about when those songs you just can’t stand are used to sell a product? Does it immediately turn you off, or does the marriage of music and picture allow you to have a new experience and listen with fresh ears?


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One thought on “The Sound of Advertising: Beatles for Sale

  1. kglasgow

    I think you and I hail from the same era as I remember having the same shocked reaction as you did when I first heard “Revolution” being used to sell shoes. “John Lennon would not have approved of this,” I remember thinking at the time. I experienced the same kind of shock a few years ago when I heard Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” being used to promote a cruise line. What exactly does the anguish of withdrawal from heroin addiction have to do with flouncing around on the lido deck?