Cary Ginell’s Attack of the Killer Earworm: Part 4

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Cary Ginell's Attack of the Killer Earworm: Part 4

Songwriters know how lucrative getting a song on the charts can be, but many slave their years away writing songs for production houses, hoping to catch the ear of an advertising agency or commercial sponsor. Although having a hit on the charts is desirable and a great boon to one’s ego, a hit commercial jingle can bring in a lot more money and survive far longer– especially if it becomes an earworm. The normal pattern is for an artist to strike gold on the pop charts, which then attracts the attention of ad agencies, who turn that built-in familiarity into an ad campaign. As we discovered last month, hit songs that came from commercials are rarer, and featured such songs as “No Matter What Shape Your Stomach’s In” (the T-Bones/Alka Seltzer) or “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” (The Hillside Singers/Coca Cola), two examples of jingles that became accidental hit pop songs.

In later years, recording artists have taken short cuts, deliberately recording songs they know might have a shot at luring big bucks ad agencies to snap them up. One of the first to successfully do this were rap pioneers Run-D.M.C., who, in 1986, recorded “My Adidas,” a song about their choice of footwear. The band’s manager, Russell Simmons, was a shrewd businessman who knew how to market the band’s brand, so when “My Adidas” became a hit, Simmons invited Adidas executives to attend one of their concerts to see the crowd’s reaction to the song. The result was a $1.6 million licensing deal including not only the sensationally popular “show us your Adidas” ad campaign, but Run-D.M.C.’s own line of laceless footwear (shoelaces weren’t permitted in jail). Nearly thirty years later, Run-D.M.C. and Adidas are still in partnership producing commercials.

The Black-Eyed Peas is another group that proved to be commercially astute when, in 2003, they took a song originally titled “Let’s Get Retarded” and renamed it “Let’s Get It Started” so it would get radio airplay. In 2007, the song was licensed by the National Basketball Association and became a worldwide phenomenon when used in a commercial for the NBA finals.

Since then, more conscious efforts to write songs geared specifically to be adapted for commercials have been composed. An example is this Doublemint gum commercial from 2008 that used Chris Brown’s No. 2 charting hit “Forever.”

More recently, Calvin Harris’ hit “Let’s Go,” which only topped out at No. 12 on the pop charts, was used to greater success in a commercial for Pepsi cola.

Something that was possibly a little more premeditated occurred when country singer Alan Jackson found a blues song called “Mercury Boogie,” which had been written and recorded in 1952 by a Mississippi blues musician named K. C. Douglas.

Jackson recorded the song in 1992 as “Mercury Blues,” which reached No. 2 song on the country charts. Although the song had been previously covered by the Steve Miller Band, among others, it was Jackson’s version that attracted the attention of the Ford Motor Company, manufacturers of Mercury branded automobiles. Ford decided to use Jackson’s stature among country fans and licensed the rights to use the song. They then hired Jackson to sing it in a commercial, substituting the words “Ford truck” for “Mercury.”

Jackson had no qualms about crediting Douglas for his composition, however, Douglas died in 1975 and never reaped the benefits of his song, which is currently published by BMG Chrysalis.

The bottom line is that more and more songwriters are looking with double vision when writing songs – thinking up lyrics and hooks that might attract the attention of advertising agencies. Just something to muse about the next time you’re in the studio.

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