The Persistence of Memory, Madison Avenue Edition

The use of popular songs in commercials has been much maligned, and rightly so. I don’t mean when a relatively new tune by a relatively unknown band is used in an ad. The landscape of the music industry has changed so dramatically that I realize an up-and-coming group has to find new ways to get exposure. This would have once raised the hackles of my Punk Rock Sensibilities, but I’ve mellowed with age. I still wanna strangle whichever Chevy exec greenlighted the “This Is Our Country” ads, though.

What I’m really referring to is commercials that use very popular songs of the past. Songs that were huge hits, are still played constantly on the radio, but are nonetheless co-opted for ad campaigns. There’s a whole generation of kids who probably think Who’s Next was penned as an album-length homage to Nissan. But hey, I’m sure Pete Townshend really needed the cash.

However, at the same time that I hate Robert Plant transforming into a Cadillac spokesman, I’m not 100 percent sure this is any worse than the commercials of my youth. Back then, music was generally used in commercials in one of three ways:

1) A new, snazzy jingle about your wonderful product. Usually sung by a full-throated man or woman, or in the most hateful example, a chorus of screaming kids. *shudder*
2) An old standard that commented on the action in the commercial, however vaguely. This would almost never be the original version of the song, but performed by a Generic Commercial Crooner, invariably off screen.
3) A popular song with rewritten lyrics.

And this last example haunts me to this day. Because I watched a bajillion hours of TV as a kid, I have tattooed on my brain alternate versions of famous songs. And when I hear these particular songs, I immediately think of the ad-altered versions.

My favorite example was by Wendy’s. This commercial features Kool and the Gang reworking their hit “Celebration” to laud the arrival of Crispy Chicken Nuggets. I have no idea what it was about this commercial that made such a huge subliminal impression on me. As you’ll see below, there’s nothing particular outstanding about it. Unless you consider a guy juggling chicken nugget boxes outstanding.

Regardless, this commercial became imprinted on my psyche. It’s inexplicably famous in my household. To this day, whenever me or any of my brothers hear this song, we sing along There’s a party goin on right here/Crispy Chicken Nuggets are new and here this year…

I am equal parts delighted and disappointed that I was able to find this ad on YouTube. Because in my memory, this ad was like one of those borderline racist McDonalds commercials, with lots of black folk shufflin’ and jivin’, double dutchin’ and eatin’ fast food. Which is pretty much what The Media told us all black people did in the 1980s. That, and live in beautiful Brooklyn brownstones with broods of preternaturally witty children.

This video will prove that my memory was inaccurate. In fact, you’ll see it’s mostly white people dancing like idiots. You will, however, see some preteen popping and locking, because it was impossible to show a black kid in a commercial in the 1980s and have him not breakdance.

I don’t expect you, the reader, to see anything special in this ad. But if for some reason you do, please let me know what it is so I can finally find out why it haunts my dreams.