Jon Reed Goes Off On... corporate whores
Wednesday, September, 19 2007
Modern English Melts Your Memories
It’s been a long, strange journey for Modern English, from the epitome of new wave cool to....Cheesy Beefy Melts. From the black light glow of prom night heartbreak to the golden sunshine of sloppy melted cheese, Modern English has reinvented itself as fast food bottom feeders.
You gotta hand it to the Taco Bell marketing team. If I was only going to pick one song about melting stuff in order to sell some Cheesy Beefy Melts, I would have gone after Modern English too.
As for those of us who would prefer to remember “I’ll Melt With You” as the drive-off scene of the underrated teen classic “Valley Girl,” a movie whose soundtrack, a definitive sampling of early 80s New Wave, is still in print, we’re out of luck. Thanks to Taco Bell, “I’ll Melt With You” now evokes new memories, those of a multi-racial, demographically-correct serenade of cloying, pre-fabricated idiot couples held together with dripping cheese. With cynical apologies to the dumb-headed Coors Light “bogus press conference” series, “I’ll Melt With Beefy Cheese” is the worst commercial of the year.
I bought a modern English record once - I guess I owe the guys an apology for not buying more product. Guys, if you’d only passed the hat my way, I’m pretty sure could have raised enough money to spare you the indignity of warmed-over cheese. While I was at it, I could passed the hat for whoever owns the songwriting rights for Free too, before they sold the soulful “All Right Now” to the most soulless company in the world, AT& T.
I hope we don’t have Free lead singer Paul Rodgers to blame for this poor song stewardship. He should have a fat enough wallet from his generic years with Bad Company to avoid such a desperate crossroads. Anyhow, despite millions of dollars in wasted advertising and a few six packs for Paul Rodgers and pals, I can’t think of one thing about “the new AT&T” that has been of benefit to consumers. Shareholders, yes, consumers no - and if that’s what AT and T means by “All Right Now,” then I’m happy as heck to be wrong.
Come to think of it, it’s probably wrong to judge Modern English too. Typically, this blog has a “one hit wonder exemption,” figuring if you only hit the charts once, you probably don’t have much to show for it financially, so you should be able to pay the rent however you want. But I just can’t get that cheese whiz out of my head. Surely there was something else that needed melting that could have saved Modern English from themselves. Please excuse me while I sign off my computer, I have to go melt my memories.
Tuesday, August, 28 2007
The Word From Alpine - Our Brand is More Important Than Your Music
We know that corporations are obsessed with branding. Whenever they can send someone in an empty suit with an oversized check to get in front of a camera and shake the hand of someone who has just done something that has nothing to do with corporate business, they will. We know that the networks are slicing up every possible buying opportunity within sporting events, thereby making the event itself a constant stream of name brands.
And of course corporations seize every opportunity to do this kind of branding, sponsoring “calls to the bullpen” anytime a pitcher coughs up some runs, “safe at home” any time a runner scores, and every possible sponsorable event within an event - and this despite the fact that large companies have nothing whatsoever to do with the skills required for feats of individual athletic accomplishment. But that’s another rant already written. We now take the association for granted, but that doesn't mean it's not absurd. Wouldn't it make nice sociology to force athletes to compete living solely on the products that sponsor them? It would be great fun to watch fat athletes who live on McDonalds, Snickers and Vitamin Water compete. Call it the Red Bull Olympics.
Raising objections to this type of branding is probably futile given how few people are bothered enough to vote with their wallets and eyeballs. But I recently saw this branding project taken to a whole new level by Alpine.
I decided to cash in my penny jars and finally replace my broken down car stereo with a new Alpine iPod deck. It was a pretty stupid purchase financially, but I just couldn’t resist the ridiculous fun of being able to scroll through my iPod and rock out to my playlists while driving.
The deck has lived up to every expectation. But there’s one “hello from your corporate friends” glitch. On the deck’s large face plate, Alpine has ample room to show the artist, song, and album title for the track that is playing. However, for just about every song/album/artist, even those with short names, the titles are cut off halfway through. Why is that? Because Alpine only used half the screen to show the titles. And why is that? Because Alpine decided to use the entire other half of the screen to show me the fucking Alpine logo!
In this history of corporate branding, this may be the first time I can recall a product actually sacrificing important functionality to blow their own redundant horn. Ummm, guys - I already bought your product. Do I really need to be constantly reminded about Alpine’s massive presence in my life? In fact, there is room on the top of the face plate to run an Alpine logo, and I would have had no objection. Being able to read the song titles would have put me in a fine, tolerable mood.
Maybe my car passenger would enjoy staring at the Alpine logo or would enjoy it subliminally, though the last passenger in my car had to ask me the name of the song that was playing because they aren’t used to reading half-finished song titles. To take an awesome feature - showing me song titles, artists, and albums, and render it almost useless for the sake of a corporate logo - that’s downright apocalyptic. Whichever marketing “suit” gleeked on an otherwise beautiful product should have to wear a tie every day with my picture on it.
Now, full disclosure: there may be a possible way to get rid of the logo. I haven’t found it, but it’s possible deep in the guts of the system I can change that part of the display, maybe with the help of that teenage hacker that busted his iPhone loose from AT & T. I doubt it, but if I can remove the logo, I will update this entry.
Alpine seems to think it solved this space problem through a scrolling function that sometimes shows you the full song title by scrolling back and forth at some random, whimsical interval. But while you’re driving, you’re generally more concerned with the cell phone chatting driver swerving in front of you than you are with waiting for a song title to decide to scroll by. Scrolling is a fancy feature that would be completely irrelevant if not for the technical gymnastics needed to display a logo half as large as the entire display.
The logical conclusions of this type of branding intrusion are a fun-filled mix of corporate noise and public safety hazards. How about a Toyota logo across the front windshield of a car? Or an informative “your Internet connection is brought to you by Verizon, your broadband and entertainment company” banner across the computer screen of an air traffic controller?
Right now, the only line in the sand seems to be about that far. But as long as safety is off the table, anything is brandable. Still, I look forward to playing my car stereo for you. Did I tell you it was made by Alpine?
Tuesday, June, 19 2007
Don McClean Sells a Big Slice of American Pie
Don McClean has always been a sourpuss overshadowed by a few of his own iconic songs. When it comes to the sale of “American Pie” to Chevy, the question for McClean is not so much why as “Why did it take you so long?” McClean has always come off as bitterly cynical about the power of the music he recorded. Perhaps the passing nature of his fame made him realize that for every fan who saw his songs as treasures, ten more saw them as fast food and littered the remnants on his front lawn, inconveniencing his privacy.
I’ll never forget going to see Don McClean live at an outdoor festival in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1986. It was the kind of festival where you have to play “all the great hits” because at that point you have been reduced to a Spinal Tap circus attraction. Bands who love their fans have no shame about this: not long ago I saw Cheap Trick play a kickass show to a small group of loyalists not far from my apartment. But playing to “hot dog and popcorn” festival fans irritated McClean to no end. He responded with contempt, playing a hit-free set and petulantly refusing to play “American Pie” even though that song was the only reason 90 percent of the people were there. Instead of reworking the song in a way that would have been acceptably fresh for him to play, McClean just refused: no, the audience that had once supported his lifestyle was not worthy of hearing a song that, unlike the others in his set, actually meant something, or at least sounded familiar.
“American Pie” was larger than life, perhaps the greatest expression of that elusive loss of national innocence that occurred sometime between the Buddy Holly fifties and the Vietnam War. Perhaps McClean was right to pinpoint the death of Buddy Holly as the harbinger of that loss. The wacky lyrical comparisons of the Stones to Satan’s messengers were a little much, but you could spend hours poring over that song and come away with something new each time. So McClean captured the idealism and lost hopes of a generation in a musical epic that was ready made...for Chevy? Turns out that the most important part of this song was not loss of innocence but taking the Chevy to the levee, a savvy premonition of a future endorsement opportunity.
One day Don would refuse to play this song for fans who yearned to understand it fully, but he would have no such hesitation selling it to Chevy. The song was already gutted by the ultimate wet noodle cover attempt by Madonna channeling Sheryl Crow - now a highway of Chevrolets drives the crumbs of “American Pie” into the footnotes of music history. But Don has every right to exchange a cultural moment for a moment in his wallet - as long as he remembers that you don’t get to bring that particular receipt back. Music is dead, the levee was more than likely leveled to make room for a casino, and Don McClean is for sale.
Wednesday, April, 11 2007
I'd like a Frosty and some Violent Femmes on the Side
Struggling musicians come in all flavors and eras. Before you know it, your favorite cool 80s band is passing the hat around. In this blog, we've talked about how I give a hall pass to one hit wonders who long ago snorted away their take from a bad music contract and need some type of pension plan. These days, that pension plan takes the form of a large corporation in search of a credibility fix. It's hard to hold it against a has-been when they sell the one possession that's worth something. What we don't appreciate is when a band bends over too fast and too willingly, as if they are almost enjoying the whoring process. Perhaps they have seduced themselves into thinking that it's ok to shill their best work because everybody does it, or because the average consumer doesn't care. They're right about that last part, but I get enough emails to know that I'm not the only one who hates the stench of unnecessary compromise. Which brings us to the tricky case of the Violent Femmes. The Femmes were more than a one hit wonder. On the other hand, it's safe to say that their lifetime revenues will never adequately compensate them for the impact they've had. Are the Femmes low on cash these days? Are they sick of playing gigs at state fairs and casinos? Do they even have control how over their songs are sold? Nobody can say. Bands keep these things to themselves, leaving us to draw our own conclusions on limited information. Fine, I'll draw a conclusion: the Femmes just laid a big smelly egg. It took twenty years, but they finally took the hamburger-lined path of least corporate resistance. Surely there are art house films in search of a Femmes song for their soundtrack. Can it be that the only suitor with disposable cash was Wendy's? Only the french fries know for sure. What I do know is that the once-proud Violent Femmes, an underrated '80s band that resisted both hair band derivatism and New Wave imitationism, have been disarmed. They are no longer the Violent Femmes. They are officially the non-Violent Femmes. No, they are the Corporate Femmes. Back in the day, they crafted their own sound and found popularity on their terms. Now they serve as the soundtrack of reassurance for attractive thirty-somethings who thought they had outgrown Wendy's but are wrong. Wendy's is a perfect place to take your upwardly-mobile colleagues before a night at the movies. But don't take my word for it - the Femmes think so too. Fans of the band will keep listening to them, and maybe I will too. Just one request: don't call them the Violent Femmes anymore. If you can't bear to call them the French Fried Femmes, or Wendy's Bag Job, then the plain old Femmes will do. Would Dave have allowed this if he was alive? I think the Violent Femmes would have been a bit too edgy for Dave. Dave would have insisted on Wayne or Juice Newton. Better yet, he would have done the commercial himself. Too bad - he could have saved me from the violence I stole from the Femmes.
Tuesday, October, 31 2006
Song Whoring Update with The Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Wonder, Playtex and Friends
Musicians and their creepy caretakers continue to sell songs that matter at a soul-crushing rate. My ability to track the whoring will be limited until I am able to hire a full time representative to wade through the carnage. But in the meantime, let's take a sleazy trip through some of the most bone-headed song sales in recent months. The Stones, needless to say, fare prominently. "You Can't Always Get What You Want," perhaps the most important song of the 60s, was somehow deemed an especially good fit for Coca Cola products (strange, I always thought of Diet Pepsi when I heard that song). "Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin)," that Sly and the Family Stone chestnut, turns out to have something to do with Playtex tampons. Queen's "We Are the Champions" has some connection to rock hard erections (Viagra), whereas Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" is evidently a perfect symbol of Merrill Lynch's fierce loyalty to its financial services customers. Merrill Lynch's massive corporate transaction volumes are most accurately portrayed by scenes of bulls running free across the plains. Stevie Wonder held off on selling "Superstitious" until he got an offer from Levi's Jeans, the product he had in mind when he originally wrote the song. In an irony that surely put a smile on Mick Jagger's money-grubbing face, "Time is On My Side" went to Revlon. That song is about nothing if it's not about maintaining your beauty through cosmetic products. There's a few untouchable songs that are still untouched. We'd be advised to consider them all endangered, as those responsible for musical legacies have no apparent interest other than lining fat wallets. In this case, time is surely not on our side.
Friday, August, 25 2006
Polo Geek Alert: Selling Out is Now Cool
A few entries past, I wrote that selling out to corporations was actually becoming "cool." Even as I wrote it, I thought I went too far. But thanks to Peter McBride, we now know that I didn't go far enough. Forget about doing that "corporate tool" contest, and for that matter, forget about the "sackless man" competition - Peter has 'em both locked up. Our boy Peter was waiting in line for a tattoo, and since the guy ahead of him was wearing a Polo shirt, Peter decided to get a Polo right on his chest. Give Peter credit. It's hard to stand out as a chump in a world of chumps. Peter, ya chumped out, bro! Peter is young and dumb as a post, so it's not fair to ride him as one of the four horsemen. But check this out: tattoo artist Gaje Pou, quoted in the piece on McBride by Lee Hudson Teslik, says that it's increasingly common for folks to have a corporate logo inscribed on their bodies. According to Pou, this practice "is becoming more and more acceptable." We are nearing that inconceivable day when "corporate is cool." Truth be told, I was thinking of getting a tattoo also. But unlike Peter, I was looking for an image that might give me a bit of bravery on those days when I am floundering in a gutless world. Maybe I should get a tattoo of me knocking McBride off a horse and cramming a polo stick in his craw. If it's true that an act of bravery strengthens all of us, it's also true that an act of cowardice weakens us. I'm not going to deny it: McBride's decision was demoralizing. Not just because it was stupid, but because Peter is in step with where the world is headed, and I'm not. Peter's Polo is one more sign that I'm off track, walking around with an unflattering chip on my shoulder and missing happy hour again. In junior high school, guys wearing Polo shirts threw me into a pool. Peter gave me a different kind of cold shower. But I like it here on the fringes with the dreamers and the freaks. If nothing else, our tattoos are superior. Peter's worst move? He didn't even arrange to get paid by Ralph Lauren for branding himself. Ah, to be on a date with Peter, unbuttoning his shirt for the first time, wondering if he is wearing some kind of Ralph Lauren skin undershirt, then realizing you date PoloMan. Admittedly, my life is shaping up as tragic drama. But at least it's not a fucking commercial.
Wednesday, May, 31 2006
Papa Roach Code Blue Sellout Alert
If Pepsi has their way, we'll be downloading songs off the top of a bottle soon. Recently, Pepsi "teamed up" with numetal bozos Papa Roach to release a Pepsi/Papa Roach "music video" in conjunction with the product launch of Pepsi Blue. The mood in the Pepsi marketing department? Triumphant. Fed up with tour sponsorships, Pepsi was looking for something a little more intrusive. And bands like Papa Roach and Sev had no problem delivering for Pepsi's corporate needs. No longer is Pepsi relegated to having Madonna or Wacko Jacko stroll through an ad. "We're out of that game," said one Pepsi executive with smug satisfaction. And why not? If Pepsi can find wet noodles like Papa Roach to chug Pepsi in their videos, more power to them. I guess when Papa Roach boldly proclaimed "I can't go on....living this way!!!!" they meant they were in dire need of more corporate sponsorships. Congratulations guys! Congratulations is also in order to hip-hop for doing its part to make selling out cool (be a player - put that check in the bank like you just don't care!). As Michael Ostin, president of Dreamworks Records, told USA Today, "There's a certain immediacy that exists now. Hip-hop and the Internet changed all that." In the Papa Roach ads, their new single was timed with the debut of Pepsi Blue. As Ostin says, "it's all about the mix." The only possible ingredient missing from this "mix" is artistic credibility. But we are reassured: the ads for Sev and Papa Roach both end "with a light-hearted twist." If you're going to go about undermining your own creative integrity, you might as well be light-hearted about it. These days, anyone who doesn't take the money just isn't cool. It's no fun to hang out with a critical sourpuss who can't afford to buy the next round of Rocky Mountain Flavored Coors Brought to You by Papa Roach. Yeah, we'd all drink the Pepsi Blue if we had the chance. Keep telling yourself that guys.
Monday, February, 06 2006
Bad Pepsi and bad hip-hop
The commercials of Super Bowl XL didn't make much of an impression on me - except for the Diet Pepsi commercial featuring Diet Pepsi making its own hit song about itself. I think Diddy was involved in this diabolical project, and Jay Mohr plays the agent brokering a deal for a can of pop. The commercial was very well produced, but what gets me is the creeping suspicion, the dread, that some people out there actually consider that Pepsi song to be real music. It sounds a lot like the lowest-common-denominator Destiny's Child/"Jenny on the Block" schlock that has tortured the Billboard charts in recent years. Now, you might think that because I write so much about metal that I have a thing against hip-hop, but that's not true. I like a lot of R&B, hip-hop, rap, and jazz. I continue to feel that that rap lost its edge when it turned its back on the Malcolm-X-inspired Public Enemy era, but I can appreciate a good groove. What I have a hard time embracing is the new hip-hop culture that sees no contradiction between being a "player" and taking shitloads of money from The Man, while recording some of the most abysmal "music" ever recorded. To cite one in an avalanche of examples, I can't take The Black Eyed Peas seriously since their embarrassing Best Buy commercials, but I suspect that the bulk of their fan base sees absolutely nothing troubling about the cozy ties between these supposedly "cool" musicians and the ever-present pockets of corporate America. Whatever. These folks are spineless, neutered tools of the system and their mindless manufacture of youth culture pudding will never impress me, no matter how many tattooed youngsters way cooler than me lick it up. So, for the record, anybody above the age of fifteen who thinks that the Diet Pepsi song is "cool" is a loser. And if you don't feel disgust at Pepsi's attempt to penetrate the heart of hip-hop culture, then you are an idiot. Does that cover it? Let's see if Pepsi ends up releasing the song. I'll make this vow to my detractors: if the Pepsi song is released and reaches the top of the charts, I'll admit total cultural defeat and shut this blog down. Till then, I'm gonna keep shouting into the foul wind.
Some random notes on the bad sports of Super Bowl XL
There were lots of bad sports to go around in Super Bowl XL. The refs did their job by making sure the game would be satisfying only to those with money on the Steelers; the Stones did their part by turning in a half-assed performance - the first bloated three song performance in history. "Rough Justice" was an apt choice for what happened during the game itself, but it was a lousy idea for the Stones to waste a third of their set on a song no one outside of the band will ever care about. Bad sports were everywhere: Mike Holmgren did his part by fuming over the refs and not over his Pop Warner clock management. But our coveted "bad sport/bite the hand that feeds you award" is reserved for Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. Everyone said that the Super Bowl MVP lineup was one of the coolest aspects of the whole night. But did you wonder where Terry and Joe were? Turns out two of the greatest Super Bowl players of them all didn't show up because the NFL wouldn't pay their standard appearance fee. Now, we can blame the NFL for being too cheap to pony up for Joe and Terry, but we can also hang this on the guys for refusing to show up for the game that cemented the legacy they still draw cash from. Think Terry Bradshaw has paid for a meal in Pittsburgh since the 70s? The least he could do was to show up before the game for all the Terrible Towels in the stands. As for Joe, whenever he needs some cash, he can just pull some dirty sox from the hamper, sign them, and put them up for sale on eBay. The kicker? The guys were in town for the Super Bowl anyway. We complain about athletes not taking stands, but at least these guys found an issue to take a stand on: their appearance fees. Keep up the fight boys!
Thursday, December, 01 2005
Ben Lee, Master of the Obvious (and the Obviously Bad)
Every so often a pop song comes along that is so aggressively mediocre that the only rational response is violent. Ben Lee's "Catch My Disease" is such evil. With the crassness of a thousand jingles, Ben has taken corporate music to another level by releasing a song that is indistinguishable from the product it will eventually underwrite. "My head is a box full of nothing," Ben warns us, "and that's the way I like it." I won't scare you with the rest of the lyrics, but we've all seen better on the backs of napkins and beer coasters across America. This is no ordinary illness Ben is passing along. The verses are harmless as a head cold, but the chorus is bird flu. If you've heard it, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't heard it, you might want to avoid shopping malls and elevators until the holiday season is over. For all the corrosive insincerity of "Catch My Disease," I actually thought about giving Ben a break. Guys his age are usually looking to score a flat screen TV in time for the Super Bowl. Hard to begrudge Ben playing the role of circus monkey to keep the landlord at bay. But then in the last verse, Ben has the audacity to claim: "they don't play me! on the radio/but that's the way I like it," and that's when we must add the most damning word of all to Ben's resume. Ben is a run-of-the-mill phony, but he's a world-class hypocrite. Claiming this song wasn't written with radio in mind is absurd. You would never write a jingle like this for your friends. If I ever brought this song to a jam session, someone would take my guitar and smash it over my head, and I'd thank them for it. Ben's money is on one side; his integrity is now on the other. "Catch My Disease" is the bridge between the two. Those who financed the bridge by buying Ben's record can look forward to listening to "Catch My Disease" for eternity in the musical purgatory that awaits them.