Rock Stars Appearing And Selling Their Songs Out In Commercials

Photo: By Ellecid (Ellecid) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Do rock star commercials sacrifice the integrity of the artists?

In 1984, an apparel company called Sasson Industries sponsored the Elton John tour which visited forty four cities in the United States. Sasson Industries was best known for their trademarked very popular Sasson jeans. In perhaps the most disappointing career decision that Elton John ever made from a hardcore Elton John fans perspective, was the decision to re-record and change the lyrics to one of his songs to help sell blue jeans. The Elton John song, “Sad Songs,’ was the last track on Elton John’s 1984 Breaking Hearts album.  Elton John re-recorded the song and changed the chorus from “Sad Songs Say so Much,” to “Sasson says so much.” According to the New York Times, Sasson spent five million dollars in a television advertising campaign to promote their jeans with the use of Elton John’s image and music. [1]

Elton John appeared in the video commercial that was shot to promote the company’s line of apparel. For longtime Elton John fans, the vision of seeing Elton singing about Sasson Jeans was not as horrific as it would have been if it was Robert Plant or Bruce Springsteen. Elton John’s flamboyant personality easily fit the commercial. And perhaps because of Elton’s ostentatious showmanship, it was expected to be somewhat accepted. However, any hardcore Elton John fan that grew up with Elton’s music in the nineteen seventies probably cannot hear the song “Sad Songs,” ever again without thinking of Sasson jeans. In terms of rock star commercials, it was one of the biggest advertising campaigns of the nineteen eighties that featured one of the biggest musical acts in history. However, it was just the beginning for Elton as he went on to appear in commercials for Diet Coke, Pepsi and Cadbury Chocolate.

# 10 – Cadbury Chocolates – Elton John

In the twenty first century it has become common, and for the most part essential that most tours have corporate sponsorship. By sponsoring large rock and roll tours, these companies also utilize the musical acts to promote their cooperate products through the use of rock star commercials. However, in the nineteen seventies cooperate sponsorship and big business often felt the wrath of protest singers. It would have been inconceivable for artists like Tom Waits or Robert Plant to promote commercialized products. Artistic integrity of these artists proved to be invaluable and also wise as the baby boomer generation of the nineteen sixties would have not accepted the selling out of rock and roll stars to the needs of Madison Avenue. Nonetheless, in the nineteen eighties with the cost of touring rising dramatically, rock stars began to merge their businesses with companies like Sasson.

# 9 – Sasson Jeans – Elton John

Not all rock and roll stars accepted the offers of corporate America. Perhaps in one of the biggest displays of artistic integrity, (and well publicized) Bruce Springsteen turned down a tremendous offer from Chevrolet to use his song “Born in the USA,” to sell cars. Whether it was for artistic integrity or the mere understanding that selling out one of his songs could hurt future sales, Bruce’s decision to turn down Chevrolet only increased his standing as an artist who respected his fans and his body of work.  After being turned down by Bruce, the Chevrolet car company turned to Bob Seger who happily licensed his song “Like a Rock,” to the car company. Bob Seger was not the only major rock star to license his music for commercial purposes. There were many acts that even wrote original music that imitated their signature sound. ZZ Top wrote a song and appeared in a commercial for Honda in 1998. Paul Stanley of Kiss sang a song about Folgers coffee that appeared in 2001. Even Energizer Batteries tagged Ted Nugent to perform in one of their commercials back in 1998.

It is important to be fair to many of the artists who have sold the rights to their songs to cooperate companies. Many musical artists signed deals early in their careers that left them with very little profit after all expenses have been deducted from the recording of their albums and the promotional expenses in support of those records. Many artists had also sold the publishing rights to their songs and so they wound up with no control over the licensing of their own music. The Beatles are perhaps the perfect example of a band that no longer owned the rights to their music and had no say in whether or not their songs could be utilized to sell Twinkies or computers. On the flip side, there were artists like the Who’s Pete Townshend who flat out said he didn’t care if a commercial using one of his songs ruined a fan’s memory of his songs in relation to a fan’s personal lives. Townshend said it was his songs and if he could make money selling them for commercials, then he was going to do it.

But the times they are a-changing, and now companies like Visa, MasterCard, and American Express etc.… all promote concerts on a regular basis. These companies hang large banners above the stages where bands like the Rolling Stones perform. They utilize the band’s music and image on radio, television, and in print. Even Bob Dylan, the voice of nineteen sixties rebellion, has filmed commercials for IBM and Victoria’s Secret which was probably was one of the oddest pairings’ ever of a rock star and a commercial company.  But since the new generation of rock fans that have grown up during the twenty first century do not buy music, who could blame any artists in the year 2015 for merging with the buisness world?

When a company like Spotify charges seven dollars a month for fans to download unlimited music to their devices, who is going to buy albums anymore? So the only way artists can make money is to tour, and the only way to tour is to use a corporate sponsor and do rock star commercials. So rock and roll artists have now become prisoners of the advertising world. But the funny thing about the issues of rock star commercials in the present is it seems no one really cares anymore, which in the end, “says so much.”

# 8 – Diet Coke – Elton John

# 7 – Folgers – Paul Stanley

It does not get any better than this one……

One of the strangest Rock Star Commercials of all time

 # 6 – Honda – ZZ Top

# 5 – The Energizer Bunny -Ted Nugent

Crazy Ted and the Energizer Bunny is a commercial not to be missed.

# 4 – IBM – Bob Dylan

One of the most interesting rock star commercials of all time.

# 3 – Chevrolet Trucks – Bob Seger

When Bruce Springsteen said no, Bob Seger said yes

# 2 – Nike – The Beatles

It’s so sad that Michael Jackson allowed some Beatles songs to be used in commercials. This one was tough to watch.

# 1 – Jaguar – Deep Purple

This one is actually cool!

Rock Stars Appearing And Selling Their Songs Out In Commercials article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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