LINER NOTES: Madison Ave
AMC's Mad Men came to an end in May, so our June 11 session, LINER NOTES: Madison Ave, focused on music used in notable commercials. Nate isn't too familiar with the show, and my interest gassed out around Season 4, but we both recognize the show's masterful ability to showcase fashion trends and consumer culture. Along with a consistently remarkable soundtrack, linking a costumed modeling session with the show is a no-brainer.
We opened with a nod to the show's end, the 1971 "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" ad. Our model, Aubrey, dressed in a flowing, floral dress that matched the hippie nods of the Coke spot. She moved quickly as we warmed up to a set of pre- and proto-television ads and jingles. The two Dinahs -- Shore and Washington -- led the charge with spots for Chevy and the Armed Services.
Perhaps it was the Drink in Drink-and-Draw talking, or maybe simply the Mad Men connection, but the night was heavy on vice ads. Early on, we heard the earworm-y Winston jingle and the Brooklyn-name-dropping Rheingold spot. Later, we moved to the malt liquor tip and ran through a handful of the early '90s St. Ides hip-hop spots (the connection between hip-hop and television commercials -- particularly Sprite -- deserves its own session). Less explicit was one of my favorite recent commercial 'crate digs,' Marcos Valle's "Estrelar' which found its way into a slightly jarring Southern Comfort ad (kinda hard to top the mystery drink's prior "Whatever's Comfortable" ad which featured the classic break, Odetta's "Hit or Miss," but "Estrelar" deserves its own shine).
Modern commercials tend to license existing recordings (or, when desperate, the publishing rights to a song and commission subpar covers), which is a shame because today's customers are deprived of gems like Lou Rawls's Sings for Cold Power Powder, an entire 10" of jingles the singer recorded for the laundry detergent brand (make sure to read the reader comment in that Soul-Sides post; Mad Men fans will appreciate the parallels with Pete Campbell's interest in pushing Zenith to market to the same "ethnic" demographic). So, Cotton, Inc. tapped that boomer aesthetic when it commissioned Zooey Deschanel (and Kate Bosworth) for a twee take on the brand. To this day, I'm unsure if Cat Power's cover of "Hanging on the Telephone" was expressly recorded for that 2006 Cingular commercial (a complete recording is one of my white whales), but the synergy (ugh) is remarkable.
For our longer poses, we turned to recent examples of memorable advertising soundtracks. Nick Drake's "Pink Moon," which has become widely-known for its use in the 1999 VW Cabriolet ad, summarized the aesthetic of this set: indie 'anthems.' Chanel's use of Nina Simone is one of numerous examples of VW not being first in the Hipster Commercial Race, but the car manufacturer's marketing campaign seemingly opened the floodgates to other Pitchfork-friendly songs. In 2003, the Lincoln Navigator drove Mr. Scruff's Moondog-sampling "Get a Move On" into our consciousness. Sony took the edge off The Knife for its 2005 Bravia ad with José González's cover. And, in peak convergence of tech and auto hipster d-baggery, VW and Apple used indie supergroup Polyphonic Spree's "Light and Day" in 2004.
Of course, we had to do a quick survey of the Mad Men soundtrack. When I think of the first season, Don Cherry's "Band of Gold" sums up the worldview of its characters. The conventional view of masculinity, the syrupy sentimentality, and the whiteness all help peg the identity of the show and its main drivers. "Early in the Morning" is a bit of an outlier, considering Colin Hanks's appearance in the series had little to do with the daily life of Sterling Cooper. However, it is also an important reminder of the moral and spiritual borders Peggy Olsen had to work through, in addition to the professional and sexual ones. "Bye Bye Birdie" was spun simply because of Sal (#neverforget). I mix up the scenes over which "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" and "Tomorrow Never Knows" were used, perhaps because the Beatles track sounds like a frenetic trip gone haywire and the Beach Boys ballad perfectly sums up Don's aging disconnect from the times. Another white whale is a clean copy of Robert Morse tapping his way through the Broadway standard "The Best Things in Life Are Free." And, well, "Zoo Bisou Bisou (aka Zoo Be Zoo Be Zoo)" speaks for itself (New York has a brief history of the song's recording history, which is hardly remarkable, but worth a read if you really must know).
One more disclaimer. There isn't much point in making a Spotify playlist, because a) so many of the commercial references were from television; and b) Spotify just doesn't have a lot of these tracks. That said, if you're fine with a heavily edited version of the playlist, here's one for y'all.