Combining popular music with TV commercials is nothing new. Even the venerable Rolling Stones once famously penned an original tune for a Rice Krispies ad back in 1963.
Over the past decade, high-profile television commercials have become launching pads for emerging artists. Landing a song in heavy rotation during prime-time can often be just the push a new act needs to make the jump towards big-league success.
Apple has long been at the forefront of this trend, and just this year were paramount in the arrival of UK soul dandy Willy Moon, whose single “Yeah Yeah” is the centerpiece of their current iPod campaign.
In 2012, it was rock’s emerging class that benefited the most from commercial affiliations, although there was something of a price to be paid, with small but vocal clutches of fans grumbling over seeing their beloved bands shilling for corporate America.
Combing through hours of TV footage over the past 12 months, we’ve compiled this list of the Top 5 rock songs to soundtrack a TV commercial in 2012.
Passion Pit, “Take a Walk” – After growing a cult following with their debut album, Manners, college rockers Passion Pit came with guns blazing on the band’s sophomore effort, Gossamer. The album’s first single got a major boost when it showed up as the soundtrack in spots for Taco Bell’s new menu item, Doritos Tacos. The commercial was further pushed into public consciousness with a tie-in to social network Instagram, and soon the chatter surrounding the ad lead to the band’s frontman Michael Angelakos to comment. “It’s not about promoting celebrities or giant corporations or anything like that,” Angelakos said. “It’s just airtime…It’s an amazing opportunity. And, honestly, you take what you can get. I say no to about 90 percent of the offers, but we just want people to hear the music at end of the day.”
Neon Trees, “Everybody Talks” – Few industries can match car companies when it comes to dominating the airwaves with commercials, especially during live sporting events. When Neon Trees landed a starring role in a music-themed spot for the Buick Verano, the response from friends and fans was both immediate and positive. “Some people think it’s the Neon Trees commercial, like we just have our own commercial these days that just airs during football games, and so we just sort of roll with that,” chuckled the band’s bassist Branden Campbell of the commercial, which features a snippet of the band performing “Everybody Talks” (the first single from their second full-length release, Picture Show) on a tour bus.
The Black Keys, “Lonely Boy,” “Gold on the Ceiling” (sort of) – Ohio’s hard-rocking blues brothers the Black Keys had no plans to feature their music in TV commercials, so imagine their surprise when tunes sounding scarily similar to songs “Gold on the Ceiling” and “Lonely Boy” turned up in heavily rotated spots from Pizza Hut and Home Depot. Bandmates Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach teamed up with producer Danger Mouse to file a copyright lawsuit against the corporate giants in June of this year. Before the case could go to trial, both sides settled for an undisclosed amount. “A lot of music supervisors that I’m friends with are like, ‘You’re the No. 1 requested band right now by advertising agencies to have sound-alikes,’” Carney told the L.A. Times after the settlement.
Alex Clare, “Too Close” – For this British singer-songwriter, having his song picked up by computer software giant Microsoft to serve as the soundtrack for the company’s Explorer 9 commercial essentially save his recording career. He’d already been dropped by his label when the commercial hit, turning the Major Lazer-produced tune into a bona fide smash. “I was scratching my head thinking what am I going to do with my life and then suddenly I get a phone call from Bill Gates, not literally, [laughs] but almost,” Clare said about that fateful decision. “If I see him I’m gonna kiss him.” The tune has gone on to be one of the biggest crossover hits of the year, and is even used as the entrance song for a group of Major League Baseball players.
Depeche Mode, “People Are People” – German automaker Volkswagen went classic ’80s to launch the new Golf 7 in Europe, with a TV campaign built around “People Are People,” the 1984 single from UK synth-pop pioneers Depeche Mode. Featuring a series of diverse cover versions in different genres, the spot ends with a spin of the original, as well as a pay-off: Depeche Mode frontman Dave Gahan himself makes a cameo, shown cruising behind the wheel (wink!) of the Golf 7 on a deserted stretch of highway.
-Scott T. Sterling, CBS Local