S.S.O.S. (Stop Spoiling Our Songs)

Given how much TV adverts get on my tits, I’m not sure how it turns out that it’s been over three months since I wrote one of these.

There’s much to despise about adverts in my book, and doubtless I’ll probably cover some of the other things I hate over the coming months because, let’s be honest, with the World Cup starting today, I’m going to be watching a much larger proportion of the commercial channels than usual for the next few weeks, so they’re bound to wind me up enough to feel the need to vent my spleen here.

But for now, I’ll return to my usual gripe: the use of records I love to sell stuff, especially when the stuff being sold has absolutely sod all to do with the song, which inevitably has every last drop of credibility squeezed from it as a result.

I don’t really subscribe to the Bill Hicks You do a commercial, you’re off the artistic roll call forever” train of thought:

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Bill Hicks – Artistic Roll Call

To my mind, a spot on the shelf-life of celebrity is a precarious, self-employed one: they never know quite how long they’re going to be there, or how demeaning their fall from grace is going to be, so I have no issue with those lucky enough to be in the position where they’re offered money to endorse a product, or do a voice-over, adding some notes to their pension fund and taking the corporate coinage. It doesn’t mean I’m going to rush out and buy whatever they’re selling – in fact, it’s more likely to make me more determined not to – but I have no problem with them doing it.

That said, when a record is crowbarred into an advert where it has no business in being, just to add a veneer of credibility, that’s when I get annoyed.

Chanel. If you’re not the biggest fragrance and fashion house in the world, then you’re certainly in the top three. Your status, reputation and class has been built up for over one hundred years. Getting Steve McQueen (not that one) to direct your latest advert for men’s fragrance is fitting: he’s a class act, and so are you.

So why the need to use this as the soundtrack to the advert?

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David Bowie – Starman

I could maybe understand it if it had some relevance to the product in question. It’s a men’s fragrance, so there’s a man in the advert – tick! – but as for the ‘star’ part…well in a 60 second advert, there is one shot, lasting no more than one second, which features a starry sky, and that’s about five seconds before it ends.

You get the impression that the Chanel Marketing Department commissioned McQueen to shoot the ad, and then when he presented it to him, they told him what they wanted the music to be, so he had to crowbar a star reference in to give its use some weight.

What I’m trying to say is this: Bowie is dead. There’s no need to tarnish his memory by using his songs to sell stuff. You’re better than that, Chanel.

More soon.

And there’s no need for anyone to suggest the advert which features a certain New Order tune for a future post – that’s very high on the list indeed.

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Naughty, Naughty, Very Naughty

I was listening to an old recording of Bill Hicks the other day (of course it was old, he died in 1994), a routine of his taken from his 1992 album “Relentless”.

It’s the bit where he talks about there never being any positive stories in the press about drugs, about the good times he’s had on drugs, and how modern day rock stars campaign against, instead of in favour of drugs.

He does the whole thing far better than me, so you may as well hear him for yourselves. In case you’re unfamiliar with his work, please don’t listen to this is you’re offended by swear words, or by comedy routines which are deliberately controversial and extol the virtues of some facets of the counter-culture:

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Bill Hicks – Great Times on Drugs

Bill Hicks – Drugs Have Done Good Things

Bill Hicks – Rockers Against Drugs Suck

Which kinda got me thinking. Firstly, about some experiences I’ve had when under the influence, which I’ll talk about here some day. (Let me be clear though: when I do, as with this post, I’m not writing it to show off or seem cool. I am neither condoning nor condemning their use, merely reporting what happened to me. But some of the things that happened to me back in the days when I did indulge are very, very funny indeed, if a little weird and possibly a little scary too, even if I do say so myself.)

And secondly, it got me thinking about songs which are about, or are influenced by (or both) illegal drugs of one sort or another.

Back then, in my clubbing days, as with most people (except for the poor girl I found myself sitting next to one night who had taken a shed-load of ketamine and was regretting it) my drug of choice was ecstacy, or E, and perhaps the most notorious of songs from recent years (and by recent, I mean 1992) was about that particular little pill.

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The Shamen – Ebeneezer Goode

Unsurprisingly, the song was initially banned by the BBC, but then, I think possibly concerned that the ban might be fuelling the sales of the record in the same as has happened a few years earlier with Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”, the ban was lifted. Ironic, then, that it hit the Number One spot in the UK Charts during Radio One’s “Drug Awareness Week”; it certainly made a lot of people very aware of that one particular drug alrighty.

Here’s Shamen songwriter Colin Angus on how the idea for the song came to be: “One night, at the Forum, I heard this underworld dandy speaking a pirate-like patois. I found myself thinking, “Who is he? His first name must begin with an E … Ebeneezer Goode? Now there’s a name to conjure with.”

And over to Richard West, aka Mr C, the group’s rapper: “It was so cleverly written that a lot of people still don’t get it. One way, it’s about this guy called Ebeneezer Goode; another way, it’s about ecstasy: “E goes by the name of Ebeneezer Goode. E’s friends call him Eezer, and E is the main geezer and E vibes up the place like no other man could. E’s refined, E’s sublime, E makes you feel fine.” I mean, come on. But even fans think the only E is in the chorus.”

No prizes for guessing which of the two wrote the lyrics, eh?

Mr C again: “Colin was a genius songwriter: he’d give me a theme and I’d write the rap lyrics, the drums and the rhythm. He’d do the chords and the synths and the songwriting, and that’s how Ebeneezer came along.”

I don’t think there was anyone over the age of 16 when that came out who didn’t think it was a song about drugs. I mean, it’s littered with references to other drugs too: “Has anybody got any Veras?” and “Got any salmon?” being rhyming slang cases in point.

I’ll let Mr C explain: “[When they performed the song on Top of the Pops] I changed the line “Got any salmon?” to “Got any underlay?” and people said, “That’s not in the song! Drug reference!” I was asked about it on Radio 1 by [DJ] Mark Goodier, and said that “salmon” was rhyming slang for salmon and trout – snout, cigarettes – a legal drug that has killed thousands, so I’d changed it. He said: “So what’s ‘underlay’?” I said it was a gratuitous rug reference.”

I don’t think I can beat that gag.

More soon.