So the Nashville Scene prints a huge cover story on The Features dramatic drop by 800 lb gorilla, Universal Records: the article chronicles how the poor lads had to choose between covering a Beatles song for a credit card commercial and losing their record deal. They chose to get dropped and keep their credibility. Everyone gasps and pats them on the back, their EP is released, and a month later I see a CityBank commercial with a cover version of “All You Need is Love.”
“Catchy tune…” (remember Val Kilmer’s Jim Morrison when he sees a cheesy Ford commercial using Light My Fire?)
Obviously, Universal didn’t lose sleep over the breakup, and some other up-and coming pop outfit got the job and a nice fat paycheck. Perhaps even a record deal Universal had lying around.
People talked about the classic David and Goliath story, and as Americans usually do, were supportive of The Features decision to take the highroad. The response wasn’t always positive, however. While hipsters sang their praises for not selling out, the older, pragamatic industry insiders around Nashville thought it was foolish and naive on the part of The Features to not “play ball” with Universal, and that they had lost the one shot that they were lucky to grab in the first place.
Indeed, it is a classic case of music vs. the business of music. Universal had capital and the ability to invest: they can provide money and backing for touring, promotion. Like any business, money has to be spent, and sometimes lost in order to make a long-term investment strategy work.
Major record labels have seen a significant shakeup and realighnment in the digital age, and one technique of recouping cash on talent has been to contract artists for television and film. It’s been happening for years (since the Doors, apparently) but never at such a magnitude.
There may have been a time when people would have vomited or shot thier tv if their favorite alternative band had been doing commercials for toilet paper (“no way that Kurt Cobain would allow that, man… He would never sell out”). But times have changed.
Maybe it was when U2 allowed Apple to use their huge hit “Vertigo,” but just maybe the new generation understands that it ain’t easy to make money doing this whole professional musician thing. When my wife and I hear a tune from the likes of Supergrass, Spoon, or a relatively obscure group on a corporate TV spot, we always say, “ooohh good for them. They need the money.”
We want them to succeed and do well. A TV spot is also a great way to gain exposure. There are even websites dedicated to tracking what music you hear on advertising.
But this case was different in one significant way: All You Need is Love? Are you serious? For some, the notion of using a classic Beatles song like that to sell high interest debt is as tasteless as using an actor portraying Jesus to sell cigarettes or pornography. And while I don’t know how Matt Pelham feels about it, it seems like that would have been the real kicker.
If CityBank was willing to use an original song by the Features, it would have been a blessing, but it was that they were working around the fact they probably couldn’t afford, or get permission to use the original recording, so they just decided to have a Beatle-esque modern pop group cover it.
John Lennon’s ghost must have stepped in and said, “Bloody hell no!”
By the way, the commercial, if you didn’t catch it, sucked. It was that glowy, beautiful people, feelgood crap that you see from pharmaceutical and credit corporations. Totally unfitting for the song. Love and money should not be conflated.
It’s too bad for The Features, but it was definitely the high road move. If they had just been smart enough to film a black and white documentary about the whole event, they would have had the career breaking moment that slingshot Tweedy and Co. into the elite grassroots pantheon for eternity…