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  • Interview with Keith D’Arcy
  • Keith D’Arcy (bio) and Linda Scott (bio)

I am sitting here with Keith D’Arcy, Senior Vice President of music strategy at EMI in New York. Keith, can you tell my readers about this major change that has happened over the last twenty-five years regarding the prominence of licensing music for advertisements? This phenomenon seems to date more or less from the use of the Beatles’ “Revolution” in the Nike Air Jordan commercials of 1987.

Video 1.

Nike Air Jordan “Revolution” spot, black and white version. Music by The Beatles.

Video 2.

Nike Air Jordan “Revolution” spot, color version. Music by The Beatles.


I would actually take it one step back. I think the first licensed popular song that announced song licensing in the advertising world was “Anticipation” by Carly Simon.

Video 3.

Heinz ketchup spot. Music by Carly Simon.

It was a ketchup commercial for Heinz. That’s the one that I really remember first as an actual use of a pop song, but I do know pop songs were used occasionally in campaigns, and that in the 1960s, bands would run parodies of their hits with jingle lyrics.

The Left Banke did it for Toni Hair Care Products; they did it for Hertz Rent-a-Car. There are examples of bands taking current charting hits and writing parody lyrics to them. If you are a big collector of 1960s pop, you’ll notice that every once in a while, and that is jarring somewhat.


And the motivation behind that was to monetize what they were doing?


It was that pre-Beatles, pre-singer/songwriter moment in the early 1970s where, for bands, there wasn’t such a thing as “selling out.” It might even predate that. During the social upheaval of mid- to late-1960s—Vietnam War, Civil Rights issues, the distrust of the government, that’s when I think bands—since music was the voice of the counterculture in the late 1960s—started to say “We’re not going to sell out to the Man.”

There’s a great book about politics and music called There’s a Riot Going On that was written by British author Peter Doggett, who is one of the writers for Mojo magazine.1 It basically identifies and defines that moment when popular music starts to take on the obligation to address social issues. Not that music hadn’t addressed social issues in the past. Certainly, the folk songs of the early 1960s did. But there was a definite change in the attitude of bands about commerce and commercialization that seemed to happen at the end of the 1960s.

What I remember, growing up in the early 1980s, was that there was almost this sense that independent labels around the country could subvert the whole popular music system. It was getting more affordable to press your own records. There were different formats that people could use to do it themselves. They could make their own cassette releases if they couldn’t afford vinyl.

I think bands in the early 1980s were loathe to participate in any form of what they considered “mass market”: the basest form of popular culture and commercialization. For the punk bands and the post-punk bands, the last thing they would ever do was license a song of theirs to a commercial. There are still some key holdouts out there. Neil Young is one of them. People who really, no matter how much money is in...