The advert for Volkswagen, made in 1999, was fantastic. Four young people drive to a party on a moonlit night in an open top car (a Volkswagen Cabrio). They bask in the beauty of the night sky until they reach their destination. They exchange glances, and quickly decide not to stay at the party but to drive off to appreciate the sublime evening. Even better, they are listening to the wonderful “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake. The directors of the film were Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, a married couple who later directed “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Living With Yourself”. “Pink Moon” is the title track from Nick Drake’s third album which was recorded in two evening sessions in 1971 and featured no other musicians. The success of the advert caused his album sales to increase from 6,000 in 1999 to 74,000 in 2000.
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was an Austrian writer whose name was the inspiration for the term “masochism”, invented by the Austrian psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing. In 1870, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch published a novella called “Venus In Furs” which expressed his fantasies and fetishes, especially for dominant women wearing fur. Nearly 100 years later, The Velvet Underground recorded “Venus In Furs” which sounds like opening “a door to a decadent Marrakesh S&M/opium den” according to the writer Erich Kuersten. In 1993, Dunlop decided to use the song as a soundtrack to their advert for tyres which was directed by Tony Kaye (the director of “American X”). It’s a very surprising watch, bordering on inappropriate for mainstream TV but always managing to maintain a semblance of decency. It’s always been one of my favourite Velvet Underground songs with a debauched vocal from Lou Reed and a dissonant viola, played by John Cale.
At a press conference in 1965, Bob Dylan was asked “If you were going to sell out to a commercial interest, which one would you choose?” With a smirk on his face, he replied “Ladies’ garments“. Lo and behold, 42 years later, here he is, giving permission for the great opening song on “Time Out Of Mind”, “Love Sick”, to be used in a salacious advert for “Victoria’s Secret”. Bob Dylan appears in the advert along with Brazilian model Adriana Lima, who was known as “Victoria’s Secret Angel” from 1999 to 2018. The advert was directed by photographer Dominique Issermann, who had been in a long term relationship with Leonard Cohen (and he dedicated “I’m Your Man” to her). A longer version of “Love Sick” appeared on an EP sold by Victoria’s Secret to coincide with the commercial.
During the 1980’s, I played indoor cricket most Sunday mornings at St. Mark’s R.C. School in Harlow. My good friend Ron taught there and the current Head of Maths is the wife of another good friend of mine. However, I don’t think they would have taught Nick Kamen, because, by the time they started teaching there, he would have left the school to forge a very successful career as a musician and model. In 1986, he reached Number Five in the U.K. Charts with “Each Time You Break My Heart”, a track that was written and produced by Madonna. He was the guy in the Levi’s advert, who stripped down to his boxers while the people in the launderette listened to “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”. The version we hear is similar to Marvin Gaye’s version of the song that was originally recorded by Gladys Knight And The Pips. However, the music that we hear in the advert was performed by Mike Ratledge and Karl Jenkins of Soft Machine. The success of the advert caused Tamla-Motown to re-release Marvin Gaye’s version in 1985 and it reached Number Eight in the U.K. Charts.
“Lust For Life” is a song co-written by Iggy Pop and David Bowie and it is the title track of Iggy Pop’s second album, released in 1977. The lyrics make reference to a novel called “The Ticket That Exploded” by William S. Burroughs. The first verse is “Here comes Johnny Yen again with the liquor and drugs and a flesh machine. He’s gonna do another strip tease.” William S. Burroughs described Johnny Yen as “The Boy-Girl Other Half strip tease God of sexual frustration.” Ray Manzarek of The Doors stated that this verse is about his heroin dealer, arriving at a house, with heroin and motorized dildos. I wonder if the advertising agency who decided that “Lust For Life” would sell Royal Caribbean International Cruises had actually listened to the lyrics of this song.
Nimble is a low calorie bread, manufactured by Hovis. It is “high in fibre, low in fat and 51 calories a slice.” I think I once bought a loaf but couldn’t manage to eat more than one slice. Each slice was about half the size of a normal slice of bread which might have something to do with its low calorific value. Nevertheless, the advert which promoted it was memorable. A girl floats up, up and away. (A shame that there wasn’t an appropriate song with this title). She is so light after eating nothing but half size Nimble bread, that a simple hot air balloon can carry her weight. As an impressionable teenager, I fantasised that her name was Maggie and, along with Pete Dello (the songwriter of Honeybus), there was no way I would ever let her go. In fact, her name wasn’t Maggie but Emily Jones. Before landing the part she had to audition. Four candidates were sent up in a basket and the men in suits peered at them through telescopes. Emily Jones appeared the least nervous so she “landed” the part which was worth £3000 for eight days work. Many years later, she recalled “It wasn’t as glamorous as it looked. Filming took up to five weeks because of the weather and there were so many close-up shots of me munching bread that I had to carry a spit bowl. If I’d eaten all those sandwiches, they’d never have got the balloon off the ground.“
To be brutally honest, the association of the advert with “I Can’t Let Maggie Go” made it overfamiliar and I have tended to dismiss it. Over the last few days, I’ve started singing it at every opportunity much to Roo’s
delight annoyance. Even more excitingly, listening to a song on this compilation called “Tender Is The Ashes”, it unlocked a distant memory buried so deep within me. I realised I knew this song very well but couldn’t understand why until I discovered that it was the B side of “I Can’t Let Maggie Go.” Then I remembered that I bought the single and played both sides to death. The B side is more of a traditional pop song, reminding me of the sort of song The Moody Blues made before “Days Of Future Passed”. It has a good ringing guitar at the end of each chorus, a stinging guitar solo in the middle and lovely harmonies throughout.
There are three totally wonderful songs on this compilation. “(Do I Figure) In Your Life” is unremittingly sad. The relationship is over, she has made new friends, changed her appearance and doesn’t have time for him. The killer line is “To think I once took you for my wife“. Does that mean they were actually married or that he had imagined her as his wife? An orchestral part, vaguely reminiscent of “Eleanor Rigby” punctuates the deep emotions evident in Pete Dello’s mournful vocals. All he wants to know is, does he still figure in her life?
“Girl Of Independent Means” is a perfect pop song. It starts with a jaunty guitar intro along with a horn section similar to “Got To Get You Into My Life”. It’s an uplifting song, guaranteed to lighten my mood. That is, until I read the lyrics which concern a snooty girl with inherited wealth. The singer has decided that he is wasting his time with her and decides to leave her.
The best song on the album is “She Sold Blackpool Rock” which starts with more “Eleanor Rigby”-esque strings. It’s another sad song and this time the singer is recalling a lost opportunity. He had been to Blackpool in the Summer and met a girl selling rock, “in a bonny hat“. Now, as winter is drawing in, he is haunted by the memory of the meeting and how his secret had been uncovered (“She told me that she knew“). It’s not clear what the secret was but its discovery meant that they were destined to remain apart. As Ray Cane sings wordlessly at the end, the rest of Honeybus harmonise against the strings, the electric guitar and the increasingly intense drumming. It’s a moving, emotional four and a half minutes of pure pop pap. I love it.