Whether you watch an actual TV or subscribe to one or more streaming platforms, the concept of “television commercials” remains a huge part of consuming entertainment — and more than a few classic songs have turned up in them in recent years …
“A lot of weird ads. Sally Struthers with that little kid: ‘Just 55 cents, the price of a cup of coffee, feeds this kid and his family for a week.’ Yeah, where is that? ‘Cause I wanna move there.”
– Robert Schimmel
- “Magic” by Pilot (Ozempic)
Scottish band Pilot reached No. 5 in 1975 with “Magic,” written by bandmembers David Paton and Billy Lyall. Paton described the song’s inspiration in Goldmine. “I had the chorus for ‘Magic’ on an idea tape just waiting for the right verse to pop into my head. ‘Magic’ is a four-bar chorus repeated once. The verse is the same, it’s very simple and the most successful song I have ever written.
“I had to get up very early one morning delivering milk for a local dairy when Mary, my wife, said, ‘I’ve never been awake to see the daybreak.’ I heard her words as a melody and I knew they would fit with my ‘Magic’ chorus, but it was too late to sit at the piano in the flat. So I wrote the melody down on a piece of manuscript together with the chords. I could visualize in my head: G … Bm … Am … D. I pieced it together the next day and could hear the arrangement, hand claps, la la las. We recorded ‘Magic’ and the demo sounded great.”
The song was featured in a recent prescription medication commercial for Ozempic.
“Magic” by Pilot
- “Rocket Man” by Elton John (Samsung)
Written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, “Rocket Man” was a No. 6 hit for John in 1972. Three years earlier, David Bowie also released a classic track about space travel. “People identify it, unfortunately, with David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ and it actually wasn’t inspired by that at all,” Taupin said in a YouTube interview. “It was actually inspired by a story by Ray Bradbury, from his book of science fiction short stories called The Illustrated Man. And in that book, there was a story called ‘The Rocket Man,’ which was about how astronauts in the future would become sort of an everyday job. So I kind of took that idea and ran with it.”
“It was a pretty easy song to write the melody to,” added John, “because it’s a song about space, so it’s quite a spacious song.”
The song turned up in a recent Samsung commercial.
“Rocket Man” by Elton John
- “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin (TD Ameritrade)
“Cat’s in the Cradle” reached No. 1 in 1974, the only time folk rocker Harry Chapin topped the charts. Chapin’s website explains the song’s inspiration: “Harry often described a poem his wife Sandy had written about him not being around enough for his newborn son Josh. But that was only part of the story behind the song. Sandy recalled two sources of inspiration for the poem: the relationship between her first husband and his father, and a country music song she’d heard on the radio.
“‘It was about a man and a woman sitting at their kitchen table and looking out to the backyard. They had a swing set and a sandbox and bicycle in the corner,’ she said. ‘They were talking about how it all went by so fast and how they could have spent more time, and now the kids are gone. That song put me in the mood for writing a lyric.’
“‘The whole point of the story is that we learn our lessons in life by making mistakes, by trial and error, by experience,’ she said, adding, ‘It would be great if we could learn about the future ahead of time, but we have to learn the hard way. It’s like the old saying — too old too soon, too wise too late.'”
The song was featured in a recent TD Ameritrade commercial.
“Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin
- “Help Is on Its Way” by the Little River Band (Walmart)
Little River Band is an Australian group originally fronted by singer-songwriter Glenn Shorrock. “Help Is on Its Way,” written by Shorrock, was a Top 20 hit in 1977. “‘Help Is on Its Way’ was written when I was in a down time of angst, and it does resonate the message that is being portrayed now for those suffering with mental health, that help is on the way,” Shorrock recalled in Scenestr. “I think you’ll find some of the best music is produced at a time of angst.
“When you’re in a lonely, down place you have time to write about things; when you’re in a positive mindset and environment you want to be out and about amongst the world. I am happy that the song I created can have this much of an impact on people.”
The song was featured in a recent Walmart TV spot.
“Help Is on Its Way” by the Little River Band
- “Catch the Wind” by Donovan (GE)
When Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan released “Catch the Wind” in 1965, some members of the media called him Britain’s answer to Bob Dylan. Originally recorded with a string section, the better-known version was re-recorded, eliminating the strings and adding a harmonica solo.
Donovan told KCRW Radio’s Dierdre O’Donoghue in 1989 that his inspiration for the song was Linda Lawrence, whom he hadn’t yet met but would marry in 1970. “‘Catch The Wind,’ I wrote it for Linda, although I hadn’t really met her yet. It is a song of unrequited love, yet I hadn’t really met her, so how could I miss her? And I seem to write prophetic songs in the sense of the Celtic poet and I wrote this song before I met Linda, of a love I would like to have had and lost.”
“Catch the Wind” later turned up in a GE TV ad:
“Catch the Wind” by Donovan
- “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac (Anoro)
“Go Your Own Way” was one of the four Top 10 singles from Fleetwood Mac‘s 1977 Rumours LP. Written and sung by Lindsey Buckingham, the song chronicles his breakup with Stevie Nicks and its aftermath. One of Buckingham’s lyrics particularly rankled Nicks: “Packing up, shacking up is all you wanna do.”
“I very, very much resented him telling the world that ‘packing up, shacking up’ with different men was all I wanted to do,” Nicks told Rolling Stone. “He knew it wasn’t true. It was just an angry thing that he said. Every time those words would come out onstage, I wanted to go over and kill him. He knew it, so he really pushed my buttons through that. It was like, ‘I’ll make you suffer for leaving me.’ And I did. For years. Lindsey immediately got girlfriends. I never brought men around, because I wasn’t going to tick him off any more than I had already.”
A non-Fleetwood Mac version of “Go Your Own Way” was featured in a recent TV spot for Anoro.
“Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac
- “It’s Your Thing” by the Isley Brothers (Heineken 0.0)
By 1968, the Isley Brothers regretted they had signed with Motown Records. Although they had a hit with “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You),” the funk rockers believed they did not receive the promotion given the Temptations, the Four Tops and the Miracles. Given their release by Berry Gordy, the brothers scored a No. 2 hit in 1969 with “It’s Your Thing.”
Ronald Isley wrote the tune one day after dropping his daughter off at school. Brothers O’Kelly and Rudolph helped with the lyrics. “It’s Your Thing” marked the recording debut of Ernie Isley on bass. “October 1968 was the first rehearsal in our home for the song ‘It’s Your Thing,'” Ernie told Soul and Jazz and Funk. “I was switching off between drums and bass and when we got to the recording studio I showed the bass player what I played and gave him his bass back. He had a different interpretation of his own and so my older brothers got into a huddle and they said they preferred the way I played it so Ronald came to me before we started recording and said you’re going to play bass.”
“It’s Your Thing” landed in a Heneiken ad a few years back.
“It’s Your Thing” by the Isley Brothers
- “America” by Simon & Garfunkel (Volkswagen Atlas)
Paul Simon’s tale of a young couple’s trip across America is one of Simon & Garfunkel‘s signature tunes, first released on 1968’s Bookends. It was Simon’s look back on a 1964 road trip he took with then-girlfriend Kathy Chitty. Simon had returned from London to work on Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. and decided to make the five-day drive before reporting to Columbia Records.
“I appreciate the unison of Paul and Artie more than l ever used to and I love when I get a really congruent sound,” Art Garfunkel told Song Talk in 1993. “I love when we trade verses more than I used to. [Sings] ‘And walked off to look for America …’ That has a real upright, earnest quality because we both have the identical soul at that moment. We come from the identical place in our attitude, and the spine that’s holding us up, we are the same person. Singing, ‘Walked off to look for America …’ Same college kid, striking out.”
“America” was part of a Volkswagen Atlas TV spot in 2018.
“America” by Simon & Garfunkel
- “Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire (Toujeo)
“Let’s Groove” was written by Wayne Vaughn and Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White. The post-disco tune reached No. 3 in 1981. Vaughn explained in 17a7 how he came to write for the funk rock band. “I played with Lionel Ritchie for a while. This was the time I also met Maurice White in 1978. At that time, we would both play jazz and we also loved groovy rhythms. But jazz was not putting enough bread on the table. So, we decided to compose some funny groovy stuff that would not make people’s minds think too much [laughs]. We composed ‘Let’s Groove,’ the national party anthem! You could hear it at every party!”
“It’s really just knowing the feelings and fundamentals involved in producing a hit,” White told NME. “Just like writing a story. It’s not less honest than a piece of jazz. Take the new record, ‘Lets Groove.’ It’s real honest. We just went in and done it — a natural giving thing. Just saying, Hey man, enjoy this with me. Share this with us.”
You can hear “Let’s Groove” in an ad for Toujeo in 2017.
“Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire
- “You’re My Best Friend” by Queen (Carnival)
“You’re My Best Friend” was a Top 20 hit for Queen in 1976. It was written by bassist John Deacon, who also played Wurlitzer electric piano on the track. When performed live, Freddie Mercury preferred playing a grand piano.
Deacon wrote the song for his wife, Veronica Tetzlaff. “John didn’t write that many songs but when he did — as with ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ and ‘I Want To Break Free’ — they were big, big hits,” said guitarist Brian May in udiscovermusic. “‘You’re My Best Friend’ became one of the most-played tracks on American radio. John was a dark horse, generally the quiet guy in Queen. We would ask him sometimes, ‘Have you got anything, John?’ and he was very self-effacing about what he had written. ‘You’re My Best Friend’ was about his lovely lady wife.”
Carnival Cruise Lines picked up the song for an ad you’ve probably seen once or twice.
“You’re My Best Friend” by Queen
- “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf (Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster)
Before Steppenwolf formed, John Kay and guitarist Mars Bonfire were members of the Sparrows. That band broke up in 1967, leaving Bonfire to drive into the mountains and deserts of Los Angeles in his used Ford Falcon. “Those trips in the Falcon provided the inspiration for ‘Born to Be Wild,'” Bonfire told The Guardian. “I got the basic guitar riff quick, and the lyrics were written chronologically: ‘Get your motor runnin’, head out on the highway / Lookin’ for adventure, and whatever comes our way.’
“One afternoon, I had encountered a thunderstorm so ferocious I had to pull over as the road turned into a river. The sky was ominous, the color of lead. I was struggling to describe it in words until I remembered the periodic table of elements I’d studied during chemistry class at school. The term ‘heavy metals’ came into my head, which gave me the line: ‘I like smoke and lightning, heavy metal thunder!‘ This was before heavy metal became a music genre.”
When Steppenwolf was formed, Bonfire contributed “Born to Be Wild.” The song’s use in the Easy Rider soundtrack made it the anthem of the ’60s Generation.
Among many uses, “Born To Be Wild” soundtracked a 2017 Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster Super Bowl commercial.
“Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf