18 times a classic rock song was almost ruined by TV advertising

A group of small televisions
(Image credit: Juan Moyano)

in 2014, an advertisement for Halfords, the UK's largest retailer of motoring and cycling products and services, used Steppenwolf's Born To Be Wild as the soundtrack to a TV advertising campaign. And while we say "used", what we really mean is "wrestled it to the floor and stomped on its face." And not is a good way . 

Of course, this isn't the only example of a great song being misused in the name of commerce. Here we explore Halfords' ruination of Steppenwolf, and other stories. 


Steppenwolf - Born To Be Wild (Halfords, 2014)

Get your motor running, head out on the highway. You know the song. It’s a tribute to the open road, to freedom, to the American Dream, and to the power of the mighty V-twin. It’s about the fraternity of bikers. It’s about oil, and steel, and blood, and chrome, and eating dust. What it’s not about is a lady with a hipster beard peddling slowly across Bodmin.

Status Quo - Down Down (Coles Mince, 2013)

While the line “Coles Mince, it’s staying down” feels like a comment on the regurgative properties of this Aussie treat, the real danger of this loveable clip is the way it worms its way into the consciousness, forever transforming the Status Quo classic from brutish boogie into discount meat jingle. The magic of mince, indeed.

Motorhead - Ace of Spades (Walkers Crisps, 2005)

Lemmy was very clearly a man willing to submit himself to gentle parody, but we are not. Frankly, the very suggestion that a leathered-up Lemster could have been hoodwinked by TV's loveable King Of Autocue Gary Lineker renders this advert entirely unbelievable. As does the absence of Speed ‘n Stoli-flavoured crisps. Bonus lad-fact: that’s glamour model Lucy Pinder tending the snacks.

Judas Priest - Breakin’ The Law (Jus Rol Pastry, 2014)

The implication here seems to be that a busy mother is “breaking the law” by using readymade pastry. This accusation is without foundation, of course, as any decent lawyer will swiftly attest. Not only is readymade pastry entirely legal, it’s a very good idea indeed. It saves the busy homemaker time, is easy to store, and often tastes delicious. Judas Priest, what were you thinking?

Guns N’ Roses - Sweet Child O' Mine (John Lewis, 2009)

This was 2009’s contribution to the retailer's famously sappy series of Christmas ads. Three years previously, Axl Rose revealed that his original “vision” for a video to accompany the popular Guns N' Roses ballad (covered here in whimsical fashion by Victoria Bergsman, a.k.a. Taken by Trees) featured a drug-smuggling mother transporting a dead, heroin-filled baby into another country. Merry Xmas, one and all!

Rush - Fly By Night (Volkswagon, 2012)

There’s a lovely moment in this advert where our hero (a besuited gentleman miming along to Neil Peart while stranded at traffic lights in an award-winning VW Passat), flips and catches an imaginary drum sticks. But then, oh no! He’s spotted and ridiculed by a passer-by. Strangely, the voiceover suggests this could be have been avoided if he’d been driving a different car. It’s not a terribly effective advert.

Status Quo – Whatever You Want (Furniture Village, 2014)

Having already tested the water by attaching Steve Harley’s Come Up and See Me (Make Me Smile) to one of their promos, Furniture Village upped their game by turning to The Quo. It was perhaps unwise, however, to edit the song so the lyric changed from the perfectly innocent, “I could take you home on the midnight train” to the altogether more sinister, “I could take you home, you can’t refuse”. All traces of the ad seems to have been removed from the internet, and perhaps it's for the best.   

Kiss – I Was Made For Loving You (Costa Coffee, 2012)

When disco classic I Was Made For Loving You first came out, Kiss fans dismissed it as a sell-out. Fans then accused the band of selling out by allowing their music to be used by advertisers. So what happens in this case? Can you sell-out something that’s already a sell-out, or does the second selling out not count, and you can do whatever the hell you like? Either way, a Google image search suggests that the song’s author Paul Stanley actually prefers Starbucks.

Deep Purple – Hush (Jaguar, 2008)

Hush? Let’s see. You’re selling a motoring behemoth with a five-litre V8 engine that produces 550 brake horsepower and is capable of reaching speeds of 186 mph… and the song you choose to reflect this monstrous, petrol-slurping, climate-shattering power is one that asks the listener to be quiet? THIS LITERALLY MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL.

Tame Impala - Elephant (Made In Chelsea, 2012)

The nice voiceover lady at the end of this ad promises, “A brand new series of Made In Chelsea, coming soon to E4”, like it’s a good thing. This, however, is her job. Tame Impala, on the other hand, have no such excuse, so we hope they were rewarded handsomely for aligning Elephant with a series celebrating the vacuous “lifestyle” of a troupe of thick-witted poshos with names like Binky, Moet, Oestrogen and Falafel.

Def Leppard - Pour Some Sugar On Me (T-Mobile, 2009)

Catherine Zeta Jones stars in this spot for T-Mobile, garnering Rock Credentials that would later be enhanced by an Oscar-worthy performance as PRMC-style political wife Patricia Whitmore in mock opera Rock of Ages. Here, she’s a fast food vendor offering advice to a man who mistakenly sings “shook-up ramen” instead of “sugar on me”. We’ve watched it a dozen times, and are still confounded as to how the script was ever approved.

The Clash - Pressure Drop (Nissan Rogue, 2007)

The dam broke when Should I Stay or Should I Go was used in a Levis commercial, but this is our favourite. It transforms Manhattan into one of those tilting wooden labyrinth games requiring the user to shift a ball bearing from start to finish without it falling into a hole. Completion requires handling “pressure” as you avoid the “drop”. See? And that’s how you make millions in advertising.

Free - All Right Now (Wrigleys, 1990)

William Wrigley was a promotional genius. in 1919, he organised a direct marketing campaign in the US, posting free sticks of gum to over a million addresses listed in American phone books. His reasoning? If they could afford a phone, they could afford his product. That’s got nothing to do with modern marketing, but at least it’s a good story, unlike this dreary boy-woos-girl-with-gum nonsense.

Nick Drake - Pink Moon (Volkswagon Cambrio, 1999)

In 2001, Volkswagen gave anyone purchasing a new Cabrio a compilation CD featuring Pink Moon. In other words, if you spent £15,000, the generous Germans would bung you something worth a fiver. Whether this “incentive” paid dividends or not is up for debate, and this appropriately murky commercial probably shifted more Nick Drake albums than cars.

Velvet Underground - Venus in Furs (Dunlop, 1993)

Because nothing screams "grippy tires!" like a deeply menacing song about sadomasochism and bondage.

Iggy Pop - Lust For Life (Royal Caribbean cruises)

With a nod to William Burroughs and an opening lyric that introduced a dildo-carrying heroin dealer, Lust For Life was surely an automatic choice when Royal Caribbean sought to soundtrack this advert for their popular Alaskan cruises.

Iron Maiden - Phantom Of The Opera (Lucozade, 1985)

There was no one more popular in the 1980s than clowning decathlete Daley Thompson. But was he the best choice to front a promotional campaign for the energy-boosting properties of Lucozade, a renowned hangover cure no-one actually purchases unless they’re actively not enjoying an athlete’s lifestyle?

Buzzcocks - Everybody’s Happy Nowadays (AARP, 2007)

The American Association of Retired Persons describes itself as “a membership organisation leading positive social change and delivering value to people age 50 and over through information, advocacy and service.” Yes, it’s a lobbying group for old folk, founded in 1958 by a nice lady called Ethel. Punk’s not dead, pass it on.

Starship - We Built This City (Three, 2014)

But wait... For every two dozen adverts that ruin a song, there’s one that does the opposite. This promo for mobile network Three transforms Starship’s overwrought slice of 1985 cheese (Rolling Stone readers voted it the worst song of the 1980s by a massive margin) into an awesome technicolor joy bonanza of glee. And all it took was a small girl on a bicycle and a singing kitten in a basket. Furniture Village, take note.

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.