Why the acceptance of selling out could be a sign of social progress.


I remember the 70s. I was a teenager for about half of them and I was also, in my opinion, a very discerning lover of music. My stereo system was always pretty decent, in my car and at home, my record collection large and getting larger. I knew my Dolby settings and grew to prefer cassettes without either B or C and recorded on normal bias tape, but never liked cassettes, regardless. I listened to all kinds of music, from Paul Simon to Judas Priest and the one constant among all the musicians I liked was that no one was a sell out.

Hard to believe in today’s world, but back in the 70s, to my knowledge, big musical acts did not sell their songs for use in advertising, no one played corporate parties and, overall, everyone believed that if your music was being used in marketing it was because your music wasn’t good enough to stand on its own. No more.

Is this a problem?

Is it a problem that the Stones sold Start Me Up Microsoft?

Is it a problem that Led Zeppelin sold Rock and Roll to Cadillac?

Is it a problem that Jay-Z sold his entire latest album to Samsung?

I’m really not sure. But in my opinion — call me a victim of my generation — I think when a song is tied to a brand, it denigrates the brand, the composer and/or performer, the listener and, of course, the song. For example, whenever I heard Start Me Up during Microsoft’s mid-90’s ad blitz, here’s what went through my mind: Microsoft sucks because their products don’t Start Me Up, they stop me with their complexity, bugs and counterintuitiveness; Mick and Keith suck for polluting Start Me Up with images of a shitty operating system; I suck because I’m still listening; and Start Me Up becomes a lot less killer.

But that’s my problem. What does the world at large think?

I don’t think anyone cares, certainly not a number that matters. And I think it might be in large part because rock and roll was a response to an overly uptight culture and it has done its job. Well. Maybe too well.

Don’t get me wrong. I miss the days when steering clear of being overtly “commercial” was a badge of honor, when being a rock star meant not being beholden to anyone (myth that it was), when tours were not underwritten by American Express. But again, that’s my problem. The genie is out of the bottle and she ain’t going back in.

So now here is the real question: with music being so respectable, what is the next art form for social agitation? But that’s another post (and I have no idea).