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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Jukebox TV: 4, 3, 2, 1 ...

If there's a downside to DVR's -- and this is the only one I can think of -- it's that flying past commercials isn't always the best move. Some spots are actually worth watching because of the music. Because God knows you can't discover anything new by watching MTV or listening to the radio.

Anyway, with a regular blog feature called Jukebox TV, I attempt to track down my favorite ear candy on the boob tube. If there's an ad you want me to check out or try and identify by song, I'm game. Leave a comment or e-mail me. I'll do my best to post about it down the road.

Shiny Toy Guns (Peter Schilling cover): "Major Tom (Coming Home)"

I can't tell you much about Shiny Toy Guns, but their mechanical approach to this song seems to fit a fast-moving, futuristic car commercial pretty well. Peter Schilling's version, on the other hand, is a quintessential '80s track -- and in recent years, has become frustratingly hard to track down in its English form. (Go to iTunes ... all you'll find is the German version. If you want to snag it, look at used '80s compilations on Amazon like VH1's 'More of the Big 80s' disc). Schilling's only stateside hit in 1983, "Major Tom" is a retelling of David Bowie's classic "Space Oddity" and a wonderful synth-pop gem that, hopefully, more people will have heard now that it's been covered prominently. I still listen to it as often as I would have at the birth of MTV.

New Young Pony Club: "The Bomb"

An interesting neo-New Wave band out of London, New Young Pony Club's "Ice Cream" (a bratty double entendre song that has a direct sibling in the Waitresses' "I Know What Boys Like") has also been featured in past commercials and TV shows. "The Bomb" comes off "Fantastic Playroom," a brash debut from 2007 that functions like Gang of Four meets Elastica with some Blondie tossed in for good measure. "The Bomb" is one of my favorite tracks off the album, and honestly, this commercial made me give it a spin on my iPod again.

Biz Markie: "Just a Friend"

I'm usually not a fan of well-known novelty songs being used in that "oh, a bunch of drunk people are stumbling over the words ... how silly" kinda way. But I have to admit, I laughed when the old cab driver started busting out The Biz. Everyone knows this Biz Markie one-hit wonder from 1989. If you don't, shame on you. Still, nothing will ever top Dennis and Dee's rendition on the welfare episode of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia."

The Dodos: "Fools"

A nice find by whoever puts Miller's ad campaigns together. "Fools" is off last year's "Visiter," a largely overlooked indie-folk album by The Dodos out of San Francisco. A blend of blissful melodies, boyish vocals and the occasional tribal rhythm, "Visiter" is crisp, delicate and mellow -- or a nice pairing with a "Chill" lite beer, I suppose. There's something sweet and summery about this sound. I'd recommend it for people who wish Animal Collective were a little more accessible.

Pernice Brothers: "The Weakest Shade of Blue"

I asked Adam, a fellow Pernice Brothers fan, to put two-and-two together on a Sherwin Williams paint campaign featuring the band and he immediately figured "The Weakest Shade of Blue" had been co-opted. Pernice fans worship at the altar of Joe's lyrics, and it's probably safe to say he wasn't thinking of Turquoise, Paddington Blue or the Blue Man Group when he wrote this track off 2003's "Yours/Mine/Ours." But hey, the title line works as a literal interpretation, and you can't really complain about its sunny, splashy vibe. I mean, what else can you do for a freakin' paint commercial? (Except go the J. Geils Band route and play with the reverse/rewind button like they did in "Freeze Frame." Seriously. Go find that video on YouTube right now. It's awful.)

It's still a surprise to see one of Joe Pernice's songs used like this. I'd have guessed "Amazing Glow" would be the first one stolen for some sentimental Hallmark commercial.

The Human League: "Don't You Want Me"

Conversely, in the not-so-surprising department, we have Human League's '80s New Wave standard, "Don't You Want Me," being used in ANOTHER lame ad. This one -- unlike Swiffer's horrid take on Devo's "Whip It" -- at least attempts to make fun of the dated '80s (Flock of Seagulls haircuts are THE go-to gag for the decade), because apparently dusty old brooms are as relevant as Phil Oakey's hair and makeup. Still, like its use in a recent Chips Ahoy commercial, the cold, robotic vibe of the Human League really doesn't fit the feeling of humorous abandonment Swiffer is aiming for. I detest this lack of creativity. Also, "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" is an awesome song and should be used in a movie or TV ad somewhere.

Petra Haden: "Let Your Love Flow"

Apparently, Petra Haden was commissioned to do three Prius ads -- including this spot with the Bellamy Brothers' 1976 single, "Let Your Love Flow." Haden's a cappella songs are unmistakable and a brilliant grab by Toyota since the "instrumentation" by her voice is so captivating and unique. Track down her cover of "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys and her a cappella interpretation of "The Who Sells Out" album. She's also on releases by The Rentals and That Dog -- both on my iPod somewhere. Petra Haden makes me feel very happy. I'm sure other people feel the same way hearing her for the first time.

Matt & Kim: "Daylight"

Supposedly, the new Matt & Kim album, "Grand," is a mixed bag, but the two tracks I've snagged online -- "Good Ol' Fashion Nightmare" and "Daylight" -- were pretty strong. A nice, bubbly mix of punk and dance, Matt and Kim are also Pitchfork-approved since they'll be playing the Chicago festival in July. Good beer commercial, party music for spazzy hipsters. And is that Jake Gyllenhaal in the commercial or a look-a-like?

TV on the Radio: "DLZ"

I wrote about this track being used in a "Breaking Bad" episode earlier this month, but I wanted to include it so this feature could expand beyond only commercial music. The impact TV on the Radio's pulsating and cryptic "DLZ" has on this closing scene is remarkable ... probably the best use of music I've witnessed in an episode since "I'm Alright" by Steve Earle was used for Season 5's finale "Wire" montage, or "I Walk the Line" by Johnny Cash to track criminal patterns in Season 2 of the same show.

Rarely do I immediately hunt down lyrics after hearing a song in a TV show, but I did with this scene involving Walt White (Bryan Cranston) exerting his muscle ... and man, it's like TV on the Radio wrote it solely for the show ("Never you mind death professor/Your structure's fine/My dust is better/Your victim flies so high/All to catch a bird's eye view of who's next.) Pure genius.

Nothing more needs to be said ... except the song just came up on my iPod while writing this. That's pretty creepy.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,



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