My stock line on songs and adverts is “so what?” A song you like appears in a commercial? Who cares? It doesn’t harm the song, and if it harms your relationship with the song, maybe it wasn’t that strong anyway. Association with some particularly horrid brand might well make me doubt an artist, but mostly these ads are product speaking unto product, and as ever its what we do with the music when we get it home that counts, not what its owners do with it.
This position mostly evolved out of frustration with people howling on my message board about Nick Drake and Volkswagen, or about the Shins and McDonalds, and away from those particular debates I might be less stringent, even admit my own irritations. But I’d never actually blamed an ad for spoiling music until I sat down to listen to “Something In The Air” and realised that I loathe the first thirty seconds and quite enjoy the rest.
For non-UK readers: “Something In The Air” is currently being used by telco TalkTalk to advertise its free broadband service and assorted mobile tariffs. In fact it’s being more than used, the highly recognisable intro and verse melody has been adopted by the brand as a sound ident, and on the programmes TalkTalk sponsors (which seems to be most of them) it opens and closes every ad break in original and various remixed forms.
As ads go, these are in themselves less clunky than the song’s previous service for British Airways (There’s SOMETHING. In the AIR. LIKE A PLANE IN THE AIR. YES?), and it’s not the fact that this sometime radical-chic song has been co-opted into serving the consumer broadband ‘revolution’ that bothers me. It’s simply the fact that it’s on quite so often – surely as much as Jamster’s Crazy Frog in its heyday.
Anyway, whatever ‘subversive’ power it had has perhaps only increased. For any fans of the idents tracking the song down, the rollicking piano section and the aggressive sentiments of the last verse might provide a nastier shock than they did in 1969. The lyrics are uneqivocally radical – “Block up the streets and houses”; “Break out the arms and ammo” – but John Keen’s singing is more tremulous; hopeful and fearful at the same time. What the specific context or spark for the song was I don’t know – there was, after all, plenty in the air to choose from. A macabre coincidence for you – the song’s spell at Number One coincided with the death of Francis McLoskey on 14th July, accounted the first fataility of the Troubles. A month later it was British streets and houses being blocked up in Derry, and the arms and ammo followed on.
There’s a world of difference, or maybe just a year or two, between “we’ve got to get together” and “we have got to get it together”: the second is more desperate and urgent. Like the Beatles’ “Revolution”, the song contains insurrection and disillusion. But where the Beatles song is a pointed sardonic strum, “Something In The Air” meanders, attempting the epic. There are Beatley touches throughout, though – that little snatch of melody after “and you know it’s right”, for instance, and the structure is cousin to “A Day In The Life”. But whether it’s through overambition then or overadvertising now – or simple historical distance – the song now feels like a curio, a noble failure.
YouTube link (I’m going to try and include one of these where possible from now, though YouTube is blocked at work.)