Songs with meaning
How certain tunes become deeply personal
By Patricia Baer
We all have songs that hold sentimental value to us. It may be the song you and your spouse danced to on your wedding night. Maybe it is the tune that was playing on the radio as you rode home after getting your driver’s license, or it could be something more bittersweet.
Whatever the event, hearing the song associated with it brings back the emotions experienced during the original moment. It opens the mental photo album of our memory that causes us to revisit small details of the past. This chorus is where my junior high crush asked me to dance, or in this guitar riff is when my best friend and I would stop everything to air guitar like mad.
These personal memories make us possessive of songs. We can have feelings of ownership over them. They are the soundtrack to our memories after all. Why would we want to share them? It can even be a little annoying when you learn that someone else has a strong attachment to “your” song for what you perceive to be a less meaningful reason.
I think this is why the use of popular music from my younger days in commercials has begun to feel offensive to me. This is probably the opposite of what the marketers intended.
They probably believed that it would cause positive feelings of nostalgia that would carry over to their product and that I would get a kick out of seeing “my time” represented in TV ads. Instead, I am depressed to think that maybe the artists I loved have fallen on hard times and that now their music is available for use at a reasonable price or that their estate has decided to cash in on any opportunity that becomes available.
One ad that has disturbed me recently is from McDonald’s. It does not use a song from my youth or one that I have a personal memory associated with, but their co-opting of Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” feels almost sacrilegious simply because it is a great song that should not be demeaned for the purposes of selling fast food chicken.
I am not sure if I have felt this kind of disgust with an ad campaign since Nike tried to use “Revolution” to sell shoes. It seems like there should be some songs that are respected enough to be left untouched by commercialization, but this does not appear to be the case.
I miss the days of catchy commercial jingles. I miss bologna having its own theme song. Maybe someday the ad world will return to creating memorable tunes unique to their products and stop trying to piggyback on the emotions associated with songs created by others. In the meantime I might be passing on the McChicken.