Ad Songs of the Year

Plus the Most Questionable Soundtrack Choices

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1. SAUL WILLIAMS: "LIST OF DEMANDS"
NIKE SPARQ TRAINING
The genre-slapping poet, actor and musician Saul Williams has never really cracked the mainstream, but this sportswear ad featuring a 4-year-old song and appropriately bold, gritty visuals gave him -- and his more recent work -- a leg up. We're excited to see where the next one lands.


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2. SANTOGOLD: "CREATOR"
BUD LIGHT LIME
Santogold's other-worldly cooing made this otherwise conventional beer spot an indie-music flashpoint and one of the clearest signs yet that music fest SXSW (South-by-Southwest) is more than a blip on marketers' radars. For any advertiser looking for a musical voice, getting ahead of hype and release schedules like this is crucial.


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3. YAEL NAIM: "NEW SOUL"
APPLE MACBOOK AIR
Like most of Apple's stars, the Parisian-born Israeli Yael Naim hadn't much buzz to speak of when this spot came out; she didn't even have a stateside release or many songs in English. But the symmetry "New Soul" shared with the ad's composition tied the product with the song in a symbiotic, artful way that's rare when consumer electronics are center-stage.


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4. ENNIO MORRICONE (BANDINI REMIX): "L'ESTASI DELL'ORO (THE ECSTASY OF GOLD)"
NIKE
Both the original incarnation of Ennio Morricone's track (from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly") and this reworking have been around a while, but if one were looking to convey the grandeur of a football career, the work of the Italian spaghetti-western composer is a good place to start. The funeral bells, hypnotically repeating piano figure and soaring chorus make this spot nearly as haunting as the scene it was originally intended for.


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5. LIARS: "CLEAR ISLAND"
TIMEX IRONMAN
Arnold Worldwide took the fiery-orange waveform of a Liars track and made a runner sprint through it as it explodes around him. The band chants in the background with a long, droning chord, and the relentless intensity is only broken by a few dime-turning guitar breaks. It's not the stuff of hook-laden "modern hard rock," and the audacious choice makes for the most memorable watch commercial we've ever seen.


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6. THE KINKS: "EVERYONE'S A STAR"
TARGET/CONVERSE
For a One Star promotion at Target, this 1975 Kinks track features singer/songwriter Ray Davies' flamboyant Bowie side, a perfect complement to -- and departure from -- his band's workingman spirit. Davies slurs his lyrics like he just scaled Rock Nose-Candy Mountain, and the band's glam-era horn section -- think "Suffragette City" -- makes it positively danceable. It's the un-self-conscious, fun-without-pandering side of Converse we wish we saw more of.


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7. ROBERT PLANT AND ALISON KRAUSS: "KILLING THE BLUES"
JCPENNEY'S AMERICAN LIFE
Whereas Chevy has been content to represent America with a nauseatingly sycophantic patriotic anthem for years, credit is due to JCPenney for using a gorgeous collaboration between some of the world's folk greats to promote the American Life clothing line. By "folk," we mean proud traditions like rock 'n' roll (Robert Plant) and bluegrass (Alison Krauss), which came together with some striking visuals for a vaguely patriotic campaign that feels comforting for even the most cynical among us.


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8. RUBY SUNS: "OH MOJAVE"
MICROSOFT
Microsoft's "Mojave Experiment" felt more than a little hokey, but now that it's ditched the "Pepsi Challenge" angle and adopted The Ruby Sun's "Oh Mojave," we're now willing to cut it a little slack. We're at a total loss to explain the stylistic origins of this song except to say that it sounds like a giant squirt of happiness into one's ear, which is something we never thought possible from Redmond.


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9. VASHTI BUNYAN: "TRAIN SONG"
REEBOK
Many of you will probably recognize players in this spot like Eli Manning, Peyton Manning and about 18 others trudging through deserts and abandoning half-mowed lawns to arrive at a stadium in a migratory V formation for the fall season. Of course, we were drawn to the recently rejuvenated folk hero Vashti Bunyan, who sings about glow worms; we're not the type to get chills just thinking about fourth-and-goal crunch-time, so McGarryBowen has obviously done something right.


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10. CLOUD CULT: "LUCKY TODAY"
ESURANCE.COM
It's a music video! It's an ad! It's a music videad! It's the band Cloud Cult, fully animated in a TV spot for Esurance, but there isn't a sales pitch to be found. The Minneapolis psychedelic-pop band had traditionally shunned marketers, but the DTC insurance company won them over with some hard-fought green credentials. The result is a charming spot that not only fits in with the visual style of the band, but also features one of Cloud Cult's best songs.

MOST QUESTIONABLE AD SONGS

1. "SAVED BY ZERO"
TOYOTA
Would this list mean anything if we didn't include what many consider the most annoying ad jingle of all time? Perhaps we've just put too much distance between ourselves and the cloying ads of yesteryear, but this ear worm has burrowed into a deep part of our brains that we cannot scratch. Toyota's been performing marginally better than its American peers since this ad began running, but we think its oversaturation may be creating more anger than sales.

2. WILL.I.AM: "ONE MORE CHANCE"
BLACKBERRY
This isn't technically an ad, but when a "music video" contains this many gratuitous BlackBerry product shots, it counts in our book. The Will.i.am clip for "One More Chance" even contains a meta ad for the smartphone, as in a literal outdoor bus stop ad that the Black-Eyed Peas front man seems invisibly tethered to for most of the first minute -- roughly all you need to see before you can switch it off.

3. FIVE FOR FIGHTING: "WORLD"
SEARS
While we admire the extensive tie-ins (the election, "Extreme Home Makeover," various celebrity clothing lines, etc.), we just can't stomach this band in another saccharine ad. Mom and Dad are very fond of Five for Fighting, but we have different F words that we'd use to describe our feelings about them. Although Coldplay is probably a bit too heavy on the wallet, there are still smarter, more artful bands out there who convey warmth and compassion just as well.

4. THE PUSSYCAT DOLLS
BALLY TOTAL FITNESS
At this point in their careers, The Pussycat Dolls have become one of those groups that seem to have more fans in the marketing world than the real world. The group's new album was a commercial and critical Hindenburg, and we're not sure who's more out of touch: marketers who think the ladies still have a handle on pop music or prospective Bally's members who would want to mold themselves in the Dolls' image.

5. THREE DOORS DOWN, "IT'S NOT MY TIME"
COKE'S MY COKE FEST
This spot is really a mess. Trying to get the singer of Three Doors Down to cram all of these boring messages into 30 seconds is a waste of everyone's time, especially those who were attentive enough to pick up on singer Brad Arnold's pitch for his new self-titled album. We're 10 years out, but some people continue to feed their wicked '90s hangovers with some of the decade's nastiest hooch.

6. MADONNA: "4 MINUTES (TO SAVE THE WORLD)"
SUNSILK
For this spot, Madonna debuted a single from her new album, which may have been great for the stature (although reportedly not the marketing budget) of SunSilk, but we're baffled as to who would have realized that it was more than a tepid Casio-horn dance track from a generic music library. We don't think much of the full song either, but whoever scrubbed the vocals and, well, the character, for this spot should rinse and repeat.

7. FRANKIE VALLI: "CAN'T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU"
JOHN MCCAIN
John McCain's campaign folks never properly cleared the rights to use this song, and Warner Music Group forced them to remove it from their attack ad; they ended up hastily replacing the track with some soupy elevator tune and hopelessly obscuring their already fuzzy message. Maybe the McCain team couldn't afford the fee, or maybe they just didn't do their copyright homework, but when throwing mud, one should make sure he's not in danger of slipping on it himself.

8. JET: "ARE YOU GONNA BE MY GIRL"
BUDWEISER
This ad makes us thankful that a) bartenders are hardly this chatty without provocation and b) we don't drink in places that play Jet. Making its return to our list of shame this year, this Australian band continues to confound us with its persistence in ads. "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" is feeling pretty stale six years out, yet Budweiser seemed to adopt it as its anthem for some spots this year. Hasn't anyone checked the born-on date?

9. THE TING TINGS: "SHUT UP AND LET ME GO"
APPLE IPOD
Reprising Apple's familiar silhouette theme, this spot features more people dancing with white music players in front of colorful backdrops. It works, we suppose, but we probably won't be the first to complain that it's so familiar-sounding that we hardly noticed it was a new iteration. This Ting Tings song was better the first time when we heard it in an iPod ad and it was called "Music Is My Hot Hot Sex."

10. VARIOUS: "LOVE REVOLUTION"
KOHL'S
Honestly, what self-respecting musician covers Lenny Kravitz? Apparently, Vanessa Carlton, Plain White T's, Avril Lavigne and The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus would, in a Kohl's spot that's so crushingly insipid that it would make the most bloodshot Deadhead choke. These musicians sing of a "love revolution" and a "new constitution," and we have no interest in seeing the plans.

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