Music and Sound Design Special Report: Top Tracks 2007

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Geico "Airport"
The Martin Agency and Geico had already scored a plethora of high fives with the Cavemen spots, but many would agree that it was "Airport" that gave this campaign its final push into pop culture consciousness. A primary player in making the spot so affecting is the song "Remind Me" by Royksopp, off the band's 2001 album Melody A.M. While the tune feels like a perfect fit for the spot's mood and vibe, agency broadcast producer Brad Powell said the process wasn't cut and dry. "We had worked with Royksopp before," he says. "They had done some original music for some Ping spots we had done five or six years ago," but "it took a while (to decide on the music). I think we shot the spot in July and didn't finalize the music until the end of August." Powell acknowledges that Royksopp wasn't their first and only choice. "We went through a lot of other songs but it might spoil it if I tell you some of the other tracks we tried," he says. "I can't say we knew we'd go with [the Royksopp tune] from the beginning. It was almost the easy choice for us because we knew them and were fans for a while, and it was always sort of a back pocket piece as we tried other things. We knew it worked and were trying to beat it but couldn't. Once we put that track to the spot we knew it worked perfectly, especially with the lyrics. Here you have a guy in a great mood, he's going off on vacation, not a care in the world—and then there's that damn sign"—which ruined the leisure-bound Neanderthal's day, but didn't stop the Cavemen and Royksopp from earning plenty of new fans.

Coca-Cola "Happiness Factory," "Videogame"
For "Videogame," a Grand Theft Auto spoof in which the main character doles out good vibes instead of bullets, Amber's H. Scott Salinas re-arranged the tune "You Give a Little Love" from the film Bugsy Malone. "The original track was a bit too hillbilly but it had a certain playfulness that everyone liked," says Salinas. The biggest challenge was "growing the song from one street busker to hundreds of people singing. We didn't have 1000 singers, so we had to find a way to make it feel that way." Nike "I Feel Pretty"
While the lyrics to this West Side Story tune seem to extol the virtues of vanity, Nike reinterpreted this spry Sondheim/Bernstein classic as an ode to confidence. Conceived by Weiden + Kennedy/Portland, the memorable spot starring tennis star Maria Sharapova is anchored by its contagious soundtrack, which follows the Wimbledon/U.S. open champ from hotel room to center court as she's serenaded by "Pretty"-singing onlookers who abruptly become silent when she delivers a killer backhand. "Nike wanted to support Sharapova because she was a kick ass athlete and not only a pretty face," says W+K art director Mira Kaddoura. "That duality was the coolest thing about her. We wondered if there was a song out there about being pretty and whether we could do something with that. As soon as we found 'I Feel Pretty' we really felt it was right." The song, re-recorded with a live orchestra in Prague to fit the 60-second framework, became the backbone of the spot. For the spot's director Ivan Zacharias, the song-driven concept was a challenge and opportunity to meld a nostalgic, theatrical element to both a hot sports commodity and an innovative brand. "I hate musicals but this was something different," he says. "This was about people thinking she was pretty but maybe useless. But then at the end, we see she's f***ing great at tennis. And if you have a great song, why not get people to sing it? It's a nice idea." Wieden and Zacharias' efforts were further validated at this year's Cannes ad festival, where the "Pretty" spot picked up two Gold Lions, including one for Best Use of Music.

Dunkin' Donuts
"Lefty Loosey," "Human Interest," "Alarm Clock Catastrophe"

Telecom Arnet "Acapulco"
As is the case with its refreshing spot visuals, it's tough to pick a favorite song that graced Buenos Aires shop Santo's 2006 output. Choices range from the classic "Up, Up and Away" by the Fifth Dimension for Lux "Balloon," to the newer, trippier music for Coca-Cola "Birdman" from MCR, a studio in Brazil. But our favorite is "Acapulco," by Italian '70s-'80s synth balladeers Ricchi e Poveri. "Acapulco" speaks to a different, nostalgia-tinged time, when polyester was an appropriate clothing choice even in the Mediterranean summer, the line for the discotheque moved swiftly and every Maserati shone like the sun. Its appearance in this campaign is a bit meta, but a fitting choice given the concept. Telecom Arnet brings more broadband to everyone, and since the Internet is made up of nonsense, Arnet brings more nonsense. A slideshow rolls with clip art and Net funnies, bits of joy brought from the ether while "Acapulco" plays—and then, briefly, a slide stops on the cover of a Ricchi e Poveri album. "We found the band who sings the soundtrack of this ad!" it reads, before flashing to the Italo-pop trio. Santo creatives Matias Ballada and Pablo Minces picked the song, which was well-known in Argentina in the '80s, despite being a bit dated in its native Italy—it was even unknown to the client, who is Italian. "Italian language for us is like a caricature of the Spanish," says Ballada. "It is actually funny sounding for us ," adds Minces. "And it added this whole notion of nonsense that is exactly what the campaign was about—diverse, random, nonsense that you can download from the Internet."

Starburst "Berries and Creme"
So it's not that complicated a song. Berries and cream, berries and creme. I'm a little lad who loves berries and creme. Repeat, and crescendo. Nine different words and a few indistinguishable notes make up the soundtrack of this oddball spot promoting the chewy candy, which has spawned multiple lives on the web, where Youtubers have remixed the track or recreated their own versions of the spot. "It's not a huge story or anything," says TBWA/Chiat/Day/N.Y. senior copywriter Brandon Davis of how he and partner/senior art director Phil Covitz came up with the tune. "We knew we were going to do the spot with this adult lad—someone between a child and adult—at a bus station, so we were just talking about how he would show his excitement for the product. We basically ended up with sort of the same excitement that maybe a four-year-old would have, which would be singing a very repetitive song with that same sort of enthusiasm." While holding its own against the best composed or licensed tracks out there, the song also happens to be a refreshingly obnoxious promotion, the product name a critical chunk of the lyrics themselves. "It's so simple and dumb but expresses an emotion," Davis explains. "There's not much more to it. It kind of tells half of a story behind this kid—you know that he's a lad, that he loves berries and creme, but the rest you have to figure out. Is he a real lad? Why does he love them so much? It's intriguing—and unsettling." What's especially amusing is that no music companies or instruments were involved, just an eager actor who knew how to turn up his tune and grooves to a disturbing level of intensity, not to mention "a bunch of creatives who lack music talent altogether," says Davis. "That's how it ended up how it is."

JC Penney "Life Imitates Art"
This elaborate Academy Awards tie-in references familiar scenes from well-known movies like Breakfast at Tiffany's, Singin' in the Rain, The Seven Year Itch, Taxi Driver, The Birds, Titanic, Easy Rider and Mary Poppins. But not the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which is where this Burt Bacharach number, "South American Getaway," was found. As somewhat befits the song title, it's a breezy jazz waltz, scat-sung by a Swingle Singers-like chorus—one of the tracks that backs Paul Newman and Robert Redford as they romp around Bolivia. As Saatchi/New York CD Kerry Keenan explains, she'd asked the entire creative department to work on music searches for the spring launch of JCP, and AD Menno Kluin, who is not the AD on the spot, is credited with the discovery of "South American Getaway." "It's a perfect pick," says Keenan; besides the fact that it works another movie clue into the proceedings, "it's a fun song and it has no lyrics, which worked well since we weren't trying to tell a story."

Old Spice "Hungry"
When Duran Duran recently reunited for a show in New York, fans were treated to the grim realization that the boys had gotten old—so much so Simon LeBon had trouble remembering the words to a few tunes, including this Top Track that B-Movie icon Bruce Campbell covers in his continuing display of amazingness for Old Spice. Is there anything Campbell can't improve on? Who knows how many dance floor pursuits reached their denouement with "Hungry Like The Wolf" as the accompaniment? Enter old Bruce and the song spreads its wings once more. With a slowed-down, spaced out arrangement suitable for Tony Bennett, Campbell—by his own standards not much of a singer—classes up what was once a cognate for ripped, oversized neon T-shirts and too much cocaine, turning it from a sunglasses-at-night jaunt to a buffed, walnut-trimmed romper room jam, with retro-chic kittens swooning all over the whole damn place. Art director Aaron Allen says, "'Hungry Like The Wolf' seemed to make sense for no good reason. It was the first thing that came out and it made us laugh. We definitely liked the predatory nature of it for body spray, but really we just wanted to hear it played on a piano. And as we read the lyrics, it just kept getting better and better—like 'woman you want me' and 'smell like a sound.'"

Johnnie Walker "Android"
This track, composed by London's A-Bomb, is titled "Zane Gort," which is the name of a robot writer in Fritz Leiber's novel The Silver Eggheads. Which is not to say that anyone at A-Bomb read the book, explains co-founder/composer Peter Challis. "It's just the name we gave to the track to, well, to give it a name. We figured it had a nice ring to it." In much the same manner, the hybrid nature of the music has a nice ring behind the visuals. "When we started putting music against the images, we realized quite quickly that a traditional instrumental piece wasn't going to do it for us," says BBH/London writer Justin Moore. "The tracks either lacked the power we were looking for, or they fought with the words, or they just seemed to be trying too hard. We needed a soundtrack that would support and punctuate the dialogue and add emotional depth to our android's speech. We wanted the viewer to feel the music rather than hear it, so we started thinking about it more in terms of sound design." Hence, "it was important for us to blend acoustic with electronic music," says Challis. "We wanted the music to convey the android's sophistication but at the same time give you hints of his 'real' makeup, just as the visuals reveal his machine nature. So little bits of electronica would emerge from the acoustic backdrop." That backdrop featured a full string section, "slightly manipulated," adds Challis, on top of which, for example, the A-Bomb composers wrote a program "that followed the android's speech and pronunciation and created a synthesized piece of electronica from that—but it was important not to go overboard and make it too cheesy." The result was so well received, Challis says, "Zane Gort" will appear on an upcoming A-Bomb CD.

Xbox 360 Gears of War "Mad World"
Every element of this Xbox 360/Gears of War spot broke gaming convention. Its poignant storyline, told in visuals created entirely within the original Gears engine, combined with an unexpectedly emo track—Gary Jules and Michael Andrews' 2001 cover of "Mad World" (originally released by Tears for Fears in 1982) to create a unique promo that takes viewers beyond blood, guts and testosterone into the human, emotional story of protagonist Marcus Fenix. "Nate (Able, AD) and Mat (Bunnell, CW) came in saying that it would be good if we could find something emotional, completely melancholy, contrasting the happy, hopeful shit that everyone else is doing," says McCann CD Scott Duchon. "'Mad World' was a song that I'd been playing and had considered for something before, Nate and Mat knew that I liked it and suggested using it—'Hey, that thing you keep slitting your wrists to? Why don't we use that?'" Having the song at the outset was a godsend for director Joseph Kosinski, who used it to inform the development of the story. "I boarded the whole spot out from the beginning to the lyrics of the song," he told Creativity in May. The commercial earned Silver in Cannes for Best Use of Music and also inspired loads activity on the web—sending "Mad World" straight to number one on iTunes and inspiring viewers to place the visuals against both "traditional" and unexpected music choices ranging from Megadeth to Monty Python's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." However, Gears' lead designer, Cliff "Cliffy B" Bleszinski of Epic Games, stands by the original. "Besides being a brazen, testosterone-filled shooter, Gears of War has a softer side," he says. "Gary Jules' rendition of 'Mad World' succeeds because it taps into the latter—a feeling of exhaustion from fighting against the overwhelming odds, as well as tremendous sadness. These feelings are seldom seen in the videogame world, and the commercial worked by cutting through all of the standard gamer noise."

Honorable Mentions

MasterCard "Arrivals"
Music: Finley Brown
Crispin Porter + Bogusky continues to surprise in its series of BK spots, this one a martial arts spoof in which a guy makes like a cobra to satisfy his hunger. As the shirt-and-tie-adorned man slithers his way towards his prey, a Triple Whopper, hot-buttered, '70s-style soul sets the mood and makes the burger devouring scene much easier to swallow. Skoda "Giggle"
Sound: Wave Studios/London
Sound Engineer: Parv Thind
Humans have a habit of applying sounds to inanimate objects. In "Giggle," Fallon/London and Wave Studios take that idea and run with it, making the Skoda factory giggle and squeal as it builds each car. The studio mined a collection of candid, real sounds—as opposed to recording to film—from people who had no idea what the sounds would be used for. The result is a giddy factory that actually makes car manufacturing fun.

Levi's "Dangerous Liaisons"
Song: "Strange Love"
Musical Artist: Little Annie
This BBH/London spot features a young Every Couple, whose constantly morphing identities span various fashion eras as they passionately tear their clothes off in the bedroom, again and again. It's backed by the weird cabaret contralto of a veteran strange-o chanteuse known as Little Annie, who, back in the Warhol and glitter days of New York nightclub Max's Kansas City, fronted a band called Annie and the Asexuals. How's that for irony?

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