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I've been lucky. When corporate America has pillaged popular music to sell its shoes, software and sodas, the songs haven't been the generational anthems that compel me or anybody else like me to look up and see what's on the TV. Certain songs have that special effect on every generation.
Sometimes the ads work, but other times there's resentment.
Some songs matter more than others. The pop music I care about, the fleeting selections that will always have a place in my youth, haven't really been whored yet. But I know it's coming. No song is safe forever. I'm 31. When my demographic group hits its maximum buying power, the song pirates will buy everything I loved -- and redefine the songs as commercials: early R.E.M., late Led Zep, XTC, Spinners, O'Jays, EWF, old Commodores, even Marshall Crenshaw, the Cure and scores of one-hit wonders. It's only a matter of time.
What's worst of all is that some of these tragic ads of the future will gladly humiliate the songs and their performers in the process.
Take Velveeta's spot with the Four Tops. The quartet sings "It's the Same Old Song" with the new words "same old side" -- as in same old side dish until you add Velveeta. Specifically, the dish they suggest is shells and cheese. AHHHHH! And there are the actual Tops on TV in a video from hell performing in outfits of blue and yellow -- to match the endearing colors of the Velveeta box. Living legends of rock 'n' roll are doing the work once reserved for animated California raisins.
So I should have seen it coming when my generation's turn just came up -- a startling glimpse of things to come. The villain is Burger King. The song is "Melt with You" by Modern English. By any measure, the song is an '80s relic, a song we danced to, a spirited, hopeful song that bathed our imaginations with an image of lovers melting together, "getting better, all the time/There's nothing you and I won't do/I'll stop the world and melt with you."
At one point the singer patiently hums a few bars -- a savory respite, a creative indulgence before a rollicking close.
It's a perfect pop song, if there was one when I was in school. Now it's the ad sound track for cheeseburgers.
Never in my worst brooding moment did I ever imagine melting with flame-broiled ground beef when I heard that song.
My head shot up when the ad came up on the family Zenith. We stared catatonically at that blasphemin' burger ad -- man, wife and 11-month-old baby in shock. The dogs instinctively retreated to the back room. I vowed never to patronize Burger King again. The boy will have to go there with friends' parents if he wants Burger King fries.
Had it been a Porsche ad, a tropical vacation ad or even a decent beer ad, I could have accepted the promotional message, but this was different. This was sheer, brazen generational mockery -- the fat cats vulgarizing my music. And the humming part I told you about, well, Burger King subtitled the up-close cheeseburger video with "Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm," like the Campbell's Soup slogan.
I get the message, all right. At our age -- 30-plus -- we're done melting with each other. Now we just scarf burgers and fries between errands, car pool, day care or the job.
Thanks, Burger King, for the pointed reminder that we're fat, old and too busy to cook for ourselves.
I'm sure my sense of loss at seeing the Burger King ad translates into successful impact, because I did pay attention to the ad and I am writing about it now.
I wonder how long it will be before Morrissey and the Smiths sell out.
This story originally appeared in Style Weekly.