I don’t know how to put an exact value on the Beatles’ 1967 song “All You Need Is Love.”
I do know it’s more than whatever Procter & Gamble paid to use it in an ad for Luvs diapers.
I also know popular songs have been rented by Madison Avenue for years because they can draw attention to a product.
And I know protesting against this practice is about as effective as protesting against the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn. But using this song to sell diapers is, at best, annoying. More to the point, it’s sad.
The commercial doesn’t insult “All You Need Is Love” as much as it says the song didn’t really matter, that it had no significance or context beyond creating a catchy tune that could be plucked from our collective memory and cashed in.
Yes, I understand how this game works, that leasing a song for an ad requires no effort beyond endorsing the check. It’s as close as the music biz comes to money for nothing.
When Barenaked Ladies leased “If I Had a Million Dollars” to the New York lottery, where it ran forever, no one begrudged them the windfall.
The “ridiculous money” Bob Seger got from renting “Like a Rock” to Chevy might have been the cushion that ensured he could stay home for 10 years to raise his two children. No one will shoot him for that.
I also think a good song can survive selling cars, or orange juice, or financial institutions.
John Fogerty’s “Fortunate Son” will always be a brilliant laser illuminating America’s class divide. Its brief walkabout to sell Wrangler Jeans is a faint memory, as forgotten as Best Buy selling stuff with Sheryl Crow’s anti-stuff song “Soak Up the Sun.”
“All You Need Is Love” isn’t in my Beatles top 10, or top 100. You could argue that both musically and culturally, it’s a period piece.
But it was also a song that propelled the Beatles, and a big chunk of popular music, from where it had been to where it would go. Hippie-dippy and naive as its lyrics might sound, now or then, it was a cry for better instincts at a time when a bad war over there and bad blood over here had left love in short supply.
Using “All You Need Is Love” to sell diapers isn’t quite as egregious as if, say, someone used “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” to sell video games.
But it’s the same sort of disregard for a song’s place in its time, and in the end, it leaves you feeling the same sort of sad.