On this date in 1990, singer/songwriter Tom Waits won a lawsuit against Frito-Lay. Waits sued the company claiming they approached him about using one of his songs in a commercial; when he declined, they found a soundalike to sing a tune very similar to Waits' "Step Right Up." He was awarded almost $2.5 million and was one of the first artists to successfully sue a company for using a soundalike.
It was not the last time Waits would battle the advertising world. In 1993, he sued Levi's after they used a cover of his song "Heartattack and Vine" by Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Levi's pulled the commercial and ran a full page apology in Billboard. In 2006, he won a suit against Volkswagen-Audi, which, like Frito-Lay, originally approached Waits about using his version of "Innocent When You Dream" for a Spanish commercial. He — as always — declined and the company tried to run a cover version instead. Waits received an undisclosed settlement. In 2007, Waits also settled a suit with Adam Opel AG, a German car company, on similar "soundalike" charges.
Hey advertising world — yes, he has a beautiful singing voice (?!) but maybe it's time to look for artists who won't sue your pants off to use in your adverts? Just a thought …
Waits is steadfast in his refusal to have his music co-opted to sell product (he famously said, "If Michael Jackson wants to work for Pepsi, why doesn't he just get
himself a suit and an office in their headquarters and be done with it"), but did do voice-over work for a dog food company once in the early ’80s.
Here's Waits on the ’70s talk show parody Fernwood Tonight singing "The Piano Has Been Drinking." Hey, that'd make a great commercial for Steinway Pale Ale. (If it existed …)
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 8 birthday include the most legendary of legendary Blues musicians, Robert Johnson (1911); TV-turned-Pop-turned-Folk-Rock star Ricky Nelson (1940); the co-captain of cheesy ’70s Pop act Captain & Tennille ("Love Will Keep Us Together"), Toni Tennille (1940); former Glam Rock star ("Rock and Roll, Parts One and Two") Gary Glitter (1944); Jazz pianist Keith Jarrett (1945); singer with Funk kings Earth, Wind & Fire, Philip Bailey (1951); Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club drummer Chris Frantz (1951); Van Halen drummer Alex Van Halen (1953); Blur drummer Dave Rowntree (1964); Canadian singer/songwriter Martha Wainwright (1976); Blues Rock guitar phenom Joe Bonamassa (1977); and the man responsible for remarkable music videos for The White Stripes, Radiohead and The Chemical Brothers, French filmmaker Michel Gondry (1963).
Gondry won an Academy Award for co-writing the screenplay for Jim Carrey's second best movie (behind Mr.), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which he also directed). Gondry has also directed flicks like The Green Hornet, Dave Chappelle's Block Party and Be Kind Rewind, but Gondry is the rare filmmaker whose shorter works seem to be equally (if not more) acclaimed.
Gondry has done extensive work in TV commercials — his "Drugstore" clip for Levi's is the most awarded commercial in history according to the Guinness World Records folks (though it never aired in the U.S. because the plot revolved around buying condoms. God forbid!).
But it's the field of music video that first brought Gondry to the film world's attention. In 2003, along with directors like Spike Jonze and Mark Romanek, he was part of a DVD series consisting of different volumes featuring one specific director's music video work. Here's a partial look at the "tracklisting," to get a sense of his rich music-videography: "The Hardest Button to Button," "Dead Leaves & the Dirty Ground" and "Fell in Love with a Girl" by The White Stripes; "Let Forever Be" and "Star Guitar" by The Chemical Brothers; "Army of Me," "Hyperballad," "Human Behavior" and "Bachelorette" by Bjork, "Deadweight" by Beck, "Around the World" by Daft Punk and "Everlong" by Foo Fighters.
Gondry's work features heavily in the current Contemporary Arts Center exhibit, Spectacle: The Music Video, a retrospective of the history and artistry of musical film clips. It's safe to say that, in the world of music video, he's like Scorsese (crossed with David Lynch and Salvador Dali).
Click below for a trio of lesser known clips from the director.