EW Online explains why advertisers and filmmakers have rediscovered the original British punks

By Sandra P. Angulo
August 11, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
Michael Putland/Retna

Yes, that’s Who frontman Roger Daltrey belting out ”Won’t Get Fooled Again” as a shiny new Nissan Maxima 2000 flashes across your TV screen. Lately, Madison Ave. has become so Who-savvy that after Gateway Computers aired its ”Who are You”-scored ad, rival Dell Computer Corp. fought back with a campaign blaring ”Magic Bus.” Likewise, Daltrey, Pete Townshend, and Co. have been rediscovered on the big screen: ”Baba O’Riley” was featured in ”A Bug’s Life”’s trailer and promo posters (”Out here in the fields, we fight for our meals”); ”Rushmore” used ”A Quick One While He’s Away”; and most recently, Spike Lee choreographed two violent scenes in ”Summer of Sam” to ”Baba” and ”Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

In part, this return of the Who is the latest example of America’s nostalgia for the Woodstock era: Ad agencies are opting for the band because their music is instantly recognizable to a key buying demographic. For the Maxima commercial, ad agency TBWA Chiat-Day’s creative director Rob Schwartz wanted a provocative driving song aimed at the sporty sedan’s target group of baby-boomer-aged dads. Schwartz immediately thought of the Who. ”The people interested in buying a Maxima love the Who, they grew up listening to them,” says Schwartz, whose agency also handles Taco Bell and Apple Computers. ”Anyone who ever smoked pot in the ’70s remembers the burst of energy in ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’ It was a perfect match.”

But the Who don’t come cheap. Using a song in a movie can cost anywhere from $50,000 to $125,000. And if you add that same tune to the soundtrack album and film trailer, the total can run to $500,000. But even at those prices, the band wasn’t much interested in selling their songs — until recently. ”I never used to pitch Who songs for projects, because I thought they would be impossible to get,” says Lori Lahman, an associate music supervisor at Dilbek Entertainment, who has compiled songs by the Allman Bros., Culture Club, and the Doors (among others) for Adam Sandler’s recent blockbusters. ”Then about a year ago, I started receiving Who CDs with ‘for your consideration’ letters from the publisher. I was very surprised when I started hearing their stuff everywhere, but now it’s clear they’re willing to have their music out there.” This is something, Lahman says, that other boomer-era musicians aren’t eager to do. ”Artists like Led Zeppelin just aren’t interested. They’re so selective that you stop thinking it’s an option to use their songs.”

Spike Lee had a different reason — a narrative one — for making the Who the favorite band of Adrien Brody’s Mohawk-sporting punk rocker, Richie, in ”Summer of Sam.” ”It made sense, because Pete Townshend was considered the godfather of punk,” Lee says. But the director adds that his decision wasn’t purely historical: ”’Who’s Next’ is one of my favorite albums,” he admits. Ours, too, Spike.