Neil Young may have effectively signed over some of the rights to use his music in advertising when he sold 50% of his publishing to Hipgnosis Songs in 2021. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t reserved the right to weigh in — subtly — when his music is licensed for commercials going forward.
Young seems to not be entirely approving of an NFL ad over the weekend that used Beck’s newly commissioned cover version of “Old Man” as its soundtrack. The veteran rocker did not weigh in on the Beck cover or its usage directly, and he could not be reached for comment. But Young seemed to say it all with an image that was posted to his official Instagram account Monday.
The photo posted was a still from his music video for “This Note’s for You,” a protest song that decried the use of music in advertising, from 1988, when selling out to Madison Avenue was still a raging controversy in rock ‘n’ roll circles. (The title was a takeoff on the “This Bud’s for you” tagline that was ubiquitous at the time.) “Sponsored by nobody,” reads the legend on the fake beer bottle Young is holding up to the camera in the photo he reprised Tuesday.
As longtime fans will recall, Young railed against corporate shilling in the song with lyrics like: “Ain’t singin’ for Pepsi / Ain’t singin’ for Coke / I don’t sing for nobody / Makes me look like a joke.”
In advertising a game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs, the NFL commercial pictures Beck performing an acoustic rendition of “Old Man,” apparently as playful commentary on the idea quarterback Tom Brady, 45, is an “old man” in his profession — although many viewers remained puzzled about the song choice.
When the deal was signed in 2021, Merck Mercuriadis, founder of the Family (Music) Limited and Hipgnosis Songs Fund Limited, said he felt confident he and Young would be on the same page about how his catalog was licensed. “We have a common integrity, ethos and passion born out of a belief in music and these important songs,” said Mercuriadis. “There will never be a ‘Burger of Gold,'” he added, riffing on Young’s “Heart of Gold,” “but we will work together to make sure everyone gets to hear them on Neil’s terms.”
If Young has a problem with this usage, we hope to hear his reaction if anyone ever proposes a “Cinnabon Girl” sync.