From Marvin Gaye to Babylon Zoo

It was in 1982, when British model Nick Kamen swanned into that fictional launderette, clad only in soon-to-be-washed 501’s and soon-to-be-revealed milk-white Sunspels, that the effective marriage of music and commercials were truly united in consumer matrimony, via Levi’s. As our protagonist beefcake stripped down, the sultry soul of Marvin Gaye indulged sexual suggestion for anything Kamen couldn’t act out himself, pre-watershed. A method had been born. Women had a man to model their men on, men had a man to model themselves on, and labels had a platform to rekindle back catalogues. Jean sales rocketed.



Thus began the honeymoon period. Sam Cooke’s ‘Wonderful World’ and The Ronette’s ‘Be My Baby’, the most perfect pop song ever written, were deployed to wonderful effect over Levi’s classic slick-back, six-pack montages. Eventually, Brad Pitt and T-Rex signalled the triumph of a perfect audio-visual equilibrium. Earlier that year, an iconic sex scene in Thelma And Louise had immortalised Pitt as the definitive ’90s sex symbol. In that moment, he was the literal personification of Marc Bolan’s ‘20th Century Boy’. The jeans these songs and stomachs ultimately represented were deemed timeless, classic and universally accessible. Male sexual objectification was so hot right then.



Levi’s adverts slowly became an important facet of popular TV culture. In 1991, the ‘Pool’ commercial earned The Clash their first and only UK Number One, with a reissue of ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go?’. From hereon in, the Levi’s ad became the fast track holy grail of chart success. Some deservedly, some ashamedly. On one hand Smoke City’s ‘Underwater Love’ visually manifested itself as 1997’s aquatically celestial ‘Mermaids’ ad. On another, Babylon Zoo reached Number One, when the opening thirty seconds of their piss-poor, galactic pop delusions provided the inspiration for 1995’s ‘Spaceman’ ad.



Where, in this three-decade campaign of Levi’s sensory assault, is the finest unity of stimulus? Michel Gondry’s Depression-era ‘Drugstore’ was a wordless beauty, but it was the cinematic majesty that made it so, not the probing use of Biosphere’s ‘Novelty Waves’. The ‘Flat Eric’ (pictured above) campaign became a global fad with its use of Mr Oizo’s ‘Flatbeat’. The song was a repeated bass loop that managed to hypnotise global audiences, yet this was a skin deep novelty, and the magnum opus of this commercial course was yet to come.



Ignoring previous cues of sexuality or cultural relevance, Levi’s released ‘Odyssey’. The classical opening strings of Handel’s ‘Sarabande’ are spine-tingling alongside the primal, liberating footage of a man and woman sprinting head-on through concrete walls. The piece peaks as they scale trees, accelerating upwards, and without caution or fear, they launch themselves skywards. The proverbial leap of faith. It remains one of the most breathtaking uses of music in an advert. We’ve come a long way since Nick Kamen’s sweaty loins.



Words by Joe Zadeh
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