When did rock become the mainstream music in television?
April 18, 2010 10:00 AM   Subscribe

When did rock (or at least faux rock with rock instrumentation) become the mainstream music in television themes and commercials?

In the 1960s, a lot of shows had very jazzy theme songs with lots of horns (for example, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.). By the 1980s, you start hearing fuzzy electric guitar prominently in some themes (for example, Magnum P.I.). Eventually, there was stuff like Miami Vice, where they used rock as a central part of the show. I think the timing was probably about the same for television commercials, eventually building to ads like Nike's "Revolution" spot, but I'm only guessing. That's what I'm here to ask about.

What were the boundaries? What were the first mainstream shows and commercials that played to a rock and roll crowd? And when did the majority tip that way, if that indeed is what happened?

By the way, I’m not talking about shows about rock music, which obviously would have rock theme music. I’m talking about family-oriented detective shows and sitcoms and so on, and commercials for products such as family cars and household appliances.
posted by pracowity to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
These people were doing double duty playing on pop records and TV scores during the 1960s and 70s. The crossover was happening earlier than the 80s for sure, even 60s shows like Batman had contemporary musical styles in the score, and by the 70s the cop shows still had horns but you can definitely hear lots of dirty guitars.

My all time favorite music was for The Rockford Files. They really mixed it up with guitars, funky bass, Dobros, distorted harp. You can be sure this will be missing from the film remake...

I think that's the sort of crossover link you'll start finding as you dig deeper: it was all happening in LA and a lot of the music/TV music people overlapped.
posted by quarterframer at 10:18 AM on April 18, 2010

This is something I associate with the mid 90s.
posted by The Whelk at 10:20 AM on April 18, 2010

When baby boomers hit their peak earnings years, in the early to mid 90s, companies started using rock music of the late 1960s and 1970s to evoke nostalgia among these consumers.
posted by dfriedman at 10:28 AM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is something I associate with the mid 90s.

This feels accurate, speaking from an urban North American perspective, though I'm still waiting for Death Metal to settle into the everyday soundtrack.
posted by philip-random at 10:43 AM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I remember in the mid-80s, hearing an "expert" on TV say that there were certain songs that were so important to fans that you'd experience a backlash if you used them commercially. One example she gave was James Brown's "I Feel Good".

A couple of years later, Mr. Brown was in deep legal trouble, and "I Feel Good" was being used to back a commercial for Metamucil.
posted by gimonca at 11:09 AM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Year 1987 AD.

The year of the great Nike Revolution. That broke open the floodgates.
posted by ovvl at 11:10 AM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I remember in the late-80s or early 90s seeing Chevy truck commercials with Seger's 1986 "Like a Rock". That one seems pretty iconic to me.
posted by darkstar at 1:00 PM on April 18, 2010

Ah, 1991 was when Chevy started using Seger's song. They used it for 10 years in their ad campaign.
posted by darkstar at 1:05 PM on April 18, 2010

As I remember Miami Vice was pretty ground-breaking in using rock music in a prime time drama. Before that, you didn't hear much rock on tv series (WKRP excepted). Around the same time there were a series of Michelob Beer commercials with Genesis, Clapton and Steve Windwood and a Lou Reed spot for Honda Scooters and I remember them being at least semi-controversial because of rock stars "selling out" which was pretty new at the time. That was in the mid to late eighties.
posted by octothorpe at 1:44 PM on April 18, 2010

It happened when boomers stopped buying bongs and started buying BMWs.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:25 PM on April 18, 2010

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