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"It's always a bit odd when you remember that pop culture does not consist of hermetically sealed elements that don't interact; it's like learning that "As Time Goes By" was an old song by the time Dooley Wilson played it for Ilsa."—James Lileks, "Hard & Snappy!"
A mostly-forgotten song gets used in a prominent movie, TV show, or commercial. Suddenly, it is everywhere. Other shows, movies, and commercials start to use it. A lot. It is back on the radio, maybe even back on the charts. The original album it came from sells like hotcakes. Somewhere, a songwriter makes a lot of unexpected money.
Also known as the "Guitar Hero effect" -- via the phenomenon of old songs finding a new audience by their inclusion in the game. Can be helped along by Watch It for the Meme, at least in the case of Rick Astley.
Ironically, if this works really well, the song can remain popular after the work that revived it has been forgotten about.
- Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" after it was in that cereal commercial. It was also in Glee.
- Nick Drake's "Pink Moon", as used in a Volkswagen ad. His three albums, especially Pink Moon, experienced their highest sales ever to that point after the advertisment started airing.
- "Mr. Roboto", and Styx in general, came back with a vengeance after the VW commercial.
- Yet Another Volkswagen ad: "Mr. Blue Sky" by Electric Light Orchestra.
- This seems unlikely, since the Volkswagen ad didn't exactly get a lot of airplay.
- This song was also used for the French telecom company SFR's ads -- there is even a version sung by Lily Allen, which appeared in an ad.
- There was a Honda Accord ad that used "Hold On Tight."
- Monster.com used E.L.O.'s cover of "Do Ya." The album it came from was reissued, after being out of print for years, a month or so after the commercials started running. Coincidence?
- And still yet another VW ad: Clannad, "Theme to 'Harry's Game'." (Although, it disappeared just as quickly, as new-agey songs sung entirely in Irish Gaelic is something of a niche genre.)
- That was also sampled in "Saltwater" by Chicane, which in turn was used in a Tourism Ireland advert.
- The Christmas classic song "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" got a big boost in downloads after British grocery chain Marks & Spencers used it in an ad campaign.
- In the U.S., it emerged from the holiday radio ghetto when it was used in a memorable "back to school" commercial for Staples.
- Prez Prado's "Guaglione" was a big hit after its use in a Guinness ad.
- Prado's "Patricia" got popular after its use in Royal Mail adverts.
- Jimi Hendrix's "Crosstown Traffic" enjoyed a revival in the UK after being used in a commercial for... um... something or other...
- Doris Troy's "Just One Look" (and/or cover versions of it) went through this big time back in The Nineties, appearing in many commercials (including a famous one for Pepsi starring Cindy Crawford). (Unfortunately this did not include the version by Klaus Nomi)
- After Louis Prima's "Jump, Jive, An' Wail" was featured in a commercial for The Gap, both the 1956 original and Brian Setzer's cover got a fair bit of radio play. Indeed, this may be a case of genre revival-by-commercialization, as the Gap ad is credited with (temporarily) re-mainstreaming swing.
- A strange Venezuelan case was Henry Stephen and his 1960's song "Limon Limonero", who became relevant (and parodiable) in The Nineties after being repurposed for a lemon-scented bleach commercial.
- If you've heard Trio's "Da Da Da" or a cover of it at any time later then the early 1980s, you almost certainly have Volkswagen to thank for that even if you don't remember the 1997 ad that revived the song. If you live in the UK, you may also have seen it in this mid-to-late 80s ad.
- The similar sounding "88 Lines about 44 Women" by the Nails (which was not the same band as Nine Inch Nails, YouTube commentators notwithstanding) was also used in some kind of car commercial in the 90s that nobody remembers now, which started it on the way to several well-known parodies and fan-made videos like this one.
- Levi's Jeans adverts have resulted in three UK number one singles by this method: Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" in 1987, Steve Miller Band's "The Joker" in 1990, and The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" in 1991, though a certain Stephen King movie may have also helped "Stand By Me".
The 1985 advert "Laundrette" took a reissue of Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" to #8 in 1985.
- A Volkswagen ad featuring "Young at Heart" by The Bluebells got that song to No. 1 in 1993.
- The Hollies' "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" reached No. 1 in 1988 (almost 20 years after its original release) after being featured prominently in an advert for Miller Lite beer.
- It was also used in promotional material for the American Boys Town in the 1980s, which is appropriate because it was inspired by a legend based around an illustration which was used by Boys Town by founder Father Edward Flanigan in the 1940s to promote what Boys Town was doing.
- It is primarily known in Canada as the backing track for a famous anti-drug commercial produced by Concerned Children's Advertisers, which featured a man going to visit his ailing brother at a hospital and hugging at the end. The commercial played for many years on various Canadian stations and grew very popular as a result.
- Andy Williams's "Music to Watch Girls By" got a boost after it was used in a British car advert. The funny thing is that it was a Top Ten Jingle to begin with - the music came from a McDonald's ad.
- The Human League's "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" has recently been revived in a Verizon smartphone commericial, and as an acoustic cover by Rob Crow in a Kingsford Charcoal commercial.
- Gorillaz's "Feel Good Inc.", appearing as the cover in an American Ipod ad, led to the popularization of the band in the United States outside of Alternative radio. (It remains their only top 40 hit in America.) It's even mentioned in their book Rise of the Ogre as one of the main reasons they became popular to begin with.
- Similar effect happened to "New Soul" by Yael Naim and "1234" by Feist, two indie folk songs that managed to make the Top 10 in the US after appearing in Ipod ads. Brazilian electro-indie band CSS' "Music is My Hot, Hot Sex" only made it to #63 after appearing in an American Ipod ad, but this was still the highest charting placement by a Brazilian artist on the Billboard Hot 100 since Sergio Mendes had a top 10 hit in 1983.
- "Tainted Love" was an obscure Motown B Side until New Wave artists Soft Cell took their cover version to the charts in 1981, but by the early 90s even that had faded from all memory. Enter Levi's Wide Leg jeans.
- Canadians of a certain age hearing "Bang a Gong" are instantly reminded of a slew of 1980s Labatt's Blue ads.
- In America, the theme from The Magnificent Seven is always linked to Marlboro commercials (at least, back when cigarette commercials were legal in the U.S.).
- It's hard to listen to the "Hoedown" movement of Aaron Copland's ballet Rodeo and think of anything but "Beef: It's what's for dinner!"
- Brazilians know "Chopsticks" as "the Danoninho song" (the product being a petit suisse by Danone). Of course many foreigners associate that one with Big...
- Most Brits above a certain age will automatically think of Cornetto ice creams when they hear the music for "O Sole Mio"
- This will forever be known as "The Viagra Song" for a certain section of the North American population.
- "From the New World" (colloquially known as "The New World Symphony"), composed following Dvorak's visit to America, will forever be known as "the Hovis music" to a certain section of the British public, following its use on a 1973 advert for bread baked in Hertfordshire.
- For Americans, Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" will always be linked to montages of sad, abused animals in cages in commercials for the ASPCA.
- When Americans hear any part of Rhapsody In Blue by George Gershwin, they can't help but think of United Airlines.
- The Youngblood's "Get Together" is now remembered as one of the essential songs of The Sixties, but it was just another unsuccessful folk-rock cover when originally released in 1967. Only when the National Conference of Christians and Jews used it in radio ads in 1969 did the song become a hit.
- Dave Grohl said he tries to avert this - even rallying with John Kerry after George W. Bush used "Times Like These" in commercials - but agreed to license a song for a Japanese beer ad so that the Foo Fighters' dressing room would always be filled with Kirin.
- Modern English's "I Melt With You" has experienced a resurgence in recent years via inclusion in several commercials, including one for the GMC Acadia Super Bowl clip (which featured a lounge version) and a 2010 Hershey's Chocolate promo (which featured a holiday-themed cover of the chorus).
- Yellow Magic Orchestra recorded an acoustic version of "Rydeen" for a beer commercial, putting both the new and original versions of the song on the charts nearly three decades after it was first released.
- Nico's "These Days" after it was in The Royal Tenenbaums. The K-Mart commercial didn't hurt either. Jackson Browne, the song's writer and guitarist, had to re-learn it before he could start playing it live again when people started requesting to hear it.
- WALL-E did this for the musical Hello, Dolly! that received a 2009 tour (the previous tour was in 1996).
- Pretty much the entirety of most Quentin Tarantino's soundtracks are well within this trope. Stealers Wheel might have even gotten back together as a band because of the new attention given to "Stuck in the Middle With You".
- Quite possibly the only reason anyone under the age of about 50 knows the theme song from "Rawhide" is thanks to The Blues Brothers movie. (Unless they remember it from An American Tail: Fievel Goes West...which used the Blues Brothers version).
- A lot of people under the age of 50 either remember "Rawhide" reruns airing in syndication or witnessing their fathers watching Chuck Connors's 1950s TV Western. It's not that old. Now, if you're talking about people under 25, they might best remember the cover from the An American Tail film.
- The Blues Brothers could be credited with bringing "Minnie the Moocher" by Cab Calloway back into the public consciousness.
- The song Mad World was released by Tears for Fears in the 1980s. In 2001, Gary Jules and Michael Andrews wrote a cover, a haunting ballad in the Dorian mode. This version appeared at the end of the film Donnie Darko. As the movie became a cult hit, the song became popular enough that it was rereleased successfully as a single in 2003. It reached number 1 in the UK because of this. Since then, it has appeared in dozens of shows and a handful of commercials.
- And since Adam Lambert sang it on American Idol it's gotten even more publicity on this side of the Atlantic.
- Also used in a popular Gears of War TV ad.
- In Australia the piano line features in an ad for beds!
- On an episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks Gary Jules was mocked by Chris Moyles for "being responsible for Tears for Fears getting back together." Kind of hypocritical when you consider who he almost single-handedly revived the career of.
- Also Sprach Zarathustra from 2001: A Space Odyssey -- but only the first minute and a half.
- Some of the songs on Grey's Anatomy and American Idol weren't obscure but became far more popular after having been used.
- "As Time Goes By" will forever be known as the song Sam played (and played again) in Casablanca, but it dates back to 1931, when it was introduced in an unremarkable and now-obscure Broadway show called Everybody's Welcome. (Since Casablanca was released in the middle of a long recording strike, radio stations were forced to turn to older recordings of the song.)
- "When I Fall In Love" was 40 years old when Sleepless in Seattle was released.
- Many Jukebox Musicals aim for this. Reportedly, "Our Love Is Here To Stay" got a big popularity boost from the movie An American In Paris.
- The movie Ghost revived both "Unchained Melody" and The Righteous Brothers' careers. The song went to #1 on the charts following Ghost; higher than it had gone when it was first released. Then in 1995, it charted again in the UK, as performed by Robson Green and Jerome Flynn in the series Soldier, Soldier.
- To a lesser extent, Top Gun did this to "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'".
- This once happened to the slow movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto #21 in C major after it was used in the now-obscure movie Elvira Madigan.
- "Singin' in the Rain" had been around for 23 years -- and appeared in at least two other movies -- before the Gene Kelly film revived it.
- Mint Royale's remix of "Singin' In The Rain" also deserves mention: the remix itself was made for a 2005 Volkswagen commercial, was released on CD, was largely forgotten about, and then became a #1 UK hit three years later thanks to a Britain's Got Talent routine.
- "I Like To Move It," thanks to the remixed version in Madagascar.
- Fight Club re-popularised The Pixies song "Where Is My Mind?", which was played over the climax.
- Ravel's "Bolero" in the movie 10.
- Wayne's World did this for Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." It reached number 2 in the US because of this. Freddie Mercury's untimely passing a few months prior also helped.
- Another Queen example: "We Are The Champions" in Revenge of the Nerds.
- After the Cowboy Junkies version of "Sweet Jane" was used in Natural Born Killers, it started popping up everywhere, even somewhat edging out the original in the public, non-fan consciousness. Which is interesting, because it's actually a cover of Lou Reed's early vision for the song, not the one that Velvets eventually released.
- The Beatles' version of "Twist and Shout" thanks to Ferris Buellers Day Off
- Dean Martin's "That's Amore" won renewed popularity from being featured in Moonstruck, 24 years after he and Jerry Lewis had introduced it in The Caddy.
- "Magic Carpet Ride" by Steppenwolf is now mainly associated with Star Trek: First Contact, despite having been around for about 20 years prior.
- "Goodbye Horses" by Q. Lazzarus was plucked from obscurity by The Silence of the Lambs, and is now mainly associated with an iconic scene in that film. It was from the soundtrack to Married to the Mob, and had never been released as a single.
- Seal's "Kiss from a Rose" had an unspectacular chart run when it was released as a single from his 1994 album Seal II. It was re-issued the next year as the first single from the Batman Forever soundtrack and proceeded to top the US and Australian charts and win Record of the Year at the 1996 Grammys.
- Inception and Edith Piaf's Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien
- Doris Day's version of "A Bushel and a Peck" from Guys and Dolls was featured in Julie and Julia.
- Nina Simone's "Sinnerman", which got a big push in 1999 when it was used in the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, then remixed as a club hit that was played in 2003's Cellular and the 2006 Miami Vice remake, as well as used as the theme song for the XTC cell phone.
- It was also featured in Sherlock, which brought up a mini resurgence.
- Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" climbed up to #4 on the Billboard Top 100 charts back in 1961. Then about 25 years later, the movie Stand by Me was released and the song made its way back into the charts topping at #9 in the US Billboard charts.
- "Mr. Sandman", especially the Four Aces version, may be forever associated with Back to The Future (though at least its usage ensures everyone will remember what decade it's from).
- The 1963 song "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy" by The Exciters enjoyed renewed popularity after it was featured as a military cadence in the 1981 comedy Stripes.
- John Parr's "St. Elmo's Fire (Man In Motion)" was originally written for Canadian athlete Rick Hansen, who was raising awareness for spinal cord injuries by touring the world in his wheelchair. It became a hit when it appeared on the St. Elmo's Fire film soundtrack, minimally rewritten to include a Title Drop. The lyrics still make far more sense in the context of Hansen's tour than anything in the movie.
- "O Children" was originally released in 2004, and was an album-only track on a record that didn't sell a lot (though was critically acclaimed). 6 years later, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I decides to use it in one of the film's most heartwrenching/heartwarming moments, which was also unique to the film. Cue huge surge in the song's popularity, with many young listeners being introduced to Nick Cave for the first time. Funnily, this wasn't the first time this had happened to Nick Cave - Scream, and to a lesser extent The X-Files, did the same thing for "Red Right Hand" (which was also a trope namer).
- "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" by Scottish band The Proclaimers. Originally released in 1988, it was fairly successful in the UK and Australia. When the song was included in the soundtrack of Benny and Joon, it gained popularity in the US and worldwide.
- The somewhat obscure ZZ Top song "Velcro Fly" has been given a popularity boost thanks to a prominent mention in The Dark Tower books.
- Reversal: this happened to the source novel when the 1986 musical version of The Phantom of the Opera arrived.
Live Action Television
- Brazilian artist Supla was mostly forgotten around 2001. Then a MTV Accentuate the Negative show, Piores Clipes do Mundo ("The worst music videos in the world") decided to showcase one his videos, "Green Hair". Even though Supla initially complained about it ("they never show my videos, and when they do it's on Piores!"), the exposition was enough to revive his career - it helped the show was so fond of "Green Hair" it appeared nearly Once an Episode.
- Frank Sinatra's cover of "Love and Marriage" was a hit in 1955, then forgotten until it became the theme to Married... with Children in 1987.
- Rock around the Clock used in Happy Days.
- Somewhat related: Elvis Presley' "A Little Less Conversation" was mostly forgotten, and didn't even make the top 40, when originally released (it only peaked at #69). Then in 2002, it was remixed by Junkie XL, got featured in commercials and soundtracks, and became a #1 hit in many countries. It's now a standard number in Elvis impersonator acts in Las Vegas. It is also used as the theme song to the TV show Las Vegas.
- The song "Skinnamarink" ("Skinnamarink-a-dinky-dink, skinnamarink-a-doo") dates back to 1910, but is best remembered now as the theme of the Canadian children's show Sharon, Lois & Bram's Elephant Show.
- The song "Rubber Bullets" by 10cc was released in 1973, but has since become more well-known after it was used in the Superjail pilot.
- Glee is doing that to most of the songs it features. So much so artists are offering licensing at a reduced rate.
- While it's never exactly been obscure per se, Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" is back in the forefront of pop culture's noggin thanks to The Sopranos series finale and its appearance in an episode of Family Guy involving a karaoke bar.
- It was also helped by being featured prominently on Glee.
- Before that, it was the film Monster.
- People forget that this song was far from Journey's greatest hit when they were active, but it is now the song they're best remembered for, and to people who weren't around during Journey's prime, it's probably the only song they know by them..
- American Idol will do this for a song, especially after a very good performance. Heart's "Alone" was performed by Carrie Underwood in the fourth season to great acclaim, and then surfaced on albums by Celine Dion and (previous Idol contestant) Clay Aiken not long after, on Glee a few years later, and several times on later seasons of Idol by luckless female contestants at trying to outdo her.
- Soul classic "Reet Petite" by Jackie Wilson reached number one in the UK in 1986 (almost thirty years after original release) after a BBC Two arts show called Arena played a claymation video of it.
- Billy Vera's "At This Moment" went from being a little known song released in 1981 to the #1 song for 15 weeks in 1987 after it was played on Family Ties.
- Saturday Night Live did a sketch about this: a fake commercial for a compliation album of songs that both parents and teens could enjoy together because of their re-emergence in commercials. For example, "Good Vibrations", which Mom remembers from listening to Beach Boys records as a kid, and daughter recognizes as the theme from a Sunkist ad.
- The NBC Sunday Night Football song -- originally sung by Pink, currently sung by Faith Hill -- is a rewrite of the 1988 Joan Jett song "I Hate Myself For Loving You".
- Tracey Chapman's "Fast Car" got to number 4 in the UK music chart after it was covered by a contestant on Britain's Got Talent.
- The song "Cult of Personality" was successful back in 1989, winning a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance for the band Living Colour. It (and the band) toiled in relative obscurity since the mid-1990s. When CM Punk began to use this under his new "voice of the voiceless" gimmick (he had used the song previously in Ring of Honor), it created a new audience for the song, which jumped into the iTunes Top 100 downloads list, and also reached the top 10 of the rock charts.
- Older Than Radio: Reginald De Koven's song "O Promise Me" was originally published years before it became a popular interpolation in his comic opera Robin Hood.
- On their Greatest Hits Album, the band Goldfinger happily acknowledge that they had no fans in the UK until they had a song of theirs put on the first Tony Hawk game.
- The Grand Theft Auto games have re-popularized the songs featured on their soundtracks. It's even the Trope Namer for the "Grand Theft Auto" Effect.
- This is especially true for a lot of the great, classic New Wave tracks selected for the games. As an example, "Vice City" alone introduced a brand new generation to Romeo Void's "Never Say Never", "Two Tribes" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Tears for Fears's "Pale Shelter", "(I Just) Died in Your Arms' by Cutting Crew, INXS's "Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain)", and "Life's What You Make It" by Talk Talk, amongst other musical gems.
- Robot Unicorn Attack did this for Erasure's "Always".
- So many songs have found new life after being used in Rock Band and Guitar Hero that it's easier to just say that rock as an entire genre has been revived by these games.
(In their live shows, however, Dragon Force refer to "Through the Fire and Flames" as "The song that made Guitar Hero famous".)
- Guilty Gear Isuka brings us "Might is Right but Tight." You may know it better as I Wanna Be the Guy's Game Over (Press 'R' to try again) theme.
- The Menu Theme for IWBTG is the character select screen for Isuka.
- Bioshock. How many people born after, say, 1980 would know Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea" and other such songs? Some would know "Beyond the Sea" from Finding Nemo -- but this also qualifies for the trope (and Covered Up, since it's sung by Robbie Williams).
- Many would, as it's an exceedingly well known song. Songs like "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?", many of Billie Holiday's smaller singles, and to a lesser extent "You Always Hurt the One You Love" are much better examples of this from Bioshock.
- Same for the Fallout series for even earlier tunes (The Ink Spots' repertoire, Cole Porter's "Anything Goes"...), usually thanks to the fact that the tunes chosen can either set up Soundtrack Dissonance or Suspiciously Apropos Music, depending on what you're doing at the time.
- Several classic rock songs used in Call of Duty Black Ops, plus The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter", which was used in the commercial for the game, experienced a rise in popularity and iTunes sales.
- "Someone Else's Song" (by Wilco) AKA More Gun
- "Fly Me To The Moon" was revived in Bayonetta (sort of, it's known as "That Evangelion song" in Japan.)
- Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" thanks to the Rickrolling gag. Rickrolling made Astley so popular he came out of retirement and is making new music again.
- He even managed to make this meta by Rickrolling America during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!
- Caramell (now the Caramella Girls), after the Caramelldansen Vid.
- Loituma’s version of the Finnish folk song “Ievan polkka” surged in popularity after a snippet was featured in Leekspin.
- Styx's "Come Sail Away" experienced a surge of new popularity after Eric Cartman sang it on South Park.
- Family Guy:
- Have heard the word? The bird is the word! "Rock Lobster" by The B-52's and "Shipoopi" from the broadway musical The Music Man also got a revival from this show.
- And ironically enough, Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" also appeared in the show. A week after the episode aired, some random anon decided to play a little prank on /v/...
- "First of the Year (Equinox)" by Skrillex got a boost in popularity when it showed up on the premiere of the Beavis and Butthead revival.
- Number 14 of The Thirty-Six Stratagems is "Borrow a Corpse to Ressurect the Soul", meaning to revive something from the past by giving it a new purpose, or reinterpret it to your advantage.