You’re at a party. It’s lame. There’s a laptop in the corner running iTunes, and people are taking turns DJing to try to make the crowd a little livelier. Unfortunately, the guy with the fingerless gloves is hogging the computer, and his circa-1994 drum and bass jams are failing to make the crowd get up and dance.
Somebody else manages to sneak in when DnB-guy isn’t looking and cues up a track you instantly recognize. Its steady pulse seems scientifically calibrated to produce good vibes, and all of a sudden you find yourself bending your knees to the beat. A minute later, when the chorus kicks in, all bets are off. Everybody’s on the floor and the party has started.
The next morning, you’re left wondering. What was that song? You know you’d heard it before, but nothing comes to mind in the way of an artist or title. After a few minutes of brain-racking, you’ve got a lead. It was that song from that iPod commercial. Now how to go about finding it?
Fortunately for you, Mr. Imaginary Partygoer, you may look no further. As part of our ongoing coverage of the iPod’s ten-year anniversary this month, we’ve compiled just about every song that’s ever been featured in an iPod commercial into one convenient Spotify playlist.
A few highlights, in chronological order:
Propellerheads-Take California: The one that started it all, and one of the few instrumental songs Apple has used in an iPod commercial. It’s bouncy enough, but lacking a certain sass and charm that has come to define iPod advertising in recent years. The commercial itself, featuring a dude goofily dancing around his apartment, is a far cry from the iconic ads that would follow. It’s kind of like finding a video of Barry Bonds playing little league ball or something. The spark is there, but we’ve got a long way to go.
N.E.R.D.-Rock Star (Jason Nevins Remix Edit): The first of the “silhouette” style commercials that the iPod is famous for. It’s impressive that all of the hallmarks of iPod advertising were basically in place from the second commercial, but N.E.R.D.’s cheesy rap-rock anthem is just too much—it makes me feel like I’m playing a videogame about snowboarding. Step your game up, Apple.
Daft Punk-Technologic: In later commercials, Apple would go out of its way to portray the iPod as folksy and organic. Early on, though, the company seemed much more interested in celebrating its sleek high-tech-ness. And what better way to do that than with one of pop’s all-time-great odes to technology, complete with two dudes in robot costumes?
U2-Vertigo: Oh man, this song. Another pretty big one, this was the first commercial to feature famous musicians in silhouette form. Also the first to target an ostensibly older audience: most ads up to this point featured music that was rooted in hip-hop or dance music, and those that did rock featured younger bands (see: Jet, the Vines). With this, Apple set their sights squarely on the hip moms and dads of the music-buying world. Uno, dos, tres, catorce!
The Caesars-Jerk It Out: This, to me, might be the archetypal iPod commercial song. Relatively unknown band, catchy-as-all-get-out organ riff, dance-y backbeat, sassy vocalist—a perfect formula for an ad soundtrack, and one Apple would repeat many times. With the exception, of course, of that organ.
Bob Dylan-Someday Baby: Like I said, at a certain point, Apple started adding traditional down-home vibes to the iPod commercial pot. This one, featuring a cut from Dylan icon’s 32nd (!) studio album, Modern Times, was the first, and featured the folk icon sitting on a stool, playing an honest-to-god acoustic guitar—a far cry from Daft Punk and N.E.R.D. Taking advantage of Mr. Zimmerman’s nearly pan-cultural appeal, Apple was able to attract cool dads and their college student kids with one ad.
Paul McCartney-Dance Tonight: Notable mostly for featuring the former Beatle, though to be honest I don’t even remember seeing this commercial when it aired in 2007. Probably because my memories of iPod commercials that aired that year are dominated by…
…Feist-1234: Leslie Feist is a fabulously nuanced and emotive singer with three solid albums and a string of great collaborations with indie rockers Broken Social Scene under her belt. She does rousing shouts and soothing coos with equal aplomb, and in a different era, she could have been a world-conquering star. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, this is the moment she’ll be remembered by: singing about counting, shucking miniature mp3 players. Shame, shame. And if it’s not this, it’ll be Sesame Street.
The Ting Tings-Shut Up and Let Me Go: This one actually sounds like it was written for the sole purpose of selling iPods—the “sass” factor that I’ve unscientifically determined to be a key factor in certain ads is through the roof here. Vocalist Katie White shout-sings about her own individuality while the band pounds out four-on-the-floor beats and a spiky guitar part that sounds uncannily like something out of Franz Ferdinand’s playbook. Hey Apple, why not get those guys to do a commercial?
Franz Ferdinand-No You Girls: Oh, right. The post-punk revival OG’s do their thing and they do it well in an ad touting the iPod Touch as the “funnest iPod ever.” Not much else to say here. Another match made in advertising heaven.
Miss Li-Bourgeois Shangri-La: This one aired in 2009, and it bears the distinction of being the last iPod ad that was absolutely unavoidable. The song perfectly fits an aesthetic developed by Apple over these past ten years, which, coupled with the fact that I saw the commercial many times before I heard the song anywhere else, means I’ll forever associate it with the iPod Nano and its ability to shoot video.
It’s an impressive feat of marketing Apple has pulled off with a handful of other songs: to take music that comes with its own inherent narrative and set of associations, and to bend that narrative and those associations to their own will. I’m sure Miss Li is an artist with her own story and plenty of fans, but to me, and to many others, she’ll always be the singer who did the song from that iPod commercial.