Marcus Berkmann: No such thing as selling out

Everyone now recognises that pop stars need to make a bob or two - including Lemmy

Thursday 21 October 2010 00:00 BST

The startling news arrives that Mr Ian Kilminster, popularly and legendarily known as Lemmy, is to re-record his band Motorhead's greatest hit "Ace Of Spades" for a beer commercial. The great shock is, of course, that he hasn't done this before. An estimated 7,948 beer commercials have been produced since "Ace Of Spades" first graced the British charts in 1980, reaching a respectable number 15. But not one of them has featured Lemmy's raddled, eye-watering rasp, a voice that seems to say, "Drink a lot of this and you could sound like me too". As happens too rarely in the advertising industry, product and celebrity endorser have come together in perfect harmony. Or at least, rather more pleasing harmony than any you'll find on a Motorhead record.

It strikes me that we are much kinder to our rock stars than we used to be. Thirty years ago, Lemmy's new deal would have been shouted down from the rooftops, and other high and distant places where his fans had woken up, wondering how they had got there. To even sell your song for a commercial, let alone rejig it as a slow blues number, would have been to sell out to The Man.

The punk ethos, with which Lemmy cheerfully identified, did not allow such transactions. I left university a year after "Ace Of Spades" first came out, and although some friends of mine did go into advertising, it was genuinely agreed that by doing so they had sacrificed all respect and dignity. If a musician of conscience had allowed his greatest hit to be sold to these people, his reputation would have been in tatters. NME would have made its feelings felt. His fans would have been embarrassed to mention his name. Within months his records would have been clogging up the second-hand shops, just as Phil Collins's did a few short years later. With hindsight, Collins's crimes (which include "Another Day in Paradise") seem far more heinous.

But now everyone recognises that pop stars need to make a bob or two. The bottom has fallen out of the record industry, with only people's parents and the mentally disadvantaged actually paying full price for a CD instead of nicking it off the internet. Such are Madonna's overheads that we fully understand her need to charge us several hundred pounds to see her live, singing those tinny little songs while dressed as a marrow, or whatever.

When buying an absurdly overpriced tour T-shirt, I accept that I am indirectly paying for someone's children's school fees, rehab or both. And so we concede that the advertising industry is no longer beyond the pale, because nothing, for the cash-strapped rock star, can be beyond the pale any longer. When every single track of a Moby album was flogged to the ad men, the diminutive baldy was universally congratulated for pulling off a bit of a fast one. Now, when a man from the record company hears a new song from a new band, he's no longer thinking, can we get this on to Radio 1? He's thinking, can we get this on to The OC, and would it be best advertising a hatchback or some new yoghurt extrusion device? Lemmy must have looked at all this, sighed manfully and thought, time to cash in.

Of course my own bitterness may have something to do with the ad industry's refusal, thus far, to make similar proposals to writers and columnists. While I am not yet willing to sell the contents of my books to the highest bidder (unless that highest bidder happens to be a publisher), I believe that judicious tweaking of my contributions to newspapers could be far more potentially sony lucrative than you might kenwood mixers expect. After all, as Simply Red once sang, "Money's Too Tight Toyota Mention". Any offers, drop me a line at the usual andrex.

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