By now we’re all accustomed to Cadillac using classic Led Zeppelin tunes to hawk its cars, Taco Bell selling chalupas via Guns ‘n Roses, Beatles songs selling Nikes. It’s all fair game if the price is right, but it wasn’t always so. In a new biography called Lou Reed: A Life, Anthony DeCurtis makes the case that it all began with a commercial Reed made in 1984 to help Honda launch its new line of scooters, the soundtrack being Reed’s greatest hit, “Walk on the Wild Side.”

Honda’s greatest advertising success was “You Meet the Nicest People” two decades earlier. By 1984, it decided to take a completely different tack, focussing on New York street life in all its graffiti-besmirched gritty glory, populated by actual denizens including prostitutes, guys trying to get a little sleep, and sundry riffraff involved in what appear to be all manner of nefarious jump-cut dealings. Not only did Reed allow his counterculture anthem to be used to hawk Hondas, he even appears in the end to deliver the tag line – “Don’t settle for walkin'”– which is actually pretty dang clever when we’re talking scooters.

It was probably all inevitable anyway, given that MTV and VH1 had ushered in the video era, and any band that wanted commercial success from then on would have to be visually as well as sonically presentable (a thing that’s even crept into motojurnalism in the last few years). Not long after, the ability for people to download music rather than buy it at Tower Records drove another stake into the heart of any artist who resisted “selling out” to the advertising industry. After that, the counterculture would be well and truly absorbed by corporate America, Gordon Gekko would become a role model, and greed was good. Not that any of that’s a bad thing.

The Youtube version of Reed’s Honda ad is so grainy and dark it’s a bit tough to tell, but I assume he’s sitting on the all-new `84 Elite 125, featuring exciting new Honda tech like a liquid-cooled four-stroke engine, retractable headlight, and sweet new digital dashboard. In 1985 there was a new Elite 150 and a Deluxe model. Alas, even Lou Reed couldn’t make the Elite cool enough to be commercially viable in the go-go `80s: After the 1987 model year, Honda pulled the plug.

Read the excerpt from DeCurtis’s new book over here at Thedailybeast.com for more.

  • John B.

    Western Civilization has had a great run and created the most prosperous and powerful nations in history. Today, however, Western Civilization, its social norms, ethical values, customs, belief systems, and political systems are under direct and relentless attack. Once Western Civilization falls, however, I would not expect more than 1,100 years or so of dark ages before the next renaissance. Al Fraken for President 2020, and pass the Mad Dog!!! I’m gonna need it.

    • Sentinel

      lol

    • Johnny Blue

      The western “civilization” had a too long run. A history of greed and depravity. Flawed economic theories demanding perpetual growth with finite resources available. A history of ruling by the gun and oppressing the weak. The same greed that brought about its rise is eating it now from the inside. That’s where its collapse is coming from, not from outside attacks. The moment you allowed corporations to be persons before the law was the beginning of the end. Not a moment too soon for the new ‘dark ages’… Maybe something good will finally rise from the ashes…

      • John B.

        You obviously don’t know much about the quality of life during the dark ages, but you are correct people didn’t consume many natural resources. Also, the strong have always, and will always feast on the weak. Nature’s rule not mine. Finally, I was not on the Supreme Court when they decided Citizens United, so I did not make corporations people.

        • HazardtoMyself

          Well you know all the kings were very generous and shared all their wealth and food with the common folk. It was a utopia the world has never seen again.

          Who doesn’t miss the plague, short life expectancy, public executions, and dragons?

          Wait, maybe that last part was just a movie.

          • Johnny Blue

            Some kings have done great things for their countries and the people of those days benefited from that.
            But that’s not the point. The point is that nothing change in essence. The kings of today are the big, international, corporations. They are doing anything in their power NOT to share their wealth. And they are more successful than the former kings in amassing fortunes.
            The plague? Wash your hands and keep a good hygiene. Live in smaller communities.
            Executions still happen to this day in many countries.
            Only because we have so much technology and live longer, doesn’t make us better people.

          • John B.

            Yes! The good old days when one in three child births killed the mother and/or baby, and men died in their 20s on average due to tooth decay or some other infection. Yea man, Western Civ sucks!

          • mugwump

            How long do you think my plague vaccination is good for? It was quite a while ago.

        • blansky

          Just for a point of fact: What made corporations “citizens” was not Citizens United but Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Co. 1886, which by over reach by the Supreme Court gave them “citizenship”.

          That is the law that needs repealing as much as Citizens United.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Clara_County_v._Southern_Pacific_Railroad_Co.

          • John B.

            And the terms “Citizens” and “Person/People” are not synonymous. In any event, absent Western Culture courts, as we know them, would not exist. Nor would life as we know it.

          • Johnny Blue

            “Nor would life as we know it.” – I’m not sure that’s really a bad thing..

          • blansky

            You are correct I should have stated “personhood” instead of citizenship. I stand by the rest.

            As for whether wikipedia is a good place to learn about law, I was merely leaving a link. i agree wikipedia is not definitive on anything.

        • Johnny Blue

          I’m pretty sure that the new dark ages will be nothing like the previous one. We’ll still have the knowledge of today, which is more advanced than that of the past. I expect that after the fall of the west, some sort of renewal will happen. Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I’m not going to change that.
          That the strong will always dominate the weak is not a law of nature. Is the barbarism of the people. This is also slowly changing.
          And finally, I didn’t mean you as a person. I meant it like a nation. I don’t know why, but I assumed you’re an American.
          Anyway, a change is needed in the world. No change is worse than almost any change in the current situation.

          • John B.

            I agree we live in an imperfect world and that Western Civ is not perfect. Nevertheless, I do not share your optimism that what comes after Western Civ falls will lead to something better. In fact, I am confident it will lead to something much worse. I grew up in a big Catholic family in New Jersey so I have a pretty good idea about what it’s like to live in the dark ages.

          • john burns

            was the Third Reich post-Western Civ? Didn’t we just get a glimpse of PWC in recent history from 1939-1945? Discuss…

          • John B.

            That’s an interesting point John. World War II era Germany was part of what we call Western Civ, and that war killed approximately 60 million people. I suppose WW II provides and example of how deadly Western Civ can be when countries become too nationalistic.

            The question is what would the world be like post Western Civ. The freedom and prosperity middle-class westerners enjoy is a historic anomaly. The norm is for wealth and power to become concentrated in a few people with everyone else fighting to survive.

            In the U.S. our trajectory is clearly toward an unhealthy wealth aggregation and less freedom in the middle class. Nevertheless, we still live very well compared to how people lived throughout history, and I am not willing to abandon Western Civ unless there’s a better alternative on the horizon.

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            Hey!
            Your man, Adolf, was just a regular guy. Trying to get things done. Score with the chicks.

            Oh …
            Wait …
            That was me in University.

            That other guy was bad.

          • Johnny Blue

            What does your Catholic family have to do with the dark ages?
            I grew up in a Christian Orthodox family in Romania during the communist times. Our faith didn’t bring the communism to power. In fact very much opposed it.

          • HazardtoMyself

            Oh, you were serious with this.

            How will we possibly still have the knowledge of today in the new dark ages? Hell people can’t even remember phone numbers anymore. You get rid of these little devices in our hands and I would say 90% of the world’s knowledge is gone within a generation. A lot of knowledge was lost in the original dark ages, including the knowledge of simple things like personal hygiene and indoor plumbing.

            The strong will always dominate the weak. That is nature, even outside us lowly humans. Barbarism has lessened in the modern world because for the most part people don’t have to fight over scraps like they used to. Pick any other time in history where the poor are fat.

            When the power goes out, and nobody knows how to hunt, grow food, or obtain clean water, do you really think the people will remain civil?

            As John said far from perfect, but if you could pluck people out of the dark ages and bring them here, they would probably laugh their asses off at our “problems”.

          • Johnny Blue

            Speak for yourself. I don’t rely on my smartphone for knowledge. And I do not agree that all the knowledge was lost. Was just less accessible to the masses. You make it sound like the ‘original’ dark ages was something that descended upon the world suddenly. Like flipping a light switch. It was gradual. It happened over hundreds of years. And it wasn’t so dark as people make it sound:
            http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/6-reasons-the-dark-ages-werent-so-dark

          • HazardtoMyself

            Ah, the history channel is a good choice to show we don’t rely on modern technology for knowledge.

            As ancient astronaut theorists believe, any thing on the history channel is heresy. You remember what we used to do to heretics right?

            Ok, sorry bud. This seems to mean a lot to you. Have a good day man. Just hoping modern society doesn’t fall too soon. I haven’t hunted in years.

          • Johnny Blue

            I said I don’t rely on my smartphone, not on modern technology. I use what’s available to me at the moment. I also do not believe that the fall of ‘western civilization’ will bring about the total loss of technology. And there are still printed books…
            Every historical period had its heretics. In communism we called them capitalists. In capitalism we call them communists. After WWII, in different parts of the world both categories suffered. Today, it seems that Christianity tends to become the new heresy.
            In the end, what matters to me, is that people today are not better than they were 1000 years ago. If we were, with all the technology available and all the current wealth, nobody should starve, nor should anybody be deprived of medical care and the bare necessities of life. Yet we spend enormous amounts on weaponry instead of caring for our less fortunate brothers and sisters. That’s what matters to me. And if this is the ‘western civilization’ then its demise is long overdue. It deserves to perish, if only to make room for change.
            Oh, I don’t hunt either. Nor do I buy meat. I’m vegan. And I still know how to grow crops. And I wouldn’t mind sharing my food with you until you learn again to hunt. 🙂 You have a good day/night too.

          • Johnny Blue

            “The strong will always dominate the weak. That is nature, even outside us lowly humans.” – No it is not. If you have the impression that the lion is the king you’re very wrong. Or that the predators dominate the prey…

            “Barbarism has lessened in the modern world because for the most part people don’t have to fight over scraps like they used to.” – People will always fight over something. Scraps in the past, oil and ores today… Modern society is very unsustainable and that’s what’s going to cause it to fall.

            “Pick any other time in history where the poor are fat.” – Of course the poor are fat today. They eat garbage. Sugar and fat sold to them cheaply by big agribusinesses to make fortunes, while having zero accountability for all the health issues they cause. Most people should eat A LOT LESS and A LOT DIFFERENTLY than how they eat today. A little hunger might make them live longer, healthier lives.

  • Starmag

    Ride on the wild side with an Elite 125 ? I guess they don’t call them “Mad Men” for nothing.

  • Pete terHorst

    From 1983-87, Honda sold over 350k scooters. Here’s another ad that broke the mold, with Grace Jones and Adam Ant…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pi5zFQ9plxU.

    • dbwindhorst

      It would be impossible to have a bad time with Grace Jones.

  • allworld

    Back in the 80’s I was rocking a Vespa, as where most of the Punks. Mods vs. Rockers sort of thing.
    I was more of a Mocker………..

  • Rocky Stonepebble

    Lou Reed would sell anything:

    https://youtu.be/SKnbFpdGKog

    • john burns

      was there ever a Lou Reed University? Learn the secrets of success in the music business…

    • Gruf Rude

      Used to get revved up for criminal jury trials with Lou Reed Live and/or Rock and Roll Animal – memories. . .

      • Rocky Stonepebble

        Perhaps if you had behaved, you would not have been going to criminal jury trials. Naughty boy.

        • Gruf Rude

          “He’s a criminal lawyer – but then again, aren’t they all . . .”

  • Old MOron

    In 1970 Jim Morrison refused to be co-opted by General Motors. In ’84 Lou Reed sold Hondas, Michael Jackson sold Pepsi, and the rest is unhappy history.

    • Andy C

      I went to an Aerosmith concert in the mid-80’s where S. Tyler was saying “F*** MTV”.
      Within a few years they had sold out and began making music videos and crappy soft rock.

  • dbwindhorst

    I’ve never been sure exactly where to stand on this issue.

    Nike’s “Revolution” seems like sacrilege. But John Lydon said that doing one TV advert for butter funded a whole PiL album.

    And how many kids do you suppose had never even heard of Miles Davis before this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZrbtKUZFqQ