The 80s and 90s had a flurry of TV adverts that used classic old songs. Often well known songs, but ones that hadn’t been released for years or decades. The adverts often gave them a new lease of life. In several instances below, the songs were re-released as a result of being shown in the advert, and made it back into the charts. I own a few of the releases on vinyl single. Levi’s were undoubtedly the best brand at doing this. Their adverts, by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, are absolute classics, and they have five appearing in this top ten list. But they weren’t the only brand making great ads, and I’ve made my list below. I’m sure I’m missing some though so please do let me know in the comments if you can think of any more.

In terms of my ranking I’m not just basing it on the song, nor just the quality of the advert, but a combination of how well the song works with the advert.

Firstly some entrants that didn’t quite make the cut.

Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World – Heineken

Janis Joplin – Take another little piece of my heart – Levi’s

Percy Sledge – When a Man Loves a Woman – Levi’s

And here are two which don’t quite qualify but that I thought of when I was researching this list.

Jackie Wilson – Reet Petite – Arena
This one wasn’t used in an advert but it was a classic clay animation made for the TV show Arena and it resulted in the record being re-released and becoming No.1 in the UK for four weeks. I remember buying it as a vinyl single, or perhaps 12″.

Leon Redbone – So, Relax – Intercity
I really hoped I could add this advert to the top ten list, because I had always loved it and assumed that the song was an old, lesser known one. But apparently the song was written around the same year the advert came out, so it doesn’t qualify for this list. I just had to include it somewhere though, as it is such a nostalgic one for me.

And now for the actual Top Ten.

10.  Bill Withers – Lovely Day – Ford Escort
Not the greatest advert, and the song actually only appears for a few seconds at the end, but it works so well and it spawned a (remixed) re-release of the single and Bill Withers himself appeared on Top of the Pops. Great to see him get a second lease of life out of the song (see below). And it had every schoolboy in the country nearly hyperventilating, trying to recreate that long note at the end. I still have the vinyl single of the ‘Sunshine Mix’.

9. Nina Simone – My Baby Just Cares For Me – Chanel No.5
This song is great. The advert isn’t hugely memorable but the song is. It introduced a whole generation of young children to this amazing song that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise heard. And then, off the back of the advert, they re-released the song as a single and produced an amazing claymation music video for it too (see below). I used to love this video, and the song, and I learnt how to play it on the piano too.

8.  Steve Miller Band – The Joker – Levi’s
Perhaps this song isn’t as old as some other songs on the list but I still don’t think it was a song that many people knew. This advert totally made it a massive hit that got re-released. Great advert.

7.  The Clash – Should I Stay Or Should I Go – Levi’s
Again it’s not a really old song like some of the soul classics, but it did make this Clash classic became a mainstream hit again. And the advert itself is fantastic.

6.  Louis Armstrong – We Have All the Time in the World – Guinness
This is just a beautiful advert. It’s obviously an amazing song, which was used in the Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but the way the graphics compliment the mood is breathtaking. I always loved the little cameo by Rutger Hauer.

5.  Sam Cooke – Wonderful World – Levi’s
This is an interesting one. The song Wonderful World by Sam Cooke was already very well known (possibly helped by the classic John Belushi cafeteria scene in Animal House). But this version really doesn’t sound like Sam Cooke to me. Everything I’ve found online says that it is Sam Cooke but I’m really not convinced. I wonder why they wouldn’t use his version. Anyway, the advert itself is a typical Levi’s jeans advert. Very cool and showcasing a feature of the jeans, in this case the shrink fit. That image of the guy in the bath wearing his jeans is pretty iconic.

4.  The Mamas and Papas – Dream a Little Dream of Me – C&A
This one holds such nostalgia for me. I love The Mamas and Papas’ music and it was this advert that introduced me to it. The visuals go so well with the mood of the music. Just very well produced all round.

3. The Commodores – Easy like a Sunday Morning – Halifax
Another iconic advert that I have imprinted on my brain. I remember everyone saying at the time how cool this advert was and how amazing the guy’s warehouse loft apartment was. And although the song was already a big song, this advert really made everyone of all ages get to know it well. And it made the expression “easy like a Sunday morning” become part of UK parlance.

2.  Muddy Waters – Hoochie Coochie Man – Levi’s
I’m a sucker for anything by Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf etc. And this advert introduced Muddy Waters to many people who would never had heard his work before. Such an amazing song and used so well in this advert. Classy, cool and ballsy.
1. Marvin Gaye – Heard it Through the Grapevine – Levi’s
Well, it couldn’t really have been anything else could it? A classic in so many ways. It was kind of shocking in its day, to have a guy stripping off in a laundrette. And it introduced the world (and Madonna) to Nick Kamen. This advert came fourth in the ‘100 Greatest TV Ads’ in 2000 and is a worthy winner of this list.

Let me know in the comments of any others you would have included in your list.