The best songs in TV advert history

These timeless tracks have helped certain ads stick long in the memory and, in some cases, kick-started the careers of their musical creators

In Partnership With Amex Gold Unsigned

TV adverts have come a long way in recent years, particularly when it comes to their use of music. Gone are the days when a humble commercial “jingle” might suffice: these days, quality music is king. That’s why the likes of Paul McCartney, Billie Eilish, Coldplay, Beyoncé, Blur, Oasis, Madonna, Pixies (with help from Phoebe Bridgers), Tame Impala and countless others have all had their music featured in TV ads – and we bet you’re now thinking of a host of other big-names we’ve yet to mention.

The huge reach of TV adverts also presents a tantalising opportunity for any budding new artist whose music is selected for the next big commercial. That’s precisely the prize being offered through the new American Express Gold Unsigned initiative, which will give one unsigned UK artist the chance to soundtrack and feature in a major American Express Gold Rewards advertising campaign.


You can find out more about Amex Gold Unsigned, including the many additional benefits that come with being the winning act (including a £10,000 sync fee and live performance opportunities), by heading here. To get you in the mood, we’ve assembled a mighty list of memorable TV adverts from the past 30 years which were elevated to greater heights by their simply spot-on choice of music.

Julian Casablancas, Pharrell and Santigold x Converse – ‘My Drive Thru’ (2008)

An almighty collaboration in its own right, the still-ace ‘My Drive Thru’ saw Converse bring together the Strokes frontman, N*E*R*D’s Mr. Versatile and the effervescent Santigold to celebrate the iconic shoe company’s centennial in 2008. “I’ve always wanted to work with Julian and I’m a big fan of The Strokes,” Pharrell said at the time of its release. “Santigold is super-talented and she cares about music so much that it’s not just about sound, it’s a visual aesthetic. Working together on original music that crossed all of our inspirations was completely refreshing and I love the track.” We still do, Pharrell.

Mr. Oizo x Levi’s – ‘Flat Beat’ (1999)

You saw this one coming, didn’t you? The little-known French electronic musician Mr. Oizo shot to fame just before the new Millennium thanks to a) an offbeat but highly effective Levi’s ad campaign and b) his yellow puppet, Flat Eric. Built by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop – yes, of Muppets fame – the perpetually head-bopping Eric propelled both ‘Flat Beat’ and his creator to the top of the charts in the UK and a number of European countries.

Elvis vs JXL x Nike – ‘A Little Less Conversation [Remix]’ (2002)


Dutch producer Tom Holkenborg – AKA Junkie XL, or JXL – served up a gem when he remixed The King’s 1968 single back in 2002. JXL’s irrepressibly funky reworking of the original later featured in Nike’s impossibly cool Secret Tournament advert for that summer’s World Cup, which featured Eric Cantona as the host of a cage football match featuring such superstars as Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Thierry Henry. Naturally, the remix earned JXL the Number One spot in the UK and beyond.

Jet x Apple iPod – ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’ (2003)

Apple called on a host of musicians to help advertise their iPods over the years, including U2, Daft Punk, Feist, Gorillaz and The Ting Tings. But we’ve decided to highlight Aussie band Jet’s original 2003 spot – part of a series of ads featuring silhouetted music lovers busting a move to the sounds of their iPod – just for its nostalgia-inducing opening riff alone. The track helped launch the band’s debut LP ‘Get Born’, which went on to sell over 1.7 million copies in the US alone.

José González x Sony BRAVIA – ‘Hearbeats’ (2005)

Let’s take things down a notch with José González’s glorious cover of The Knife, shall we? After featuring on the Argentine-Swedish guitarist’s 2003 debut ‘Veneer’, González’s tender cover of ‘Heartbeats’ was picked up by Sony for their BRAVIA campaign in 2005 – you know, that spectacular advert featuring the 250,000 colourful bouncing balls in San Francisco – and it deservedly went global.

Phil Collins x Cadbury’s – ‘In The Air Tonight’ (2007)

Trust Phil Collins to bring our list crashing back to life after that brief-yet-wonderful acoustic interlude. The Genesis musician’s gigantic drum fill in 1981’s ‘In The Air Tonight’ served as the pay-off for Cadbury’s weird-yet-wonderful Gorilla advertising campaign in 2007 to promote, er, Dairy Milk. The surreal star of the show? A drumming gorilla, of course! Cadbury’s Dairy Milk sales experienced a 10 per cent bump as a result of the viral advert, which, of course, had Collins and his drumming prowess largely to thank.

Babylon Zoo x Levi’s – ‘Spaceman’ (1995)

Our second Levi’s entry in this list rivals the aforementioned Cadbury’s advert in terms of its surreal factor. It may be fair to say that the special effects on offer here aren’t quite up to today’s hyper-realistic standards, but Wolverhampton’s Babylon Zoo won’t care. They’re forever indebted to Levi’s for featuring their breakout and extremely-90s debut single ‘Spaceman’ in this out-of-this-world advert in 1995, and the song went on to sell over a million copies.

Leftfield x Guinness – ‘Phat Planet’ (1999)

The opening bassline of ‘Phat Planet’ just conjures dramatic black-and-white images of surfers riding the waves in Hawaii, doesn’t it? Regularly voted as the greatest TV advert of all time, Guinness’ 1999 ‘Surfers’ commercial remains a classy and visually striking work of advertising art. Those leaping white horses are of course soundtracked by the domineering sounds of the London electronic group Leftfield, whose music adds further gravitas to this fantastic spectacle. “Tick, follow tock, follow tick, follow tock…

The Dandy Warhols x Vodafone – ‘Bohemian Like You’ (2001)

And to play us out, it’s The Dandy Warhols! Back in 2001, when mobile phones were very much becoming the thing to own, Vodafone selected the Portland, Oregon band’s single – which failed to make much of an impression upon its initial release in 2000 – for an advert and gave the Warhols a new lease of life, catapulting the band to number five in the UK charts.

“As far as I’m concerned, Vodafone saved rock’n’roll,” drummer Brent DeBoer boldly reflected to The Independent in 2005. “The most guitar-oriented music on British TV at that time was Robbie Williams. When our record came out, they refused to play it. But then the ad came out, for whatever reason, it cut through the noise of TV and people were like, ‘What the hell’s this?’ They actually turned up the commercial rather than turning it off. They started calling radio stations, and soon rock was back in people’s lives.”

You can find out more about the American Express Gold Unsigned initiative, including details on how to submit your music, by heading here.

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