Why Corporate America Banned A Neil Young Video
Neil Young in a 2014 interview - q on cbc / Youtube
In 1988, Neil Young found himself at the center of controversy when MTV banned his music video for “This Note’s for You,” a satirical commentary on the influence of big money on rock ‘n’ roll during the ’80s. The ban, prompted by concerns about potential copyright infringement lawsuits related to representations of Michael Jackson and Bud Light’s Spuds McKenzie, shed light on the clash between artistic expression and corporate interests.
Known for his candid views
Neil Young shared his perspective in a 1988 interview with BAM Magazine:
“I’m just talkin’ about how I feel and how The Bluenotes are. And that is, we’re playing for the people. We’re not playing for corporate sponsorship. If we have a huge hit, the next time you see us we’re not going to be selling beer, you know? We’re just playing for the people that want to listen to us, singing about things that are real to us, not for products.”
The music video, directed by Julien Temple, cleverly mocked the prevalent corporate sponsorship in rock and roll. It featured celebrity look-alikes engaging in satirical acts, targeting commercial endorsements by artists like Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson, and others. The video included a parody of a perfume ad with the tagline “Neil Young’s Concession for men” and concluded with Young holding a beer can labeled “SPONSORED BY NOBODY.”
Despite gaining extensive play in Canada and becoming a Top 20 mainstream rock radio track in the U.S., the video faced an initial ban from MTV. The network cited concerns about potential legal issues and its policy against promoting products in music videos. Michael Jackson’s legal threats, combined with the fear of offending sponsors, influenced MTV’s decision.
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Responding to the ban
Neil Young penned a scathing letter to MTV executives:
“MTV, you spineless twerps. You refuse to play “This Note’s for You” because you’re afraid to offend your sponsors. What does the “M” in MTV stand for: music or money? Long live rock and roll. Neil Young”
Despite MTV’s resistance, the ban was eventually overturned after Neil Young discussed the matter with VJ Kurt Loder during a special broadcast on August 21, 1988. The controversy took a turn in Young’s favor when “This Note’s for You” won the Video of the Year Award at the MTV Music Video Awards in September.
Looking back on this incident, it becomes evident that the struggle between artistic integrity and corporate influence in the music industry continues. The prevalence of corporate sponsorships, product placements, and commercial licensing remains a significant aspect of the modern music landscape. Neil Young’s prophetic critique of corporatization serves as a reminder of the ongoing tension between artistic expression and commercial interests in the music world.