Thursday, January 24, 2013

FEATURE: LoEB ''Spacemen''

Another week, another one-word assignment for the League of Extraordinary Bloggers!

As you may have noticed, the last couple of League assignments have been pretty open-ended and that trend continues with this week's assignment:


I always wanted to be an astronaut (but a cool one who got to shoot lasers and kiss green women, not the kind who wore one of those geeky caps and did Maths and stuff in space) so it's a subject that's very close to my heart. However, when it came to the assignment I decided I wanted to eschew tales of my childhood fantasies. Ditto on any kind of spaceman-themed toys or even - for once - a discussion of Doctor Who.

Instead, I'm going to talk about Levi's jeans.

Back in the 80s, Levi's revolutionized advertising with their 501 campaign. Focusing on the vintage cut and styling of the jeans (button flies? What is it? 1890?) and featuring awesome retro soundtracks (which proceeded to then dominate the record sales charts and reignite the mainstream's interest in classic soul and Motown) the ads not only helped make Levi's THE brand to wear but also showed that commercials didn't have to be some crazy lady dancing with her vacuum or an old dude talking about frozen peas and could, instead, be hip.

Behold, the death of the brief.

Shown both on TV and at the cinema (where the theater sound systems really did justice to the music) the ad campaign featured a number of different commercials, which ran throughout the 80s and gained so much popularity that they launched acting careers, made boxer shorts de rigueur and even became a mainstay of pop culture parody.

Fast-forward to the 90s and Levi's was still at the cutting-edge of brand presentation. But the old, retro campaign was sooo 80s and something new was needed for the shiny, futuristic pre-millennial decade that would excite the rave generation and make them see that jeans were still relevant. The result was an ad that exploded into the homes of unsuspecting viewers, that managed to pay homage to the brand's history (courtesy of some funky retro-futuristic design The Jetsons would be proud of) yet also dragged jeans into the 90s with it's shiny visuals, electronic tonal drops and weird, warbling - and very dance-able - soundtrack.

To 'The Kidz'' this ad spoke to them by using ''their'' music. This wasn't an old timey, soulful number. This was a kick-ass, electronic, sounds-weird-to-your-parents-because-they're-too-old-to-get-it slice of E-enhanced, break-beat driven rhythm, served fresh and choice by the coolest of underground rave DJs. Sure,  it may seem somewhat tame by today's standards but for those of us who saw it when it first aired - and frankly, it was impossible not to see it, given how it grabbed your attention - this ad truly was revolutionary.

Needless to say, when the ad's featured track - ''Spaceman'' by Babylon Zoo - hit the shelves, sales went through the roof, with the song hitting the number one spot in the UK charts and - at the time - being the fastest-selling single from a debut artist. But those luved-up kids expecting to rave away the night with the song on repeat where in for a shock when they actually got it home.

You see, the ad agency had been a little cheeky, using the Arthur Baker remix section of the song alone, meaning that after about the first 30 seconds the song settles into its actual form, a turgid, Space Oddity era Bowie-wannabe laden with Upper Sixth-level lyrics (that rhyme ''fascist votes'' and ''phobic jokes'') and overly-distorted guitars (turned up to 11 by the sound of it), made all the worse by the heavy-handed way in which the funked-up remix sections are cut-and-pasted into the songs intro and outro.

Whilst the impact of the ad continues to resonate to this day, Babylon Zoo broke up in 2000 - although not before frontman Jas Mann unwittingly provided us with one more bit of televisual gold.


So what of my fellow League Members?

Rich at Fortune and Glory (Days) wants to phone home
Memories of Tomorrow was made for loving you, baby
The Man Who Stares at Toys features every spaceman, ever, it seems

See more - or better yet, join in! - at Cool and Collected


  1. I remember watching them mime along to this on TOTP; the jewel on Jas Mann's forehead fell off and I seemed to be the only person at school who noticed...

    1. I don't recall the jewel incident but I do seem to have memories of some VER-EY OB-VI-OUS MIME-ING from Mr Mann.

  2. I like to wear a geeky cap, and make Math and stuff on space.
    Kiss me!!
    :D :D

    1. If you're not shooting pew pew lasers then you're wasting being a spaceman!


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