Songs That Were Banned: Neil Young – This Note’s For You

This video was banned by MTV because they feared it would upset their sponsors. So, being Neil being Neil…wrote a letter to MTV that stated:

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.

This parody of commercial rock was banned by MTV for its critique of the music industry’s cozy relationship with corporate America. The song and video mocked advertisements and did not shy away from dropping company names– the title itself is a jab at Budweiser’s ad campaign of “This Bud’s For You.” The song also made fun of pop artists such as Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. Jackson’s legal threats prompted MTV to ban the video. They changed their minds when the song became a hit on Canada’s MuchMusic channel…the same as the BBC did with My Generation when it became a hit.

He has stuck to his policy of refusing to license his music out for commercials, let alone appear in them himself.

Now the music business…if there is still a music business…promotes their music being in commercials to expand their audience.


From Songfacts

This song is Neil Young’s critique of artists who “sell out” and allow their songs to be used in commercials, something he has never done. The title is a play on Budweiser’s venerable ad campaign, “This Bud’s For You.” In addition to Bud, Young mentions Coke, Pepsi, and Miller in the lyric.

Artists like Young and Bruce Springsteen have never let their songs be used in commercials, feeling it cheapens their artistic integrity. Many other artists, like The Who and The Rolling Stones, have made lots of money by letting companies use their songs. Some classic rock artists like John Mellencamp resisted for years, but allowed their songs to be used for commercial purposes when they realized it was the best way to get them exposure. A band with a particularly interesting take on the subject is Devo, who feel it is part of their art.

The line, “I got the real thing, baby,” is a reference to the Coke slogan, “It’s the Real Thing,” which was introduced in 1969.

The line, “Ain’t singin’ for Spuds” refers to Spuds MacKenzie, the spokesdog for Bud Light. Introduced in 1987, Spuds was a bull terrier who appeared in their ad campaigns until 1989. Billed as “the original party animal,” Spuds became wildly popular and boosted sales of Bud Light significantly.

Directed by Julien Temple, the video is a parody of various ad campaigns. The opening noir is a sendup of the Michelob campaign that starred “practicing alcoholic” Eric Clapton. Michael Jackson, who was ripe for parody at the time, shows up in impersonator form for the line “ain’t singing for Pepsi” – later in the video his hair catches fire as it did when Jackson was shooting a commercial for the sugary beverage in 1984. Whitney Houston, who shilled for Diet Coke, gets a lookalike for the line “ain’t singing for Coke.”

Next up for mockery are the Calvin Klein “Obsession” commercials, one of the most memorable and baffling campaign’s of the ’80s. There were no rock stars associated with this one, but The Rolling Stones did have a tour sponsored by Jovan. Young’s video turns it into “Concession,” with a dialogue break in the style of the ads:

“Members of the jury, this man is on trial for his smell.”
“Forgive me, but I am prettier than all of you.”
“Liar, give me back my shoes.”

A faux-Spuds MacKenzie also shows up to mock Budweiser.

At the end of the clip, Young turns his beer around to reveal his own slogan: “Sponsored by Nobody.”

There was lots of raunchy debauchery on MTV around this time, but they had a strict policy against product placement, refusing to air videos where products were mentioned by name. This was designed to protect their advertisers and make their commercials more valuable (why would Pepsi buy airtime when they could put a can in a Duran Duran video?). Citing this policy, MTV banned the video, which generated a great deal of controversy and also proved Young’s point about corporate interests infiltrating music. The ban happened in early July 1988; Young sent an open letter to MTV stating:

Forced to admit they were refusing to air an excellent video to protect their sponsors, MTV went into damage control mode and agreed to air the video. They made it into an event, debuting the video on August 21 as part of a 30-minute special about the controversy. Then they awarded it Video of the Year at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards. Young showed up to accept it.

Young discussed his reasons for accepting the award despite it being originally banned in an interview with Village Voice Rock and Roll Quarterly: “I dunno – must be the Perry Como in me. I could do the hard-line Marlon Brando thing, not accept the award, give it to the Indians. But that’s almost the predictable thing to do. You can’t get money to make videos if MTV won’t play them. In accepting the award I thought I’d be able to make more videos and get ’em played.”

MTV at the time was about as permissive as the cable landscape got – at least in terms of bawdy behavior. That’s why it was surprising anytime they deemed something not suitable for air. In 1992, Paul McCartney recorded a concert for MTV for their Up Close series, but the network edited out his song “Big Boys Bickering,” which was about politics and the environment. MTV claimed that the song was excised because of curse words in the lyrics, although it would have been easy enough to bleep them.

This wasn’t the first single from the album: “Ten Men Workin'” was. That song made inroads on rock radio and reached #6 on Billboard’s Album Rock Tracks chart in May 1988. “This Note’s For You,” predictably, had a harder time getting airplay because of the product mentions. It garnered the most attention during the video controversy, but still only reached #19 on that chart as radio stations continued to shy away from it.

This is the title track to the only album Young recorded with The Bluenotes as his backup band, members of which included Chad Cromwell on drums and Frank Sampedro on keyboards and a six-piece horn section. Befitting their name, This Note’s For You is a blues album.

This was released as a single with the A-side a live version recorded at The Palace in Los Angeles on April 14, 1988 and the B-side a studio cut from the album.

This Note’s For You

Don’t want no cash
Don’t need no money
Ain’t got no stash
This note’s for you.

Ain’t singin’ for Pepsi
Ain’t singin’ for Coke
I don’t sing for nobody
Makes me look like a joke
This note’s for you.

Ain’t singin’ for Miller
Don’t sing for Bud
I won’t sing for politicians
Ain’t singin’ for Spuds
This note’s for you.

Don’t need no cash
Don’t want no money
Ain’t got no stash
This note’s for you.

I’ve got the real thing
I got the real thing, baby
I got the real thing
Yeah, alright.

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

12 thoughts on “Songs That Were Banned: Neil Young – This Note’s For You”

  1. Awesome post Max! I love Neil Young. He has integrity AND he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Rare combo. This video is iconic. One of the best ever. I think both sides of this issue can be obnoxious. My punk and 50s rock sensibilities cause me to rail against the whole rock is sacred art argument. Rock is supposed to be fun, youthful and rebellious, in my book. It only makes sense that it would be used as a marketing tool to its audience. But with Neil Young, he rails against the corporate takeover of America and he refuses to allow his music to be part of that takeover. I can understand that and applaud its rebellious spirit.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Pam…I also understood 50s artists lending their music out because they didn’t paid the first time around hardly at all. The business is changed so much that now it is almost required for new bands if they are lucky to get a song licensed.
      I do admire Neil greatly for this…it’s also very funny.
      It’s funny because it won “Video of the Year” award on MTV in the end.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Never heard or saw the video until now and I was cracking up at the parodies. I’m surprised he didn’t pull Al Yankovich into it. The banning then later airing and giving it an award are surreal, like an alternate universe or something. I hate it when great songs get used to sell anything. The only time I think it’s acceptable to use them is as part of a movie soundtrack (that isn’t selling anything.) Wonderful post, Max!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I like Neil Young. He is one of those rare peformers who writes across a wide area of subjects. One minute a love song, another a piece of social commentary but don’t expect the usual conclusions. He is his own man and says what he thinks.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved this song & video when it came out. Neil was in an extra contrarian mood throughout the 80s.
    RE: your series, My favorite banned song is Rumble by Link Wray. An instrumental tune so subversive it must not be safe for the virgin ears of America’s teenagers. Perfect!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I never knew that about Link Wray’s song. I mean… what? Thanks man… I would have never guessed an instrumental would be banned. I guess the distortion was too much.

      I get that one mixed up with Raunchy sometimes by Duane Eddy… why I don’t know.

      Liked by 1 person

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