David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 81: Rickie Lee Jones (The Last Chance Texaco)

July 16, 2020

I wonder how ad executives, or maybe even more importantly, how CEO's feel about the free product placement some artists provide through their songs. How did the Eastman family feel when they first heard Paul Simon had recorded "Kodachrome?" Did they listen close enough to hear that the song claims Kodachrome (or Nikon) gives us delusions: "makes you think all the world's a sunny day." Did Chevy execs high five each other when Sammy Johns used the "Chevy Van" as the epitome of a quick hook up with the narrator leaving the hitchhiker bare-foot walking down a dirt road in a tiny town in nowhere? (Odds are they did.) Did Unilever curse or crow that Stone Temple Pilots mis-spelled vaseline with "going blind out of reach/somewhere in the vasoline?"

Multiple oil companies must have had their phones ringing off the hook when Rickie Lee Jones' debut album was released.  The man who wore the top star at Texaco must have run out to buy a new yacht when he saw his company was in the title of "The Last Chance Texaco," even though Standard, Shell and Mobil get name-checked within the song.  Did Texaco ad executives call their Standard counterparts taunting them with "I'd expect more from Standard," then calling Mobil to thank them for adding more life to their cars through Jones' song?

As with Chevy, did any of them realize that their brands were being used as metaphors for desperate hooking up? Jones channels her best Bruce Springsteen and best Bob Seger in capturing the car hook-up culture that existed, at least mythologically, in this country from the 50's into the 80's (and maybe beyond; at that point, I got old and no longer wondered what bikini-wearing woman might be waiting around the next bend).

Jones' song is a thing of understated beauty: simple strummed guitar, atmospheric keyboard line, and occasional drumming.  The song relies almost entirely upon Jones' voice, and the lyrical narrative of a broken down woman and the truck driver, the last chance Texaco man, she hopes to briefly escape her pain with.  His potential passions "rumble in the taxi" like a "volcano," with his Camel cigarettes (more product placement) glowing from his cab. Meanwhile, her broken heart and spirit capture a rusty heap long past drive-able: "block-busted," "out of gas," "battery dead," "plug disconnected."

Her desperation is impossible for him to ignore; with all her "free parts and labor," "she can't idle this long," so "turn her over and go pullin' out of the last chance Texaco." It's pretty brazen lyrics for a female singer, even for 1979.  Jones' vocals make it all work, making sure the narrative never sounds cheap or pathetic.

It starts with the chorus, when her voice increases in volume, building to her verbal roll of "Texxxaco" and the subsequent wail of "it's your last chance." Later the emotion tied to "she just needs a man" leads to the a monster drum fill, about the only musical flourish in the song.  As she winds down the second and final chorus, again drawing out the "texxaaco," she completes the song with vocal stylistics that sound like cars flying down the highway, either those of drivers unaware of what's happening at the dark, lonely truck stop off the road, or more likely the Texaco Man pulling away, leaving our broken narrator huddled in her car.

Like I implied at the beginning of this blog, did anyone at Texaco ever figure out an angle on how to leverage this song for more branding?  You'd have to be a pretty cold son-of-a-bitch.  Luckily oil companies and CEOs or ad executives, in general, are never that! They would surely never take advantage of a "slow, easy mark."

"The Last Chance Texaco." Rickie Lee Jones. Rickie Lee Jones. Warner Brothers. 1979. Link here.

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