Hot on the heels of the licensing of Bob Dylan‘s protest anthem “The Times They Are A-Changin” – for use in a television commercial, another Dylan-owned music-publishing company has struck a similar deal with Diet Coke for use of the once-underground classic “The Weight,” by the Band.
The song is one of seven used in a series of new ads for the soft drink. Others in the campaign include recordings by Mama Cass Elliot, Bobby Darin and Etta James, but the use of a track by the Band – whose work on their own and with Dylan has been among the most commercially unfettered – is a shock. Written by Robbie Robertson, “The Weight” is published by Dwarf Music, a company owned by Bob Dylan that also holds the copyrights to many of Dylan’s best-known songs. While there seems to be no problem finding people to take the money – believed to be between $500,000 and $750,000 in fees – finding someone to own up to the deal is a little more difficult. A source at Dwarf portrays Robertson’s management as happy to make the deal, while Robertson’s camp portrays the songwriter as an unenthusiastic participant.
“It’s there, and it’s not like Robbie is overjoyed,” says Jared Levine, a spokesperson for Robertson’s management. Levine admits that Dwarf “probably wouldn’t have done it if we had a violent reaction,” but he plays altruistic. “The other guys in the Band approved it, and as far as Robbie is concerned, he doesn’t want to stand in the way of them making money.” The lion’s share of the money, however, is likely going to Robertson and Dwarf; the other members of the Band are entitled to money from sync rights – the use of the group’s original recording – which is generally worth a lot less than the publishing rights.
The licensing of “The Weight” comes just weeks after the use of “The Times They Are A-Changin'” in a commercial for Coopers & Lybrand, the large accounting firm whose clients include such institutions as Ford, AT&T and the Bank of Boston. Although Coopers & Lybrand was not allowed to use Dylan’s original recording (a cover sung by Richie Havens and produced by David Was accompanies the ad) or to even mention his name, the company welcomed the association with the kind of glee normally reserved for a huge tax write-off. “The real coup is getting the author of change affiliated with our company,” Coopers & Lybrand marketing director Brian Carty crowed to Steve Morse of the Boston Globe. “When the song was written, it was about social justice and the change of institutions. It’s still an important song, but it’s about different things today.”
This story is from the April 21st, 1994 issue of Rolling Stone.