Bill Gates silhouetted against the “start” button during a video portion of the Windows 95 launch at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington, August 1995. AP photo.
In the annals of advertising history, one of the great coups in the use of rock ‘n roll music to help sell things came in the summer of 1995 when Bill Gates of the Microsoft Corporation used the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” song to help launch his company’s Windows 95 computer software. As the story goes, it was Gates’ idea to use the song, as the tune dovetailed nicely with the prominent “start button” feature that appeared on the Windows computer screen. Initially it was rumored that Gates paid something in the neigh- borhood of $10-to-$14 million to the Stones to use their song. The actual figure may have been lower than that. But as the story goes, Gates reportedly asked Jagger personally how much it would cost to use the song. Jagger, being the naughty boy he is, threw out what he thought would be a very high number, something in the millions; a number that would surely dissuade Gates in his quest. But Jagger’s ploy didn’t phase Gates – at least according to legend. Whatever amount Jagger had suggested, Gates agreed to it on the spot. Still, there came some longer negotiations regarding the details on rights and usage. But the deal did get made.
Once the song was wedded to the Microsoft campaign and its TV spot, most who heard and/or saw it agreed it was a most effective piece of commercial persua- sion. “The power-guitar chords are unmistakably familiar, imprinted on us through decades of party time,” wrote Newsweek’s Stephen Levy describing the opening bars of “Start Me Up” in his September 1995 piece on the Windows launch. He called the tune’s use by Microsoft an attempt to “anthemize” the Windows 95 operating system. “The purchase of that classic hook,” he wrote, “symbolizes the brilliant way that Microsoft marketing wizards have managed to transmogrify a technological molehill into the Mount McKinley of software…”
In the TV spot itself, as seen above, a series of quick-cut screen shots are shown with children and adults working with computers in various settings as descriptive word titles for those uses flash across the screen in sync with the Stones’ music and the ad’s “start” theme – Start Exploring, Start Discovering, Start Learning, Start Doing, Start Organizing, Start Connecting, Start Managing, Start Creating, Start Playing, Start Moving, and finally, Start Windows 95. As the ad closes with the music still playing, the final screen shot has the Microsoft Windows 95 logo and then the last phrase, “Where do you want to go today?” But the Stones’ music is definitely effective in carrying the message and setting an upbeat tone.
‘Start Me Up’ began as a reggae tune in earlier years, but was turned into a more hard-driving rock sound for use in this ‘Tatto You’ album by 1981.
“Start Me Up” actually began its musical journey with the Stones back in the 1970s. It was one of the songs used in recording sessions in Munich, Germany during 1975 for the album Black and Blue. Initially the song was recorded as a reggae-rock track, but after dozens of takes the band stopped recording it, as it reminded them of something on the radio. The song also cropped up from time to time in other Stones recording sessions in the late 1970s, and at some point it had bee given working titles such as “Never Stop” and “Start It Up.” But it had never been formally recorded or released. By 1981, heading out to tour and surveying their old taped archive, a version of the song was found that had more of a rock sound to it they liked and soon began re-working it. This version, with overdubbing, was tracked in early 1981, mixing in some unique reverb, with final touches added in a New York recording session, including Jagger’s switch in lyrics from “start it up” to “start me up.” The lyrics in the final version allude partly to motorcycle metaphors and the rider’s love interest, with hidden and not-so-hidden meanings and sexually-loaded double-entendre throughout. A few of the lines in the final tune are similar to some used by a Keith Richards- favored blues singer named Lucille Bogan.
‘Start Me Up’ cover sleeve for Rolling Stones single released in August 1981.
One recent reviewer of the song at the James BioMagazine notes that while much of the music world was hurting following the death of John Lennon in 1980, and writing maudlin tributes, the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” came as “a reaffirmation of rock music’s vitality,” showing that the Stones at least “were still keeping the torch alive, as lascivious and as powerful as ever.” This reviewer also added that much of the music genre the Stones had made their own – from blues to the urban music of the 70′s and 80′s – was built upon sexual longing. “Maybe that’s why the Stones were better than any other rock band at assimilating those styles;” he wrote, “they understood this reality and, rather than running from it or prettifying it, they reveled in it, pure and unadulterated. ‘Start Me Up’ is the epitome of that…”
In any case, “Start Me Up” in 1981 became a Rolling Stones pop hit and also the lead track on their August 1981 album, Tattoo You. The song was also released as a single. In the U.K., it peaked at No. 7. In the U.S., “Start Me Up” spent three weeks during October and November 1981 at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and in Australia, it went to No. 1. “Start Me Up” thereafter became a popular song for opening the Stones’ live shows, and it has been featured on their live albums as well as most Stone’s compilation albums since its release, and other albums including Rewind (1971-1984), Jump Back, and Forty Licks.
Nearly 15 year after the song’s initial popularity, Bill Gates hit upon the idea of using “Start Me Up” for the Windows 95 launch. Gates happened to meet Mick Jagger at some point and asked him how much it would cost to use the song in advertising. Reportedly, Jagger replied with some amount in the millions — $10 million by one account — a sum, in any case, that Jagger thought would be outrageously high.Microsoft’s “Start Me Up” campaign was aimed at key groups of Rolling Stones followers — from baby boomers to twenty- somethings… But Gates, undeterred, didn’t flinch and agreed to the amount. Still, there were some months of negotiating between Microsoft and the Stones to nail down the song’s use, including talks with the Stone’s agent and financial advisor, Prince Rupert, as well as some direct talks with the Stones in Amsterdam. This was the first time that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the group’s songwriters, had sold a song’s use for advertising. Jagger and Richards hold the rights to Rolling Stones’ songs they have written since 1972. However, some of their earlier songs, which they did not hold the rights to, had been used in previous advertising, including one use of the song “Satisfaction” in a Snickers candy bar ad by Mars, Inc. Jagger and Richards were not happy about that incident, but those rights were held by a former manager. Jagger and Richards had generally not been keen on using their material in advertising, but with Gates and Microsoft, they made a deal.
The Microsoft 'Windows 95' logo.
“Start Me Up” became a key part of the Microsoft product launch, as the consumers the company especially wanted were in that large, tech-savvy and mostly well-off demographic that ranged from baby boomers to twentysomethings — also a key group of Rolling Stones devotees. The commercials with the “Start Me Up” music first aired in August 1995 during NBC’s popular Seinfeld TV show, and continued broadcasting thereafter for a time on other shows as well. The Stones’ music got the attention of Microsoft’s target demographic and beyond, leaving no doubt for some a lasting association between the song and Microsoft’s product. (In fact, a few critics would later refer pejoratively to one of the song’s lines – not used in the ad, however – “you make a grown man cry,” referring to subsequent Windows 95 problems). But the Stone’s song, as important as it was in the Windows 95 launch, was still only part of Microsoft’s much larger $300 million advertising and promotion campaign.
Jay Leno, Too
Microsoft’s Bill Gates on stage with Jay Leno at the Windows 95 launch event in Redmond, WA.
In the U.S., the promotional kick-off for Windows 95 was centered in Redmond, Washington and included popular late-night talk show host Jay Leno, who served as a kind of MC for the ceremonies in a big pavilion event and unveiling on the Microsoft campus. Over 12,500 people were invited to attend the launch, plus live satellite broadcasts were made available in 42 U.S. cities and world capitals. The Rolling Stones tune accompanied Bill Gates on stage as he booted up the new program at the ceremony. It was broadcast live via satellite to other launch events and retail outlets nationwide. Gates’ best line during the show, digging at Jay Leno, was: “Windows 95 is so easy even a talk-show host can figure it out.” The event in Redmond, however, was no casual affair. It took more than 20 days and a crew of over 200 to set it up. It was later described as a cross between a high-tech expo and a carnival, including its own “midway” with various pavilions where attendees could try out the new Windows 95 software and related products. As for the product itself, there were more than 11 million lines of code involved and some 500 people at Microsoft who worked on it, all introduced en masse at one point during the ceremony. But the media blitz for Windows 95 went well beyond the Redmond event, and in fact, all around the world.
USA Today ran a front-page story on the big ‘Windows 95' show that Bill Gates put on in Redmond, WA.
A 30-minute promotional TV video, or “cyber sitcom” as it was called – featured then-popular Friends sitcom TV stars Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry using and highlighting the Windows 95 software. Another Windows 95 “infomercial” with popular ER TV star, Anthony Edwards, also appeared. Print ads and in-store events were also part of the campaign. In London, Microsoft struck a deal with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, owner of The Times of London newspaper, printing 1.5 million copies of a special edition and giving them all way – twice the paper’s normal run of 845,000. Credit for the giveaway was given to Microsoft at the top of the front page in a box that read: “Windows 95 Launch — Today The Times is Free Courtesy of Microsoft.” Also across the bottom of the front page was another Microsoft pitch for its new software: “Windows 95. So Good Even The Times Is Complimentary.” Inside the paper, a Microsoft supplement continued the pitch with articles about the new software, as well as advertising from Microsoft and other computer hardware and software companies and retailers.
In New York, Microsoft’s logo colors – orange, yellow and green – were used for a special lighting of the Empire State Building. In Toronto, a 300-foot Windows 95 banner hung from the CN Tower. New York Times reporter Richard Stevenson wrote that the series of Microsoft promotions were “more reminiscent of the recording industry than the computer business, complete with parties and midnight store openings…”
Return on Investment
Bill Gates and Microsoft, meanwhile, were pretty confident that their $300 million in hype would pay off and that the company would recoup its marketing and promotional outlays – and then some.Roughly 100 million com- puter users with earlier versions of Windows would sooner or later upgrade to Windows 95. They knew at the time there were roughly 100 million computer users who had earlier versions of Windows who would sooner or later upgrade to Windows 95. Then there was at least another $250 million of expected sales from add-on software that could be used with Windows 95. And within days of the launch, millions of copies of Windows 95 were sold; more than 40 million in the first year. Windows 95, in its day, soon became the most successful operating system ever produced. And within three years of its introduction – as is the way of the world with computer software — Windows 95 would be followed by new Microsoft software, Windows 98, and subsequent versions, continuing to present times.
Rolling Stones, circa 2005, from left, Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, and Ronnie Wood.
The Rolling Stones, meanwhile, were quite happy to have been of service for Windows 95, collecting some cool millions for renting out their music, and no doubt, reaping some increased sales of “Start Me Up” and the rest of their music. Microsoft, of course, became one of the world’s most powerful corporations, and Bill Gates, the wealthiest man in the world.
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “Start Me Up, 1995,” PopHistoryDig.com,
November 23, 2009.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Keith Richards & Mick Jagger portrayed on the cover of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine, 21Aug 1980 with story line: ‘Monuments of Rock. The Rolling Stones: The Band That Refuses to Die.’
Mick Jagger & Keith Richards on the cover of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine, 7 Sept 1989.
“The Media Business; Microsoft Throws Stones Into Its Windows 95 Ads,” New York Times, August 18, 1995.
Denise Gellene, “Microsoft Hopes Rolling Out Stones Will Gather Interest; Firm Wants its Windows 95 Campaign to Strike a Chord in Old and Young,”Los Angeles Times, August 19, 1995, p. D-1.
David Segal, “With Windows 95′s Debut, Microsoft Scales Heights of Hype,” Washington Post, Thursday, August 24, 1995, p. A-14.
Richard W. Stevenson, The Media Business: Advertising; Software Makes Strange Bed- fellows in Britain as Microsoft and Murdoch Team to Push Windows 95,” New York Times, Thursday, August 24, 1995, p. D-6.
Peter H. Lewis, “Snubbed at Windows Party? Log On the Internet,” New York Times, Friday, August 25, 1995 p. D-4.
Steven Levy, “Gimme Software,” Newsweek, September 4, 1995,
Mike Littwin (Baltimore Sun), “Even Mick Jagger, Stones Now Work For Bill Gates,”The Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon), Thursday, September 7, 1995, p. 6-B.
Note: This is the official trailer for Martin Scorsese’s documentary
film on the Rolling Stones, Shine a Light. The full two-hour film
features Rolling Stones performances that took place during their “A
Bigger Bang Tour” of 2006. The full film also includes other Rolling
Stones archival footage, earlier news footage, and some VIP appearances
both on stage and in the audience, ranging from former President Bill
Clinton to co-performer Christina Aguilera. The film takes its title from
the song of the same name featured on the band’s 1972 album Exile on
Main St. Both the film and a soundtrack album were released in 2008.
Record sleeve for ‘Paint It Black’ single issued in South Africa, 1966, with B-side, ‘Long Long While’.
In the spring of 1966, all was not well in the world. The Vietnam War was raging and American involvement there was escalating. U.S. troop strength had reached 200,000 by then, and draft quotas at home had doubled. Earlier that spring, in April, U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright (D-AR), one of the few Senators challenging U.S. involvement in Vietnam, had given his famous “Arrogance of Power” speech at Johns Hopkins University – a speech critical of the “might-makes-right” approach and more, aimed squarely at the U.S. In Vietnam, meanwhile, the military government of South Vietnam under Premeir Ky was doing battle with Buddhist rebels in Da Nang in mid-May. Also at this time, China had come forth with its Cultural Revolution pronouncement.
Despite these woes, the day-to-day rhythms of life went on as normal throughout much of the world. In America, Vice-President Hubert Humphrey and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall dedicated the new Gateway Arch in St. Louis on May 25th, 1966. Busch Stadium, home to baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals, had opened there earlier that spring. In the world of boxing, late May, Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, would knock out the U.K.’s Henry Cooper in a six-round heavyweight match in London.
Young Rolling Stones shown on German single, 1966.
In music, the Beach Boys had released their Pet Sounds album, and Bob Dylan his Blonde on Blonde album. About that time as well, around mid-May 1966, a new song titled “Paint It Black” by the British rock group the Rolling Stones, began to be heard across the U.S. and in the U.K. It was one of those hard-driving rock ‘n roll tunes from this raucous new group that was catching on in a big way.
Music Player “Paint It Black”
“Paint It Black,” written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, is not a happy tune in its lyrics, but in 1966 its musical appeal pushed it to the top of the pop charts. Released as a single, the record reached No. 1 in the U.S. and the U.K. in late May, holding the top position for two weeks or so. It remained in the Top 40 for ten weeks through the summer. The song became popular throughout Europe and around the world.
“Paint It Black”
I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colors anymore I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes
I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black
With flowers and my love, both never to come back
I see people turn their heads and quickly look away
Like a newborn baby it just happens ev’ryday
I look inside myself and see my heart is black
I see my red door and it has been painted black
Maybe then I’ll fade away and not have to face the facts
It’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black
No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue
I could not forsee this thing happening to you
If I look hard enough into the setting sun
My love will laugh with me before the morning comes
I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colors anymore I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes
Hmm, hmm, hmm…
I wanna see it painted black, painted black
Black as night, black as coal
I wanna see the sun, blotted out from the sky
I wanna see it painted, painted, painted, painted black
The Rolling Stones by this time already had two big breakthrough hits in 1965 – “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” and “Get Off of My Cloud” – along with two top albums that year; Out of Our Heads and December’s Children. Their third album Aftermath, which included “Paint It Black” in the U.S version, was also a hit.
“Paint It Black” is about a man whose lover has died, and is beside himself with grief, seeing his whole world “painted black.” He even wants the sun “blotted out.” He’s depressed, feeling down, worthless, and without direction or connection. Some say that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were then on an introspective writing streak partly influenced by Bob Dylan’s work. “Paint it Black” came out a few months after the Stones had released their last single, “19th Nervous Breakdown.”
“Paint It Black” also has some eastern musical influences, as a sitar is used in the song. The sitar’s use came about through Brian Jones, then the group’s lead guitarist, who had visited with the Beatles’ George Harrison who was also then using the Indian instrument. The sitar’s use in the song, says music critic Richie Unterberger, “qualifies as perhaps the most effective use of the Indian instrument in a rock song. The exotic twang was a perfect match for the dark, mysterious Eastern-Indian melody. . .”
'Paint It Black' single sleeve, Italy, 1966.
Long Sales Life
“Paint it Black” would become one of those songs from the Rolling Stone’s catalogue that would enjoy a second and third sales life, in some cases, 30 and 40 years after its initial release. It would be re-issued as a single on at least two other occasions – once in June 1990 when it hit the U.K charts for three weeks, and again in May 2007 when it hit the U.K. charts for a week or so, reaching No. 70. The song has also appeared on at least a dozen Stones albums and compilations. Billboard rated “Paint it Black” No. 21 on its list of the 100 top songs of 1966. But beyond the conventional record business, pop chart performance, and awards, “Paint It Black” has also found its way into a number of other uses, particularly in film, television, and video games. These uses have kept the song very much alive and well for many years beyond the 1960s.
The ‘Tour of Duty’ TV program, late 1980s, used ‘Paint It Black’ as its opening theme song.
Later packaging of ‘Paint It Black’ with red banner corner note that reads: ‘As Featured on the TV Series Tour of Duty’.
In the late 1980s, “Paint It Black” became associated with the Vietnam War due to its use in both the ending credits of the 1987 film Full Metal Jacket and its use as the theme song for Tour Of Duty, a CBS-TV show about the Vietnam war which ran from 1987-1990. The airing of the song on the TV show, which played around the world, contributed to its revised popularity in the late 1980s-early-1990s. In May of 1990 in the Netherlands, after “Paint It Black” was re-released there as a single again, it hit the No.1 position on the Dutch Top 40 chart. Later marketing and packaging of the song in those years also referred to the Tour of Duty TV show.
Some Vietnam veterans have identified with the song as well. One writer to SongFacts.com – “Bill,” from Queens, New York – made the following observation about the song’s Vietnam association:
“…While the Rolling Stones’ song “Paint It Black” was not written about the Vietnam War, it has great meaning for many combat veterans from that war. The depression, the aura of premature death, loss of innocence, abandonment of all hope are perfectly expressed in the song. When you walk off the killing fields, still alive, physically intact, you want everything painted black, like your heart, your soul, you mind, your life.”
“Paint it Black” was also used on the NBC-TV show American Dreams in a 2004 episode when a central character in the show — young J.J. Pryor from Philadelphia, PA — goes missing in Vietnam. The song’s other film appearances, either in its original or cover versions, include: 1997′s The Devil’s Advocate, a thriller/horror film starring Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino, and Charlize Theron;1999′s For Love of the Game, a film about baseball with Kevin Costner; and, Stir of Echoes, a supernatural thriller, also in 1999, starring Kevin Bacon.
On television, “Paint It Black” has also had more recent uses, as in a July 2003 pilot episode of the cable TV show Nip/Tuck – a show described by New York Times writer Alessandra Stanley as “a ‘Miami Vice”-style drama about two dashing and unscrupulous plastic surgeons in South Florida.” In the pilot episode, as a facial reconstruction takes place, “Paint It Black” plays on. Cover versions of the song have also been used in a number of other TV shows and films. Writer Stephen King has used “Paint It Black” in his Dark Tower series of novels; the song is heard by several characters as they pass the same music shop in New York at different time periods. Janet Fitch’s 2006 novel Paint It Black is named after the song, and uses the first four lines from the lyrics as a quote preceding the first chapter.
‘Paint It Black’ is one of the songs used in this popular ‘Guitar Hero’ video game.
The video game industry has also discovered “Paint It Black.” The song is used in a number of games – either during game play or heard in the background. Among games using the song are: Conflict: Vietnam, Twisted Metal: Black, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, and the Eve of Destruction modules for Battlefield 1942, Battlefield: Vietnam, and Battlefield 2. “Paint It Black” is also used in one version of the karaoke game SingStar. The song has also been used in some video game advertising. A number of video game players have stated that their first experience with the song was hearing it on one of the games. A parent named “Viki” from Liberty, Texas wrote SongFacts.com to share her view of the song as used on the Guitar Hero game:
“…I love hearing this song come out of my 12-yr-old kid’s room when he’s playing Guitar Hero 3. He asked me if I’d ever heard of it. I laughed so hard and told him I was raised on it!! You can diss Guitar Hero all you want, but it’s introducing a whole new generation of kids to classic rock songs – which are WAY better than the crap they’re coming out with now!!”
“…Every kid these days knows ‘Paint It Black’ because it’s in Guitar Hero…”
Another writer, responding in late October 2008 to a short story in the New York Times about some Beatles music being planned for a new interactive video game, raised concerns about which songs should be included in video games, noting the prominence of “Paint It Black”:
“…I’m a music teacher, and lately I’ve been finding that Guitar Hero and similar games actually help and inspire kids to learn to play real instruments – they don’t necessarily replace real instruments in kids’ minds. My only concern is the extent to which Guitar Hero creates a rigid repertoire of songs that kids know – every kid these days knows “Paint It Black” because it’s in Guitar Hero, but it’s strictly a matter of opinion whether that’s a better Rolling Stones song than “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” or “Street Fighting Man,” which no kid knows or cares about. Similarly, the producers of the new Beatles game need to take very seriously their responsibility of passing on the right songs to the next generation….” – I. Barry D’Paul
Oct 1989 edition of Forbes business magazine featuring Mick Jagger & Keith Richards.
“Paint it Lost”
In any case, “Paint It Black” has had a long and varied career since it was first launched in May of 1966. In 2004, the song was ranked No. 174 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” But sadly for the Rolling Stones, “Paint It Black” is one of the tunes they no longer control; losing rights to the song during their younger years. In a legal settlement with an earlier manager named Allen Klein, the Stones relinquished their publishing rights, along with lucrative royalties, to this song and others. In 1965, Klein, a New York manager also involved with other rock groups, had helped the Stones negotiate a new contract with Decca Records, then winning the group their first million-dollar payday. But in the process, Allen Klein also helped himself. His company, ABKCO, still retains the rights to the Stones’ early songs from the 1960s to 1971. The Stones parted ways with Klein in 1970, and have long since become a much more sophisticated and business- savvy rock ‘n roll group. See, for example, “Stones Gather Dollars, 1989-2008.”