The Pop History Dig

“Start Me Up”
1995

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.
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.


Song History

‘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’ 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.
‘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.


Windows 95

     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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

     Other stories at this web site on the Rolling Stones include: “Paint It Black, 1966,” “Stones Gather Dollars, 1989-2008,” and “Shine a Light, 2008.”  Other stories on music and advertising include: “Big Chill Marketing, 1980s & 1990s,” “Nike & The Beatles,1987-1989,” “Madonna’s Pepsi Ad, 1989,” “Selling Janis Joplin, 1995,” “Sting & Jaguar, 1999-2001,” and “G.E.’s Hot Coal Ad, 2005.”

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Date Posted:   23 November 2009
Last Update:   23 November 2009
Comments to:   jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Start Me Up, 1995,” PopHistoryDig.com
November 23, 2009.

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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.’
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.
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.

“Start Me Up,” Wikipedia.com, November 12, 2009.

Ken Polsson, “Chronology of Personal Com- puters,”@ IslandNet.com.

“Windows 95,” Business Week ( Int’l edition), Cover Story, July 17, 1995.

Bob Johnson, “The Launch of Windows 95,” Concentric.net.

JBev, “Hang Fire: Ranking the Stones ’80s Output (Songs 5-1),” JamesBioMagazine, September 1st, 2009.

Tony Long, “Aug. 24, 1995: Say Hello to Windows 95,” Wired, August 24, 2007.






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