Songs for Screens: Paul Carrack on Finding Sync Success With Ace’s ‘How Long,’ 45 Years LaterVariety — Andrew Hampp
Aceâs âHow Long,â a No. 3 hit in 1975 for the British rock band, was the first single to introduce music audiences to the voice of Paul Carrack, who went on to become a vocalist for other influential groups like Squeeze and Mike & The Mechanics. And thanks to a buzzy new TV campaign from Amazonâs Prime and Echo Show tablet, Carrackâs first hit is finding a whole new audience.
The slinky, blue-eyed-soul jam soundtracks a spot dedicated to the streaming-era phenomenon of âbinge cheating,â or watching the next episode of a show behind your paramourâs back. The songâs signature bass line and catchy, spurned-lover chorus âHow long / has this been going on?â quickly resonated with music fans. In the three days following the commercialâs first airings on March 2, digital sales for the track soared 2,059% to 4,000 downloads, while streams jumped to 831,000 in the week ending March 5, according to Nielsen Music.
âOften in the creative process, you find that its best to write from what you know,â says Simon Morris, Amazonâs vice president global creative, who helped conceive the spot and select the use of âHow Long.â âThis script stood out, and everyone involved identified with the situation. The song is a personal favorite and was the obvious choice to build the narrative for the commercial. We are glad that itâs proving popular and delighted for the artist Paul Carrack, who wrote this great song.â
The Amazon commercial also marks the first commercial synch secured by BMG, which owns the Ace catalog via its 2014 acquisition of Union Square Music. âIn terms of conveying a narrative or story in the short amount of time that you have for commercials, itâs the perfect song â assuming that the creative is about infidelity or cheating or something,â says Charlie Davis, senior director of creative synch – commercials at BMG. â[âHow Longâ is] so cinematic, and I think what just makes that song so great is the bass line is instantly catchy. And then when the vocals come in straight to the hook, it gets right to the crux of the song immediately.â
âHow Longââs unlikely success 45 years after its initial release is the latest chapter in the unique history for a song with both unexpected origins and many owners. For starters, thereâs the relationship that kickstarted its narrative. Though the songâs lyrics seemingly allude to a romantic infidelity, Carrack explains that âHow Longâ was actually inspired by his suspicions (ultimately proven true) that Ace bassist Tex Comer had been secretly conspiring to join another group.
âAce were a struggling bar band who got together in 1973 to play the pubs around London, really for fun. We were very close, bonded by our two major passions of music and soccer,â Carrack says. âWe were friends with a band called Sutherland Brothers and Quiver who were doing rather better than us, as in they had a contract with Island Records and had toured the U.S. supporting artists like Elton John.â
Sutherland Brothers and Quiverâs bassist, Bruce Thomas (who later became a member of Elvis Costello & The Attractions), had apparently missed a few shows, so Comer filled in for him at those gigs before talks expanded. âAlthough we were pleased for Tex at the time,â Carrack continues, âit soon became apparent that SB&Q were trying to tempt Tex to join them on a permanent basis, which would have been devastating for us at the time. Fortunately for us, Tex resisted the temptation of a regular salary and stuck with us.â
Since its success as a â70s AM radio staple, âHow Longâ has found several other pathways to the airwaves via hit covers by everyone from disco group Lipps Inc. to Rod Stewart.Â âI was absolutely over the moon when I had my first ever cover by none other than the great Bobby Womack,â says Carrack of the late soul singerâs 1976 cover. âI believe that Ronnie Wood was instrumental in that coming about. Also Rodâs version later was also a huge feather in my capâ¦Iâve been playing the song for 45 years both with my own band, with various other bands and even recently as part of the Eric Clapton Band, and I never tire of it.â
Unfortunately, as a result of signing âpretty awfulâ master and publishing deals with then-label Anchor Records in the â70s, Carrack and his Ace bandmates havenât seen much financial gain from the recent synch boom. âThereâs very little rights to me, I was just the idiot that wrote and sang it,â says Carrack, who has re-recorded both âHow Longâ and some of his best-known Squeeze hits over the years to reclaim some of the performance royalties (as Taylor Swift may be doing with her Big Machine catalog). âSomebody pointed out to me that [âHow Longâ] was being used in an ad, so I said, âGreat, I may see something from the sync rights,â which could be nice. But I mean, thereâs five guys in the band. I donât think anybodyâs ordering a Ferrari just yet.â
Still, despite having to cut his headline U.K. solo tour short a couple dates due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Carrackâs been able to carve out a comfortable living from his independent catalog as a solo artist for the past 20 years, which generates upwards of 1 million streams a month on services like Spotify.
âIâm pretty happy, apart from the bloody virus situation,â he says. âMy labelâs been good, weâve built up the touring thing in the U.K. – we sell out a nice 1,500 on average rooms and the fans love it. I just go out there and have a good olâ sing and a good play and go home.â
Songs for ScreensÂ is aÂ VarietyÂ column sponsored byÂ Anzie Blue, a wellness company and cafÃ© based in Nashville. It is written by Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC and former correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column highlights noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as film and TV. Follow Andrew on Twitter atÂ @ahampp.