Thursday 23 February 2017


Nike's black-and-white 1987 Air Revolution TV ad is full of iconic sports imagery, yet it had one huge difference from all its predecessors: the Beatles' 1968 song "Revolution" blasted as the soundtrack.

Before Nike's commercial, any classic pop tune that appeared in an ad video was a cover, a facsimile, like Sunkist's re-working of "Good Vibrations' by the Beach Boys. Sure, Lou Reed appeared in a 1984 ad for Honda's Elite scooters, "Walk on the Wide Side" creeping in the background. Although the spot ends with Reed sitting on a scooter, taking off his shades, and saying, "Hey, don't settle for walkin,'" none of Reed's actual vocals from the track are included.

Nike used the real thing: John, Paul, George and Ringo. Soon after the ad hit the airwaves in mid-March, the band's record label, Apple Records, sued for $15 million, their lawyer claiming that the band hadn't given their "authorization or permission." George Harrison said the spot opened the door for the band's songs to be used to advertise everything from "women's underwear" to "sausages." Yet Yoko Ono – who held shares in the Beatles' record company – had helped broker the original deal. She thought the spot might introduce a new generation to her late husband's music. Nike stopped running the ads early in 1988, and the case settled out-of-court the next year on terms that have been kept secret since.

But the ad didn't recede into video history. If you watch any spot now, you can feel the influence of the Air Revolution video.
The video's directors, Paula Greif and Peter Kagan, originally met through legendary photographer Arthur Elgort; Kagan was his assistant. Kagan says Greif "was smart and funny and had fantastic taste and ... she liked my film." He needed validation because he "was doing weird stuff. This was the era when doctors and lawyers were pulling old Super 8 cameras out of their closets and trading them for VHS video cameras. The discount bins at the camera stores had piles of fantastic S8 film cameras for very little money."

Greif sent them the Barneys spot, and they loved it: "They wanted us to shoot a Super 8 sports commercial." They got to work on the Air Revolution ad. Kagan imagined the "idea was to create a feeling and not tell a story." His "$50 Nikon Super-8 camera made a shit-ton of noise, particularly when I over-cranked – that's when you shoot more film faster, to get a slow-motion result." McEnroe was not pleased. They filmed him during an exhibition match, but the tennis star "definitely wanted to win." Whenever McEnroe wound up for a serve Kagan's "little camera would just wail." He says the tennis star "had no sense of humor about my camera. But, I needed the shots and kept going until someone told me to stop. He fucking hated me."

Laura Israel, who had edited their music videos, also worked on the Nike spot. Kagan says that Israel "was conflicted about even dubbing the "Revolution" track onto a 3/4" videotape to use as scratch for our "director's cut.' We had been told that the agency was going to re-record 'Revolution' with the Georgia Satellites, and what we were doing would serve as a temp track for our rough cut."

They were all in for a surprise, according to Kagan: "A few weeks later Paula and I were in L.A. shooting a Dur

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