Despite an increasingly fragmented media landscape in which television commercials rarely go “viral” — outside of the Super Bowl — December of 2019 will go down as the month America couldn’t look away from Peloton’s bizarre holiday ad. The spot has been written about extensively and the lead actress in the ad even went onto the Today show earlier this month to blame her overly expressive face for the backlash. One character not seen in the spot, but who plays a large role in the ad is Canadian singer Tal Bachman, whose 1999 hit “She’s So High” soundtracks the viral commercial.
“When I got the request, I didn’t think much of it,” he says from his home near Vancouver, speaking for the first time since Peloton started airing the ad in November. “A few weeks later, the ad exploded… Funny ol’ world!”
The 51-year-old says he has “gotten lots of messages” from fans and friends since the commercial gained traction on social media, “almost all of them were positive,” he notes. “The controversy surrounding the ad hasn’t been all positive, of course, but I don’t care about that. People love to freak out over stuff, so whatever.”
That “She’s So High” reached its zeitgeist moment this year is fitting as it’s the 20th anniversary of the upbeat pop song, which still enjoys a healthy amount of recurrent airplay at radio in the United States. In fact, it keeps turning up in pop culture. Earlier this year, Emma Stone singled it out as a favorite she likes to sing at karaoke sessions during an interview on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” A few years ago, during the final season premiere of HBO’s “Girls,” the song is heard as the ensemble gathers around a bonfire on the beach, and a surf instructor is playing “She’s So High” on his guitar.
To what does Bachman attribute the tune’s lasting legacy? Planned timelessness.
“I’m pleased it has lasted this long, but I’d be lying if I said we didn’t arrange and mix ‘She’s So High’ with the goal of making it sound timeless,” Bachman says. “We wanted it to get played forever, so Bob Rock [who co-produced the song] and I spent a lot of time trying to make it sound like it could have come out in ’66, ’79, ’99, ’08, or any other year. The goal was to create a recording which, in its sonic character, the listener couldn’t peg to any particular era. We believed if we did that, it could get played for years, and on multiple formats. I’m grateful all our little strategies seem to have worked!”
Further, Bachman says the pair specifically avoided production pitfalls that might make “She’s So High” sound dated in the future. “In the late 1990s when this all happened, a lot of songs on the radio at the time tended to have the same sonic tricks in terms of reverb and delay,” he says. “These things come in and out of fashion. When I sat down with Bob, I said ‘I don’t want to do any of that stuff’ and I don’t want to use these echoes, or reverbs or any of that.”
Of course, the fact the song became a hit at all (the tune went Top 20 in America twenty years ago) is its own story.
“I was just grateful at the time that I got anywhere,” Bachman says. “It’s difficult sitting in an office with an A&R guy who listens to your songs and says ‘I don’t hear anything here’ which, of course, had happened to me several times before I signed with EMI.”
Landing a publishing deal with EMI was Bachman’s big break, he says. “I had written a song called ‘If You Sleep’ that got me in with the EMI publishing people in New York City and we were heading towards that final long form contact,” the artist continues. “So EMI heard it, they really liked it, so then I became buddies with all of those EMI guys… and I wanted to show them that I could write more than one song that they liked. So, I came up with ‘She’s So High’ a few weeks after I met them.”
Inspired by hearing Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy” at a mall, Bachman planted a seed in his mind for a future hit that eventually became “She’s So High.”
“The sound of the ride cymbal [of “If It Makes You Happy”] really stuck me in that song –.and of course the chord sequence and the chorus. That really got me thinking. One of the many things that I picked up on as a young songwriter was that I was trying to learn how to write songs by studying other songs that I liked is that there was something cool about, like sudden leaps upward in the melody line in certain songs. I heard that at the end of the chorus on ‘Help’ by the Beatles, I heard that on a lot of Beach Boys songs, and I saw Pavarotti one night doing a song where at the end of a piece he did a fantastic vocal leap upwards that was unexpected.”
By the time Bachman had finished “She’s So High,” he and EMI and were still negotiating a possible deal.
“I wanted to keep the talks going [during contract negotiations with EMI] and I didn’t want them to lose interest,” says the Winnipeg-born singer. “And I didn’t want them to think that ‘If You Sleep’ was my only song, so Evan Lambert, who was one of the guys at EMI publishing that was interested in signing me, flew out from NYC and he popped by my rehearsal studio in Los Angeles where I was practicing,” Bachman continues.
“I just started to play ‘She’s So High,’ and got into the chorus and halfway through the chorus Evan reached out and put his hand on the neck of the guitar and said in a heavy accent ‘Tal, this is a smash!’”
Bachman soon after signed his deal with EMI after playing the team the tune, and the rest is history.
“Just in those few rolling weeks, they were the ones who started pitching me to all of the record companies, whose lower level people had already rejected me previously,” he says, noting that EMI music publishing was instrumental in helping him land his record deal at Columbia, label under the Sony Music umbrella. “I had nothing going on until the EMI guys, especially Rick Krim, heard my stuff and then all of the sudden I had a big publishing deal, and a record deal.”
So what’s the songwriter working on these days? “I currently have a music-driven comedy/drama show under consideration at Netflix called ‘Starglow,’” Bachman says, adding: “It’s a cross between ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ ‘The Chris Isaak Show’ and ‘Zoolander.’”