It’s been 20 years since Willie Nelson helped pull himself out of a $16.7 million tax hole by doing a commercial for Taco Bell and freaking out pretty much everyone who ever cared about Willie Nelson, and a lot of people who didn’t care about Willie Nelson but did love getting riled up about things. That was night and day from the reception Willie got for his Chipotle commercial, when his cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” was earnestly called the best performance of the 2012 Grammys (including Coldplay’s).
In retrospect though, the Taco Bell commercial -- which featured a song called “The Woman With the Rose Tattoo” and introduced both the Steak Burrito Supreme and Zesty Steak Melt -- can only be regarded as pure, unadulterated wonderfulness. Here’s why.
- “Rose Tattoo” doesn’t beat around the bush with lyrics like "I was just guessing at numbers and figures/Pulling your puzzles apart". Instead it's right in your face with overt mentions of Taco Bell's all-new steak menu -- and isn’t right in your face exactly where you want Taco Bell's all-new steak menu?
- It helped a cause. As part of the partnership, Taco Bell cut a $20,000 oversized check to kick off Farm Aid VI fundraising. In 1993 dollars, that’s like 60,000 tacos worth of dollars.
- More importantly, it’s providing you a cause worth fighting for: "Bring back the Zesty Steak Melt".
- It spawned one of the best completely made up marketing phrases of all time when manager Mark Rothbaum told the New York Times, "People tend to view anyone with tax problems as sick. We felt it was important to let America know Willie was corporately attractive."
- It inspired one of the great comic Bill Hicks’ last routines. Granted, Bill Hicks was totally wrong to condescend to Willie (Nelson: "Don't even start on me about selling out. I've heard it all before and my dues are paid -- in full"), but let's face it: if "it's funny because it's false" weren't also true, there’d only be like five comedians.
- It also inspired some graduate degree holder at Texas Monthly to author "Deconstructing Willie: Carnality, Castration Anxiety, and Jouissance in Willie Nelson’s Taco Bell Commercial". Thanks to Willie, no one could ever again say that Texans were so stupid they didn’t even know what “jouissance” meant.
- $16.7 million in 1993 is $28 million today. Would you rather Willie sang about burritos, or for burritos?
- "Rose Tattoo" is so much > certain other country-themed product endorsements they might have to invent a new > sign to demonstrate just how much > we’re talking about. Like...
9. "Rose Tattoo" actually sounds like classic Willie. Not that plaintive covers like “The Scientist” and “Rainbow Connection” aren’t beautiful, but you'd much rather have this playing when you're chilling on the house boat with a 38-pack of Lone Star watching motorboats full of girls-going-wild go by.
10. Bitch all you want about “corporate this” and “corporate that”, but this was a product Willie believed in. You don’t spend years of your life traveling around in a bus getting all Willie’d up and not love you some Taco Bell.
11. The woman who plays "The Woman With the Rose Tattoo" is really hot. So hot it doesn't matter that she never shows her tattoo, and probably doesn't even have one.
12. That dude's pretty hot too. You can't even find that particular model of hot dude anymore, because they stopped manufacturing it in 1993.
13. "Screw more cowbell, I want more Bell bell". Musical. Genius.
14. Put into early '90s context, this was less of a sell-out, and more an act of solidarity with contemporaries Johnny Cash and... MC Hammer! "Yo Hammer, I'm starving. Let's get some burgers." "Burgers?! Man, that's out the door!"
15. Willie's commercial spawned a totally YUM! sequel.
Things that aren’t great don’t spawn sequels. Mostly.