Depending on an individual’s consumption of popular culture, the growling, thumping rock song heard in the latest IBM Cloud commercial might sound familiar. The song is “Jump Into the Fire” by Harry Nilsson. The song was also featured prominently in the 1990 mob movie, “Goodfellas.”
“Jump Into the Fire”: a departure from Nilsson’s style
Before “Jump Into the Fire” showed up on television and movie theater screens, it was the second release from Harry Nilsson’s 1971 album “Nilsson Schmilsson.” “Jump Into the Fire” was actually released in 1972, and it was considered a significant departure from the singer-songwriter’s usual style. Stylistically, Nilsson had gone from 1969’s “Everybody’s Talkin’,” with its gentle acoustic instrumentation and mild-mannered tenor vocals, to the growling thump of “Jump Into the Fire.” Nilsson’s vocals are echoed in the syllabic expression in the chorus. That bass effect literally sounds as if the notes are falling off the guitar, picked up again and then chopped in time to the drum’s groove.
Various rock media outlets have attempted to describe the song’s sound. A writer at The Atlantic calls it, “…livid, dragon-bones funk,” and Rolling Stone describes it as being “what paranoia sounds like.”
Even without “Goodfellas” as a cultural reference, “Jump Into the Fire” still sounds like paranoia. Put another way, the song is essentially saying, “the inevitable is coming and all your choices are bad.”
Even after Nilsson’s death in 1994, the music world continued to appreciate the song that indicated a departure from Nilsson’s typical style. LCD Soundsystem and Alice Cooper’s supergroup, Hollywood Vampires, have both covered the song.
“Jump Into the Fire” reached as high as No. 27 on Billboard in 1972.
“Jump Into the Fire” on the big screen
For most people who were not around to hear “Jump Into Fire” when it was first released, their exposure to the song came from the 1990 Martin Scorsese film, “Goodfellas.” In “Goodfellas,” Ray Liotta plays (real-life) mobster, Henry Hill. Hill’s cocaine-fueled paranoia is getting the better of him as a law enforcement helicopter appears to follow him. While the narcotic is affecting him adversely, he is soon to be busted.
The song, “Jump Into the Fire,” plays as audiences are shown Hill’s face as he looks up and sees the helicopter and makes an attempt to escape it in his vehicle. The futility of his actions is played up by the rumble and thump of the song, the dropped notes of the bass adding tension each time they are played.
There are few songs that sound anything like “Jump Into the Fire.” Once a person hears it, the song sticks with him or her. That is why “Jump Into the Fire” remains memorable. However, because of its bleak lyrics and terrifying groove, it seemed odd that the song should show up in a commercial for IBM’s Cloud.
IBM Cloud and “Jump Into the Fire”
The computer company uses Nilsson’s song to underscore the voiceover that details how its cloud is different from the idea of the cloud that people are used to. In different versions of the ad, images are shown rapidly, and for those familiar with “Goodfellas,” it calls to mind a mobster on the run.
If the point of the IBM commercial is to play up the concepts of “different” and “unexpected,” then it achieves its goal by using “Jump Into the Fire.” The song, too, is unexpected in Nilsson’s catalog. The driving beat almost forces viewers to concentrate on what is on the screen. With “Jump Into the Fire” playing, it is possible to believe that one cloud is different from another. The song keeps showing up in unexpected places – – the random placement speaks to the unique qualities of “Jump Into the Fire.”