"Baby you can drive my car," sang the Beatles in 1966 - but they said nothing about selling you one.
Three decades later, German car giant Volkswagen is in negotiations to buy a collection of Beatles songs that would provide the most expensive advertising jingles in history.If the $10 million deal is struck, the songs will be used for soundtracks on television and radio ads for the launch of the new VW Beetle this spring.
The surviving Beatles are furious about Volkswagen's bid to use the songs but powerless to stop them. Adding insult to injury, it's fellow superstar Michael Jackson who will make the decision.
While Beatles aficionados talk darkly of "cultural desecration," Volkswagen has confirmed that negotiations are under way. They refuse to say which tracks they want, but purists are dreading "tunebite" versions of "Day Tripper," "The Long and Winding Road" and "Magical Mystery Tour."
To the frustration of Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, history suggests that Jackson, who co-owns the Beatles' Northern Songs back-catalog, will take the money.
If he does, the Beatles' record label, Apple, is promising to fight Volkswagen every step of the way. The Beatles have refused to allow their songs to be used for advertising since turning down a huge offer from Coca-Cola in the 1960s. But since being forced to sell Northern Songs when Apple hit the rocks, they have been powerless to stop others buying the rights to re-record certain songs.
Apple's managing director, Neil Aspinall, is said to have been furious about the secret negotiations in New York with Sony Music, to which Jackson sold a share of Northern Songs. Recently the "Fab Three" rejected a $5 million offer from Volkswagen to collaborate on a special edition of the new car - a white Beetle - to mark the thirtieth anniversary of "The White Album." They also turned down a "Three-tles" appearance at the car's European launch.
"There's no doubt Paul will try to stop it," said a source close to the Beatles. "The three of them categorically refuse to let the songs be used for adverts, but the trouble with Jackson is that he has just ignored them in the past."
McCartney has publicly accused Jackson of "cheapening" Beatles songs, but in a recent interview he revealed he had given up trying to dissuade him because Jackson refused to discuss it.
When Jackson struck the deal with Sony Music, even the usually reticent Harrison revealed his frustration. "Unless we do something about it, every Beatles song is going to end up advertising bras and pork pies," he lamented.
In the past 15 years, advertising agencies have become increasingly convinced of the value a great rock song can add to their products, so the fees offered to publishing houses have escalated. Three years ago Microsoft paid the Rolling Stones $8 million to use "Start It Up."
Record companies are naturally delighted to see an old song picked for a major advertising campaign, anticipating a leap back into the charts.
The Beatles offer the ultimate product endorsement. While their publishing remains outside their ownership, their catalog is ripe for exploitation. Volkswagen, however, should be prepared for a battle.
"If they go ahead, it could backfire," said Bill Heckle of Cavern City Tours in Liverpool. "Fans will regard it as distasteful, and if they know the (members of the) band aren't happy, it could well have an adverse effect."