Back in the early 90s, Taco Bell managed to wrangle country music outlaws Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson into starring in its TV commercials. Some music may see the legends spinning yarns about steak tacos as a low point. However, the fact that they took the money and ran for the border might just add another layer of cool to the outlaw legends.
Of course, around the time of his Taco Bell commercial, Shotgun Willie was an actual outlaw. In 1993, Willie Nelson successfully negotiated his tax debt with the IRS, reducing it from $16.7 million to $9 million. The IRS, determined to collect the owed amount, seized his scattered assets and properties across six different states. To generate funds and settle his debt, Nelson released The IRS Tapes: Who Will Buy My Memories?.
Willie, determined to pay off his debt and avoid jail time, came up with another brilliant plan. He decided to write a jingle for a Taco Bell commercial. With Taco Bell searching for someone to promote their brand new steak burrito supreme, Willie seized the opportunity and became their chosen spokesperson.
The Taco Bell ad finds Willie Nelson crooning about the chain’s steak options. However, the master songwriter in Nelson still brings his best. “The Woman with the Rose Tattoo” is catchier and more sincere than 99% of modern Country Music.
How Johnny Cash Joined Willie Nelson in Crooning for Taco Bell
In 1992, Johnny Cash was far from being the iconic figure we know today. The Man in Black had yet to earn new generations of fans with his collaboration with Rick Rubin, American Recordings. Long-time fans had all but abandoned Cash. Having been dropped by his record label in the mid-80s, he faced a challenging period in his career. However, Taco Bell stepped in to lend a helping hand.
The Taco Bell advertisement is direct, highlighting their wide variety of affordable options. The clever use of Cash’s last name and his deep voice adds to the impact of the message. “Nobody has more choices for just a little Cash,” a tiny version of Cash belts out.
Showcasing an original song by Johnny Cash, the advertisement transports us to a time when the Taco Bell value menu offered a variety of items at affordable prices. From 59-cent tacos to 79-cent MexiMelts and combo burritos for less than a dollar, it’s a nostalgic journey back to the days of delicious deals.
The fact that both Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson would soon emerge from the Taco Bell commercials unscathed is another testament to their legacy. These two superstars were unstoppable, transitioning from selling fast food to penning timeless classics. Along the way, they made wrong turns look right.
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