To wind up this Summer of 80s Music Videos, I want to turn to another theme that developed after a couple of years. You saw it in Money For Nothing, profiled here last week, but it was more obvious in several other videos – they were music videos specifically about making music videos.
One of the first examples of this form of navel-gazing was Oh Sherrie by Journey lead singer Steve Perry. It’s the most unintentionally ironic of the form; after complaining that a Renaissance-style wedding in the video was too over-the-top and serious, Perry performs a very serious, over-the-top ballad.
The song written for Perry’s then-girlfriend Sherrie Swafford, who was also his love interest in the music video. Other co-writers included supporting musicians Bill Cuomo and Craig Krampf, who had also performed on Kim Carnes’ Bette Davis Eyes, and Randy Goodrum. It peaked at #3 on the Billboard chart in June 1984.
Money for Nothing by Dire Straits beat out Take On Me and three other nominees to win the 1986 MTV Video of the Year award. The video was one of the first uses of computer animation, intercut with rotoscoped concert footage and just a little T&A parody.
Ian Pearson and Gavin Blair created the animation, and the studio they later founded was responsible for another milestone in computer animation, the Saturday morning cartoon ReBoot.
Composer and lead vocalist Mark Knopfler said the lyrics were transcribed from, or at least based on, what a real electronics store customer said while watching music videos on the televisions there. It’s use of an f-word (six letters, not four) later caused it to be banned by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. Like offensive stereotypes in some 1940s cartoons, that slur can be heard as what some loser might mutter in the 80s, even though we know better now.
How do you make a video for a band that (at that point) doesn’t perform live and doesn’t want to appear on camera? For the song Don’t Answer Me by The Alan Parsons Project, the answer was to create it all with animation, and to throw every style in the book at the project.
This music video took 23 days to film, using 40 animators at the Broadcast Arts studio. (Broadcast Arts later worked on the first season of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, another place to find multiple animation styles under one roof.) Framed as a comic book set in 1930s Florida, The Adventures of Nick and Sugar primarily uses the unusual combination of hand-drawn cells mounted on figures that move through stop-motion animation. There’s even a touch of clay animation thrown in with the moon. The band appears only in drawnings near the end.
Despite what its Wikipedia entry says, this video was not a finalist for MTV Music Video of the Year. It was entered for Most Experimental Video, along with You Might Think, but the winner for that category was Rockit.
We’ll close with a behind-the-scenes look at the making of this video. Enjoy!
Here’s another another iconic 80s video that arrived too early for the first MTV Video Music Awards, She Blinded Me With Science by Thomas Dolby. Did you know that the old dude who hollers “Science!” was real-life British TV presenter scientist and all-around good sport, Dr. Magnus Pyke? He was probably as recognizable in the UK as Bill Nye would have been in a US 90s video. (Come to think of it, Nye included a science-themed parody music video in each Science Guy episode; here’s one called Smells Like Air Pressure. But I digress.)
According to a great interview in SongFacts, Dolby said he wrote the song just so he could direct the music video. That site’s got a wealth of fun details about the song. Remember “Mutt” Lange, the guy who wrote Huey Lewis and the News’ first hit? Lange sang backup on Science. You know that line, “Good heavens, Miss Sakamoto, you’re beautiful”? Dolby wrote it just because he wanted to include a beautiful Japanese woman in the video.
Was this the first video where the idea for it came before the song? I don’t know, but it’s fun to watch this catchy, deliberately silly video.
This is big enough news to jar me out of my summer break: FilmOn, our longtime video-streaming friend, actually won a decision in court. Last Thursday, US District Court Judge George Wu ruled against the broadcast TV networks that had filed for a summary judgment that FilmOn was ineligible for a compulsory license to retransmit their signals over the internet. Wu denied that motion, writing that FilmOn was “potentially entitled” to such a license.
There’s a whole lot of history in various online companies’ court battles to carry over-the-air TV. Most of those skirmishes and slaughters through the years, from ivi.tv and FilmOn to Aereo, have been detailed on this blog. For the quickest, best summary in one place, you should read TechDirt’s post by Mike Masnick. (My favorite quote: “In the early days, it was little surprise that Aereo won and FilmOn lost (often badly).” Those were such crazy times! But I digress.)
Most stories about Thursday’s court ruling made it sound a lot more important than it was. For example, Deadline Hollywood screamed “Court Says FilmOn Has A Right To License Major Broadcasters’ TV Shows”. But within that story, a quote attributed to Fox had the right perspective: “The court only found that FilmOn could potentially qualify for a compulsory license, and we do not believe that is a possibility. The injunction barring Film On from retransmitting broadcast programming over the internet still remains in place and the full burden of proof still lies with FilmOn.”
For all of us who would like to see more OTA TV streaming, Wu’s ruling is a victory, but only a small one. By rejecting the request for a summary judgment, Wu merely indicated that there is a real question whether FilmOn should qualify for the compulsory copyright license that ivi.tv couldn’t get years ago, noting that the Supreme Court’s Aereo decision may have changed the rules. Further, Wu indicated that he expected an appeal, which was why he left the injunction against FilmOn in place. And it’s possible, as the Los Angeles Times’ Jon Healey suggested, that the decision won’t survive appeal.
The more likely path for FilmOn will be later this year when the FCC is expected to set down rules by which online companies can get the same benefits (and possibly drawbacks) of other video distributors such as cable. Presumably, that would include OTA retransmission consent, which FilmOn would need to negotiate with each OTA station it would carry. It’s too late for Aereo, but it sure would be nice to be able to stream US OTA channels through FilmOn.
You Might Think by The Cars was not a cheap video to make either; this early computer-enhanced work cost $80,000, more than double a typical 80s video budget. Like the Nintendo Entertainment System, which came out around the same time, You Might Think looks a bit crude now but was state of the art in 1984.
There were some pretty good videos before the VMAs started. My favorite for videos that appeared on MTV too early to qualify for this first award would be The Clash’s Rock the Casbah, but Eddie Money’s I Think I’m In Love had better production values, and I Ran by A Flock of Seagulls is more iconic of that period. (Don’t You Want Me was a gorgeous video, shot on film actually, but I was always disappointed that it didn’t match the vivid word-picture of the song, since I heard that before I saw the video. Shouldn’t it have included a waitress at a cocktail bar? But I digress.) Enjoy!
As we continue the summer of 80s music videos, let’s check out Rockit by Herbie Hancock. How exactly is this an unusual video? Let me count the ways.
The robot apartment set was designed by Godley & Creme, formerly half of the band 10cc. The video for Rockit was one of two Godley & Creme creations to be nominated for MTV Video of the Year 1984, along with The Police’s Every Breath You Take. Both lost to the video I’ll profile next time.
Rockit was performed by an African-American artist at a time when some MTV executives were afraid of scaring off white suburban viewers. That’s reportedly why Hancock only appears on a television set in the robot apartment.
I can’t be sure what’s cause and effect, but videos with heavy doses of MTV airplay usually made it to the Billboard Top 10. Rockit was featured on MTV but never even made it to the top 40.
Hancock is really a (magnificent, renowned) jazz artist, not a pop star; he has never cracked the Billboard top 40. This may be the only crossover jazz song to get serious MTV airplay.
Finally, the most basic reason this video is unusual is that it’s an instrumental. You can count the significant 80s instrumental music videos on one hand. I can think of Art of Noise, which won for Most Experimental Video for Close (to the Edit), and that’s about it. Leave a comment if you can think of any others.
Last week, I mentioned one of my favorite questions: Why did anyone make a second music video of the same song? Here’s a good example of an excellent reason for a video remake.
The Norwegian band a-ha made it big right off the bat, but only in Norway. Its first big hit, Take On Me, hit #3 in Norway but didn’t make a dent anywhere else. The video for that song is shown above.
Enter Irish director Steve Barron, best known at that point for the ground-breaking video for Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. Barron animated a rotoscoped comic book story featuring a-ha lead singer Morten Harket as a motorcycle racer. Both Harket and the other lead character, then-girlfriend Bunty Bailey, carry off their roles well, a testament to Barron’s ability.
Thanks to the video and its frequent play on MTV, the re-release of Take On Me shot to #1 in the US, Australia, Norway and Sweden, #2 in the UK and Ireland, #3 in France. Although the band persisted for decades and had many other European hits, I’d say that folks in the US know them almost solely as the band in this video.
At the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards, Take On Me won awards for Best Concept Video and Best Direction, but lost out on Video of the Year. More about that in a later installment. For now, enjoy this Pop-Up version.
I often wonder what’s the story when there are multiple music videos for the same song. That’s the thought that eventually came to mind as I researched Give It Up by KC and The Sunshine Band. In this case, I wonder if this is a Europe / America divide.
The folks on the other side of the pond always liked KC and the Sunshine Band almost as much as US audiences did, but they preferred different cuts. Brits weren’t so excited by US #1 hits Get Down Tonight (peaked at #21 in the UK) or I’m Your Boogie Man (#41), but they loved Queen of Clubs (#7 vs. #66 in the US). So it was for the group’s only 80s hit, which spent three weeks at #1 in the UK, then topped out at only #18 on the Billboard charts.
The video at the top of this post is the good video, or at least the video with decent production values. H.W. Casey strains to find a screen persona as the hero who rescues a bunch of women from a spooky house with the help of some magic child or something. Why does he pause to sing a few bars with a faux Star Wars cantina band? Because it’s an 80s music video.
The other extreme is at the bottom of this post, where Casey strains to be his likable self in a candidate for cheapest-looking video I’ve seen. It’s just two dancers, a pound of dry ice, a small room with corrugated metal walls, and Casey, of course. With the Halloween-themed real video available, why would anyone bother to spend the half hour it probably took to record this? Maybe the rights to the “good” video stopped at the border?
In any event, I can’t recall seeing either of these videos on MTV, and the song’s retro-disco feel would tend to make it unwelcome there. After I heard Give It Up on Sunshine Band greatest hits’ CDs, I figured for years that it was just another 70s UK hit like Queen of Clubs or Sound Your Funky Horn (#17 there). But no, it’s an 80s song with two types of 80s videos: unrelated, incomprehensible eye candy and ultra-low budget lip sync. Enjoy them both!
If you’ve been catching up on previous posts here during the FTABlog Summer of 80s Music Videos, you’ve already noticed that I’m a big Weird Al Yankovic fan. Music videos are great, but funny music videos are even better.
Just as some food pairings make each ingredient better, I found a way to improve the Weird Al viewing experience: Watch the original target video first. In this case, it’s Joan Jett’s I Love Rock & Roll, the perfect complement to one of Al’s first, low-budget videos, I Love Rocky Road.
You could make a case that Rocky Road was the song that proved Al was more than a one-hit novelty. If it had completely tanked, only trivia buffs would know his name. Al would be remembered for Ricky, the parody of Mickey, the sadly memorable output of one-hit wonder Toni Basil. Nice theory, except Rocky Road kinda did tank; it peaked at #106 on Billboard. No, Al’s true breakthrough came with the song I’ll post in my next Al installment.
For now, check out the subtle notes that Al captured. Notice how he matches Joan’s glove slap (0:41) with his own at 0:21. His crowd scene (such as 1:27) looks just like Joan’s (1:55). I could go on, but you’ll have more fun if you see for yourself.