Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The "80siest" music videos from MTV

Thanks to MTV opening up its music video library online, I've done roughly 16 minutes of actual work in the last week; the rest of my time devoted to reliving my childhood, sitting in front of the television watching rock/pop music gods spend money in a variety of creative ways to show off their vision. Music videos from the 80s are nothing like any other era's videos; they're expensive, they're colorful and they make no sense. But there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it only makes them more awesome and more a product of their time. I know I went on about how awesome MTV was for opening up their catalog of videos, but only until I really started diving in did I realize what this meant from a cultural standpoint. They have made answering the question, "what was it like to live in the 80s?" simple.

And that's what I'm trying to do here - compile a list of the 80siest music videos.

I tried to come up with a definition for 80iest, and after wasting a lot of paper I decided on this one phrase that encapsulates it fairly well:

"Pretentious then; hilarious now."

Or, if you want to really cop out, I'll define it much as the same way Jesse Helms defined pornography: "I'll know it when I see it."

But enough about that. On to the videos on the flip side...

Billy Idol: Eyes Without a Face

Billy Idol could be the poster boy for the 80s. In fact, I wouldn't be shocked to learn in the next few years that some government created him simply to encapsulate the times, retiring him in the early 90s once they realized grunge had staying power. Ok that would surprise me a little, but not as much as one might think.

This video screams 80s. And screams a whole lot more as well. I love how it starts with a quote, "In the midnight hour," which is a lyric from another Billy Idol song. It doesn't get much better than that. Other thoughts:

  • Floating Billy Idol head? Yes please.
  • I wonder if this song was Billy's push to show everyone he was a legitimate singer and not a screamer.
  • Billy's Eyes Wide Shut moment is a bit anti-climactic. At least Kubrick gave us some sex in his, even if it got covered up by a bunch of CGI.
  • Smoke machine...cross fades between the floating Billy Idol head and the choir...fingerless gloves...yeah, we're in the 80s.
  • Can't quite put my finger on what a fire hose drenching a scantily clad woman symbolizes.
Yes: Owner of a Lonely Heart

In trying to reinvent themselves for the 80s, Yes went ahead and made a pretty good song. That doesn't mean the video shares the same fate. The amount of symbolism going on in here would make a high school English teacher wet themselves, knowing they wouldn't have to write up a lesson plan for a month; they'd simply have to hit play and ask their students to list the literary references. Maybe Jon Anderson's mum was a teacher.

I do enjoy the fact that the protagonist of the video, upon seeing the members of Yes materialize out of thin air on the building rooftop dressed in suits, chooses suicide over whatever they may have planned for him. Now that's a statement.

And was that Peter Weller as a judge/clerk/administrator/the devil?

Duran Duran: Hungry Like the Wolf

I can't think of another band that encapsulates the 80s more than Duran Duran. Not only did they write music that could easily work as a soundtrack for the decade, but they spared no expense when it came to their music videos. Case in point is Hungry Like the Wolf. I'm not sure whether they are on location or not, but even if this is a lot somewhere, it's impressive. And there's a lot going on...

A shirtless Nick Taylor(?) runs around the streets of some third world capital while Simon LeBon wears awesome glasses/goggles and contemplates things. And no matter where it's supposed to take place, I can appreciate Duran Duran ensuring hot women are involved. Shirtless Nick Taylor runs around some more while LeBon gets his freak on with a feral jungle woman. Let's give him some credit too - this is years before Jungle Fever. Think maybe this video was the spark that gave Spike Lee his idea? The video ends almost as nonsensically as it started. Honestly, I dare anyone to try to explain what's going on in this video.

Journey: Separate Ways

No way I couldn't include this video. It screams 80s and ridiculousness. Seriously, why the band is hanging out down at the wharf playing air instruments while some hooker struts around is beyond me. But what really comes through in this video is the passion. These guys aren't just going through the motions - they're feeling it, in the best of possible ways - especially the keyboardist. I bet the director told the rest of the band to take a cue from him when he watched the dailies.

The other thought I had watching this was: has there ever been an assembly of five uglier guys?

And what's the deal at the end? It comes out of nowhere. Was it all a dream? Is she sleeping in one of the warehouses? If not, that's an awfully large bedroom. And why is she wearing headphones?

Toto: Africa

Sure, I wrote about them before, but c'mon, there's no way they get left off this list. The lead singer looks like such a regular guy. I just want to go get a beer with him. I'd definitely have a lot of questions for him. Such as, "was the drummer as much of a douche as how he dressed?"

I will say I spoke too soon about Journey being ugly. Yowza. And they throw an unprecedented 6th guy in there to sit on the floor and bang on some things.

I am also a little unclear about what this video has to do with Africa. For all the mentions and references, there's really no real actual motif here. The only thing I can think of is that the lead singer is studying Africa so he can get in the librarian's pants. Because the library is in Africa? But then an African tribesman knocks over all the books and starts a fire, destroying the love the librarian and lead singer of Toto had.

What? Like you know what's going on.

So there you have it. While I certainly think this is a great list, I also know it is but a fraction of examples of what truly embodied the 80s. In fact, Cline has already responded with his list of television nostalgia here. So please, leave all your suggestions in the comments, and I'm sure this will be an ongoing series for the blog.


Anonymous said...

as soon as I saw the title I thought of Seperate Ways...I think that pretty much sums up 80's music videos more than any other.

I fucking love the song too and have been know to belt it out in my car much to my daughters' embarrassment and disgust.

I can't even call Journey a guilty pleasure, cause I feel no guilt loving them. They are part of my childhood at CNN skate palace...

Cline said...

Good list. Thoughts.


Favorite part is him lying on his back doing the same punch/dance moves that he does in the Rebel Yell video.

Also the slow lyrics part in the beginning almost reminds of some mid-90s Britpop, though I can't put my finger on which, exactly.


Not a song I had heard in a while, and it does hold up pretty well. I think someone forgot to tell the drummer that they were doing the serious video that day.

I think they guy made the right call. You just know that Anderson wanted to discuss the symbolism of their mid-70s album covers. I'd have taken the 20 story swan dive/concrete combo too.

For some reason, when I think of 80s Yes videos I think of this one:

Duran Duran:

Good choice, but what about the sheer egomania by the boys to "seamlessly" insert themselves into an extended sequence from A View to a Kill?:

If that doesn't scream 80s, I don't know what does.


Dude, I love Journey. But mostly ironically, you know?


Wait, one of these guys banged a young Rosanna Arquette? I'm not saying I'm the biggest fan of her, but that's still a pretty good score for any of these guys. Maybe the bass player. Maybe.

Anonymous said...

I can not argue with any of these videos as essential 80's, great list. If you were to expand to a top 10 say, I think Peter Gabriels "Sledgehammer" would have to get some consideration. It pretty much fits your description to a "t".... "spend money in a variety of creative ways to show off their vision. Music videos from the 80s are nothing like any other era's videos; they're expensive, they're colorful and they make no sense." Sums up Sledgehammer pretty well I think.

Anonymous said...

I am still to this day at 34 years old extremely disturbed by herbie hancock's Rock It video with the white rubber pock marked mannequin head turning slowly, the robotic legs in dress pants kicking in unison and the bird breaking through the window....

Goose said...

Didn't pick Sledgehammer because, at least in my opinion, it wasn't pretentious - it was pure creativity on the screen. I could be wrong, but Gabriel really seemed to have a sense of joy about the whole thing. He even tried to mimic himself with the video for Big Time, but it just didn't work.

Hancock's video is a good choice I think. I also looked for Huey Lewis and the News, but MTV didn't have any. What's that about?

Anonymous said...

Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me with Science" was pretty weird. Almost anything by David Lee Roth was hilarious, but usually didn't make a whole lot of sense. And then of course, there's Michael Jackson's "Thriller". Although it's a great video, it pretty much screams the '80's.

Anonymous said...

haha great post man. I am a fan of the 80's.

Goose said...

Don't miss out other look back either, with all new videos and all new obscure references that no one will get here

Anonymous said...

I think A-Ha's "Take On Me" video has to be in the running. Half cartoon world, half live action, trenchcoats galore and a killer synthesizer solo. Can't beat it.

Goose said...

i agree with the A-ha video being there as a quintessential 80s piece, but it's already gotten a lot of play around the web with the literal singing over it. Haven't seen that? Check it out here.

Oh yeah and don't miss the Quincy video either. Possibly my favorite youtube video of all time.

Dave said...

Two other people to consider when talking about 80s music videos: Madonna (before she went all Kaballah) and Michael Jackson (when he was still black).

If you're talking 80s videos, you have to put Michael Jackson's Thriller in the mix. Unlike some of the other videos which were loaded up with velveeta, Thriller represented everything good about MTV in the 80s. Not only did they show it a gazillion times a day, but it was a high-quality production that revolutionized the way songs were presented in a music video format.

Steve Boese said...

How about 'Addicted to Love' with Robert Palmer and the freaky model/band behind him?

Goose said...

@Steve -

Palmer didn't make first cut, but he was definitely in the mix...in fact be on the lookout for the next post in the series for him.

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