Thursday, March 6, 2014

Vintage MTV Videos: Phil Collins, "Sussudio"

It's been far too long since I've added a new entry in my old series on MTV videos of the 80s.  The urge to write about that topic has been inspired by recent shopping trips, where the songs of my childhood have been apparently reborn as inoffensive musical wallpaper.

In the realm of inoffensive musical wallpaper, Phil Collins is king.  This is rather odd for a man who started his career as the drummer for Genesis, an avant-garde prog rock band that composed concept double albums like The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.  Back in that time Collins played drums on Brian Eno's Another Green World, art rock's peak in the polyester decade.  In the 80s this arty musician, now middle-aged and balding, improbably became one of the world's biggest pop stars, a feat that would be completely impossible today.

His success was due primarily to his talent for composing catchy pop hooks (just check out Genesis' "That's All"), but secondarily, I would argue, because of his music videos.  Even though he was not as charismatic as Prince, Michael Jackson, or Madonna, Collins had a kind of funny, goofy everyman charm.  His videos revealed a man who didn't take himself too seriously, who was accessible.  Case in point is "Sussudio," whose conceit is that Phil is fronting a bar band at some club.  It perfectly encapsulates his "I'm just a regular guy who sings" persona.  At the start his group sounds clunky and Phil seems resigned to a lukewarm crowd.  That is until 1980s video magic kicks in, the same magic that allowed ZZ Top to turn a crummy clunker into a badass hot rod.

All of a sudden the formerly tepid band is swinging, and Phil's got a big horn section of guys in pristine white suits with the crowd grooving along.  The song itself is a silly, stupid amalgamation of 1980s pop tropes, from the synthesized horns to the metronomic rhythm.  It hurtles along nicely, so fast that you don't bother to ask the question "what the hell kind of word is Sussudio?"and your brain resigns itself to playing it on a permanent loop for the rest of the day.

The video itself has inadvertently become quite the time capsule, from the wall of synthesizers on the track to the headless bass sported by a guy in the band to Phil's cheeky sartorial decision to combine his suit with some white sneakers.  It's also a glimpse at a time when short, balding middle-aged drummers without washboard abs could become international singing sensations.  And for that, I reluctantly salute it.


Brian I said...

The Collins vid is a signifier if I ever saw one. If you listen closely, there isn't a real musical instrument playing on the whole thing. It's all synths: drums, horns, bass, everything but Phil Collins's voice. This is studio trickery at its finest (worst?) and the video is there to try to convince us that the song could really be performed by a band of live musicians.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

I thought the guitar was real, but the drums and bass are all synthesized, and I think you're right that the video tries to take this computerized piece of pop production and make it look organic.

Brian I said...

I'll give it another listen; you might be right about the little bit of guitar that is in there.

Have you read _The Wrecking Crew_? Gives a good insight into studio antics in the 1960s/1970s. And a quick read!