Since it's summertime and I'm off from school I find myself watching snatches of VH1 Classic in the mornings between playtime with the kids and episodes of Sesame Street. I get easily transfixed by those 80s videos, which today look like strange news from another galaxy. The look, music, and filming style appear so antiquated nowadays, along with the thought that the youth of America once used to spend hours at a time watching videos on MTV. (I know I did.)
Rewatching these videos has reminded me of the various video genres that once dominated the airwaves. You've got your live performance videos (like AC/DC's for "Thunderstruck"), your story videos (like A-Ha's sublime "Take On Me"), and your "life on the road is tough" videos (like Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive.") Today I'd like to focus on that most meta video genre, the video about the making of the video. We were so obsessed with music videos back then that we would gladly watch videos about videos getting made. Bigger stars tended to go this route, since it tended to present them in a more humble or humorous circumstance. (Usually these videos had farcical elements to them.) Here are some of the most representative videos in the genre:
"Easy Lover" Philip Bailey and Phil Collins
The meeting of the two Phils is one of my favorite 80s pop guilty pleasures, as it combines for Earth, Wind and Fire member Phil Bailey's great falsetto with Phil Collins' warm, radio-friendly tenor and some kicking' guitar. Like a wild stallion trapped in a stable, that guitar is just itching to burst out of this Top 40 number and shred. The video shows the Phils hanging out, riding in a helicopter, and taping the video. All in a day's work for a pop singer.
"The Flame" by Cheap Trick
This video belongs to the "earnest making of" sub-genre. Perhaps that's because the normally raucous and funny Trick needed something a little more Serious for their power ballad aimed at the pop charts. It's mostly a collage of shots of the band in candid moments on the set of the video, smoking aimless cigarettes, getting their hair done, etc. It gives the song (admittedly one of the less shitty power ballads of the era) a certain vulnerability, which you need to accompany lyrics like "wherever I go I'll be with you" backed by airy synthesizers.
"Oh Sherrie" by Steve Perry
This is a fairly unique entry in the genre, in that it creates a story around the video making process, rather than being an actual, behind the scenes look at the video. Perry storms off of the ornate, medieval castle set of his video, and starts lip-syncing to his lady love with that level of emotion we've come to expect from the King of the Power Ballad. (Evidently his desire to leave the overblown set shows that he's down to earth and not pretentious.) His director is pretentious (and British, of course) who pairs a New Wave skinny tie with a black leather jacket (making him suspiciously stylish.) Perry, in classic video about making videos fashion, shows that even though he's a star, he's just a regular, nice guy.
"Where The Streets Have No Name" by U2
Leave it to Bono, of course, to make a video about making a video and turn it into mythology. It details the band's concert on an LA rooftop for which they didn't have a permit, and which the cops eventually shut down. Bono and the boys look charismatic and rebellious as all hell, even if they are copying from the Beatles' playbook. It doesn't hurt that the song is one of U2's greatest, its relentless, irresistible drive still thrilling all these years later. That's the secret of U2: their grandiosity begs to be deflated, but somehow they always make a believer out of me.
"Don't Lose My Number" by Phil Collins
Yes, it's another appearance by Phil Collins, who was the king of the making of the video music video. Part of his appeal came from his rather ordinary look. Collins was short, a little stocky, balding, and wore pleated pants and tastefully modern patterned shirts. He was like a regular bloke, but with a warm voice with some power to it with the perfect timbre for accompanying 80s synths and drum machines. That trope is repeated here, with Collins having to deal with the media and comically ambitious video directors and special effects experts. I loved this video as a kid even though I didn't care for the song, since I found it funny. Then again, my favorite contemporary artist at the time was Weird Al Yankovic.