Saturday, August 23, 2014
Star Bands, Cheap Videos
Late at night I often find myself on YouTube watching either old commercials or old music videos from the 1980s. These are the two cultural artifacts guaranteed to stir up memories of my youth, since both tend to be extremely dated. I didn't really watch MTV until 1984-1985, by which point it had become such an important channel that record labels and artists were spending large sums of money to make them.
It wasn't always so, and it can be rather informative and funny to look at the earliest music videos from prominent artists. They were often made for next to nothing, and look totally tossed off. (David Bowie's video for "Ashes to Ashes" was the most expensive yet when it was made, and it looks like something a film student did on the weekend.) I love them because the featured artists do not look larger than life, but all too human. Here's a list of some cheap videos made by star artists:
The Rolling Stones, "She's So Cold"
Endless mugging from Jagger on a plain set whose cheapness is revealed when the camera accidentally moves too far out of frame. Ron and Keith are game but Bill looks bored and Charlie is smirking the whole time at the silliness of it all. You would be hard-pressed to see this in 1980 and think you were witnessing the world's most famous rock and roll band at work. It's still more interesting than most other music videos, which are just trying too damn hard.
Elvis Costello and the Attractions, "Pump It Up"
"Hey Elvis, could you stomp around a plain white backing like a spastic duck with a broken foot? Okay? Thanks!"
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "The Waiting"
Tom Petty and co are in front of the same white background, this time with some risers and primary-colored triangles behind them. Video directors in this era had a fetish for putting electrifying rock bands in the dullest environment they could possibly find. "Remember boys, lip sync directly into the camera."
David Bowie, "Space Oddity"
The song came out in 1969, but this video is from Bowie's Ziggy period in 1972. He strums a guitar, there are red filters, and a camera swoops over a recording studio soundboard whenever "ground control" is mentioned. Cheap and amateurish, but somehow effective.
Genesis, "That's All"
"Let's give Phil Collins a hobo coat and some fingerless gloves and have him grimace while he sings to the camera. Can't go wrong with that." The fake hobo colony set at least has some furniture.
Journey, "Separate Ways"
This right here is the holy grail of cheap videos by big bands in the 80s, one that has inspired well-deserved homages. It starts with the band playing air instruments, then *poof* they get real ones! The power of their rocking is magical! I just love it when the director cuts Steve Perry emoting to the camera at three different angles in quick succession. I also love how that they don't even have a set, and appear to be playing on a wharf. At least they could afford a tracking shot.