This week I've decided to kill two birds with one stone and combine my track of the week with another entry in my series music videos from MTV's golden age. This is inspired by a commenter on my last video post asking me about "Wicked Game," as well as me seeing the film Wild At Heart for the first time last night. That David Lynch film lifted Chris Isaak's brooding song of broken love out of obscurity and onto the charts in 1990-1991. In a day-glo era, this black and white film noir of a song was a breath of fresh air to your truly whenever I heard it on the radio.
And then the video happened.
The original video for the song was pretty standard, more fitting an obscure artist than a hit song. The record company changed that, and commissioned a new video shot by Herb Ritts on Hawaii with bombshell Norwegian model Helena Christensen. The beginning images are beautifully striking. In black and white we see massive plumes of steam and smoke, evidently from the lava of volcanoes hitting the water. The smoke rolls over the half-faded image of Christensen, her alluring pale eyes peeking through, all while the spooky reverb of the song's guitar unspools itself. The fires and steam of the volcanoes are mirrored in scenes of Isaak and Christensen vigorously fondling each other while topless. At a time when I was relying on the lingerie section of the Sears catalog for titillation, this video was a heat seeking missile straight to my teenage libido.
You may doubt me when I say this, but I appreciated this video with my brain as well as other organs. Its use of black and white was masterful, especially in the little flecks of black volcanic sand on the lovers' skins and billows of white smoke. Before any movie did so, this video got me thinking about cinematography.
Nevertheless, the unvarnished pain of the lyrics, delivered so well by Isaak's quivering voice, got a little lost when I was watching a beautiful woman teasingly disrobe. In many respects the success of the video hurt the impact of the song. This was often the case in the golden age of music videos, when average songs with great videos would get much more attention than they deserved, and good songs with great videos would be appreciated mostly for their visuals. ("Sledgehammer" is a prime example.) This song explored the dark side of love in ways that rarely make the top 40. Its retro sound and Isaak's vocal stylings make it the best Roy Orbison song that Roy Orbison didn't sing, although Orbison is the last guy I could picture cavorting with a half-naked model on a Hawaii beach.