20 Unsung Music Videos from the 1980s

by Dennis Shin

1 September 2011


Lene Lovich and more

Fun Boy Three feat. Bananarama
“Ain’t What You Do”
(1982, London)

In contrast to the Beat, 2-Tone ska rivals the Specials seemed to feature a looser, more improvisational feel to their sound, a somewhat chaotic cacophony that somewhere all held together. Finally seeing the Specials play one of their first shows in the States in close to 30 years in New York last year cemented the image of the brooding vocalist, Terry Hall, and the 2-Tone collective of musicians in my mind as they shuffled around like wizened jazzmen. Ska groups are rather notorious for their various lineups; the Specials splintered and reemerged variously as Special AKA, Fun Boy Three, Bananarama, the Colour Field, a reformed Specials, and Special Beat. This video captures the collaborative chemistry between the boys and girls in the band, with the Fun Boy Three faction backed by the girls in Bananarama. See “Really Saying Something” (1982, London) to witness Fun Boy Three returning the favor, backing Bananarama.

[Watch video]

Haysi Fantayzee
“Shiny Shiny”
(1983, Bontemps)

Exuberant, campy, party/celebratory, whimsical, quirky, playful. Those are but some of the moods, under which Haysi Fantaysee are filed, for posterity’s sake, in the AllMusic guide. The duo of fashion photographer Kate Garner, and London DJ Jeremy Healy, were joined by producer and instrumentalist Paul Caplin, a Cambridge trained mathematician formerly with new romantic band Animal Magnet. Collectively, they hatched a signature look and sound that audiences didn’t quite know what to do with. Their homespun threads anticipated Lady Gaga. Garner and Healy with their dreadlocked, “Dickensian Rasta” style, have a score to settle with Boy George over who came up with the look first. Haysi Fantayzee’s sound, a unique mix of fiddles, dub reggae, and electro, bears a spiritual connection to Edward Sharpe. A brief sensation in England, reflecting the beauty of the UK pop charts—a smaller market with much more volatility, thereby tolerating a lot more weirdness, they had brief exposure on new wave video programs such as LA-based MV3. The group’s first single, “John Wayne is Big Leggy” (a distant relation to Primus’ “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver) achieved cult status for its video.

Its subversive juxtaposition of the two gender-bending freakish characters in a wild west graphic novel, creating an unsettling image that advance the song’s message, years before Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”: society dealing with those who are different by locking them up. “Shiny Shiny” (a bouncy playful tune about the apocalypse), on the other hand, sounds like a nursery rhyme gone seriously awry, as if one dozed off during Saturday morning cartoons, and during a sugar induced coma, entered the freakish world of homemade thrift store fashions. The track’s video showcased the his-and-her look of Garner and Healy juxtaposed against random pop culture images,with their manic energy set to a Muppet show theme. Battle Hymns of Children Singing would be their one and only album. However, the principals maintain active lives. Garner is now a rock photographer for the likes of Björk and David Bowie. Healy has been one of London’s leading house DJs, while remaining active in fashion, with ties to Gwen Stefani and a host of designers. Caplin runs his own financial software firm.

Altered Images
“I Could Be Happy”
(1982, Epic)

Altered Images, a Scottish post-punk band that were initially inspired by the Siouxsie and the Banshees, achieved fleeting success as a mainstream pop band with their single “Happy Birthday” (known to legions of morning drive commuters as the backing track of celebrity birthday roundups). After sending Siouxsie a demo tape, they were invited to tour with their heroes, offering perhaps one of the starkest counterpoints imaginable. Viewers of early ‘80s video programs such as MV3 will fondly recall the passel of the band’s videos: “See Those Eyes”, “Don’t Talk to Me About Love”, “Dead Pop Stars”. But “Happy Birthday” neatly captures the free spirit pop ethos of the era. Band goes into studio, mugs for camera, director layers in some thrifty video effects. This video captures the charisma of lead singer Clare Grogan, who achieved success as an actress in Gregory’s Girl, and continued acting after the band’s demise in 1983. In this snippet, we get to see the whole bag of tricks deployed in early ‘80s New Wave videos:  overexposed lighting, the collective photo booth shoot, and costumed mascots, with the added twist of the band playing cardboard instruments cut out of the artist’s canvas. Kudos to the band for spelling out its name in the first 15 seconds.

[Watch video]

Lene Lovich
“It’s You Mein Schmertz”
(1982, Stiff)

This epic tele-novella of a video features the enigmatic Lovich, whose live performances had a performance art feel to them, as a sort of Spanish Flamenco dancer engaged in a Mata Hari-like espionage entanglement with the Col. Klink gestapo officer. Appropriate because as an American expat who spent her formative years in art schools, writing, acting, and performing in cabarets across Europe, she was actually performing Mata Hari on the London stage. Video clips by Lovich for “New Toy” and “Lucky Number” also showcase the diverse range of the multi-talented musician.

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