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20 Music Videos from the 1980s That Have Aged Well

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Thursday, Oct 6, 2011

Pete Townshend and more

Siouxsie and the Banshees - “Christine”
(Polydor, 1980)

While goth music has fared relatively well over the years, there is always a danger with goth videos for embarrassment as performers grow older, and the layers of pancake makeup are used to cover up other deficiencies. Too much makeup, and you’re defending yourself while transforming yourself into the Crow. Against this backdrop is Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees, one of the veterans of the punk movement, an inspiration to many, and an artist who has aged well. Siouxsie Sioux was one of the pioneers of the post-punk movement, being one of the original members of the early punk scene that came together during the initial Sex Pistol shows. The Banshees had a natural affinity for the camera, represented in a series of ground breaking conceptual video clips to singles such as “Dear Prudence”, “Wheels on Fire”, “Cities in Dust”, “The Passenger”, and “Peek-a-Boo”. “Christine” here looks really sharp, capturing the more minimalist look and feel of the earliest new wave videos.

Pete Townshend – “Rough Boys”
(ATCO, 1980)

This video taken from the Pete Townshend solo album Empty Glass is the track where Pete absolutely rocks out on an LP dealing with loss and introspection, and was seemingly recorded during a time when the musician was hitting the bottle. While “Rough Boys” was not the hit that “Let My Love Open the Door” became, the song has become a staple of both live Who and solo shows. The promo readily addresses the challenge posed to classic rockers on whether they would be able to adapt to the video medium. The fury released by Townshend in reaction to pent-up pressure, captured in black and white, gives this video an iconic status.

Howard Jones – “Life in One Day”
(WEA, 1985)

This mash-up video was directed by award-winning directors Godley and Crème (notorious for their work with the Police, Duran Duran, Herbie Hancock, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, among others). At the time, it was one of the most creative concept videos around, depicting the commercialization of product by placing the promo within a series of commercial TV ads. It starts out as a broadcast on a Top of the Pops-like show, but then fades in and out of a hodge podge of commercials, documentary, and random clips, owing to the spotty TV reception. The snips are all done in synchronization with the song. The poor reception serves as a pretext to allow the viewer to constantly switch channels, perhaps reflecting on the short attention span of the average TV viewer. The net result was a pirate radio or bootleg feel to it (perhaps anticipating what U2 would do, patching together different worldwide broadcasts for its Zoo TV tour in the early 1990s). Howard Jones, like his other peers from the ‘80s, would ultimately fade from the top of the charts, but “Life in One Day” is one of the few videos that stands up well to repeated viewings.

The Human League – “Don’t You Want Me”
(Virgin, 1981)

This was one of the earliest video hits, and it has endured, largely because it covers a timeless subject: the doomed love affair of a mentor-protégé relationship in the “Star is Born” scenario. The clip is shot on film, giving it a professional look, and it has a dramatic heft at the outset as the two lead protagonists offer alternating perspectives. Hearing the woman’s side of the story certainly reverses the flow of the narrative; what looked like faithless abandonment by the young lady now comes across as an overprotective mentor who can’t let go. A surprising revelation comes along when the two characters step out of their roles, where upon a wider view, the audience realizes it is watching two actors performing. But even as they step out, you wonder what other issues the characters are hiding. Do the actors have feelings for each other, outside of their characters? Then it dawns on you that, wait, the actors are played by two of the lead singers in the band, and then you realize this little four-minute drama works on so many levels.

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