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20 Music Videos from the 1980s That Have Aged Terribly

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Wednesday, Nov 30, 2011

The Bangles and more...

The Bangles – “Hazy Shade of Winter”
(Def Jam, 1987)

“Time, time, time / See what’s become of me…” This gem of a remake of a 1966 Simon & Garfunkel song has not aged a bit, either on disc or live in concert. And the appearance of this song on the list is not a reflection on the Bangles—who remain vibrant, as reflected in their thrilling performance as headliners of a Girls Rock showcase at South by Southwest last spring, which featured a bill of girl bands inspired by the Bangles’ example. This video makes it on the strength of its subject matter, as the lead track to Less Than Zero, the film based on the debut novel by Bret Easton Ellis. Ellis, who along with a literary brat pack of ‘80s novelists, including Brett McInerney and Tama Janowitz,  documented the narcissistic lifestyles of the young, fast, and fashionable in roman à clef novels such as Bright Lives Big City which made for great summer pulp reading.

The video clip makes use of the big joyous adrenalin rush embedded in the Bangles’ cover version, making use of an ‘80s video cliché, the gratuitous utilization of video screens to help the viewer make a seamless literal transition from music to film and back, as we’re transported into a nightclub with video screens (another ‘80s device). The promo serves as an extended trailer to the film, but just as the video looks to be destined for dustbin of history, its inspiration—the lifestyles of the young and foolish—seems to keep coming back. One night, America is preoccupied with the exploits of kids on the Jersey shore; the next, it’s obsessed with a family known only for being in the media.

Aldo Nova – “Fantasy”
(Portrait, 1982)

Laser beams, helicopters and leopard skin body suits, oh my!  This film within a film begins with a helicopter landing, and lead singer Aldo emerging in a leopard print suit. This primitive, darkly lit video is typical of the straight-ahead performance clips of the period. You want action? Aldo and his security team appear locked out of the club shortly after the helicopter drop. Never fear—Aldo shoots laser beams to force his way in. Aldo rocks his mullet as the smoke machine churns, showcasing the fashions of artists and their fans, with a brief cutaway to the rock star’s posse lounging atop a Pontiac. As fans storm the stage, the singer shows the ability to intermittently disappear.

Depeche Mode – “Get the Balance Right”
(Mute, 1982)

Depeche Mode was prodigious in its video output early on, demonstrating a camera readiness and thematic consistency which gave even its earliest videos such as “Just Can’t Get Enough” and “Everything Counts” an earnest simplicity but a professional look. The band would be a pioneer, through its work with Anton Corbijn, in not only creating a visually arresting atmospheric style making use of black and white photography and iconic imagery, but incorporating the videos as integral parts of their stage performance, such that the band would release video projection stills from its live shows as DVD extras. With this experience in mind, the video for “Get the Balance Right” is an outlier, a dated piece which has the lads lip-synching their way through a confusing narrative outfitted in lab coats (are they scientists or accountants?), battling with ticket inspectors for a turn at the Galaga game. In the meantime, it’s hard to tell when the lads are at work or play, or what is up with Martin Gore’s Dixieland jazz get up, is he on break from Shakey’s? A close second would be the video for “Leave in Silence”, a rudimentary clip that has the lads variously smashing on a parade of objects traveling down a conveyer belt, while appearing as members of the Blue, Red, Green, and Yellow Man groups.

Donnie Iris – “Ah Leah”
(Midwest, 1980)

Typical of other period clips, this dated promo showcases a video cliché, the inexplicable pairing of a geeky musician and a beautiful model. In real life these pairings occur; to wit, the longstanding Paulina Porizkova/Ric Ocasek relationship. Here, the coupling just seems awkward. Our hero is Donnie Iris, pride of Youngstown, Ohio, is adorned in his yellow suit, channeling David Byrne, Buddy Holly, or Elvis Costello into his geek pose. The video is a straightforward performance piece, with Donnie lip-synching his ode to Leah, using very simple techniques in a video shot in a bright video environment, with the only effect casting each of the two lead characters, once they have separated in a series of mirrors. The video has a very sad longing—the lack of chemistry is palpable, whether by design or the product of ham-fisted acting. The phrase “When we touch, we never have to fake it” seems quite the contrary as she pushes herself away, and our hero is left, still longing.

Cheap Trick – “The Flame”
(Epic, 1986)

For a band that will go down in history as one of the most critically-praised and adored power-pop groups, as well as inspiration to a number of alternative rock artists such as the Smashing Pumpkins, this video represents Cheap Trick at one of its most bittersweet moments. The quartet’s career had seemingly stalled after a series of acclaimed but commercially wanting albums. The band was forced against their will to work with outside songwriters, and the result was this unexpected #1 hit, which propelled the album, Lap of Luxury to Platinum status in the United States. In a case of being careful what you wish for, this stab at popularity, while broadening Cheap Trick’s popularity, cut against the very spirit that made the band’s underground success so appealing to core fans: the way it had capitalized on Beatlemania level exuberance in Japan to achieve long-awaited success back home. Recording a tune at the insistence of the label is one thing, nut the video seems to capture the process by which Cheap Trick is remade into a hair band attempting to pull off a signature ballad.

In channeling the spirit of Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”, the video looks incredibly dated. Other power pop band videos, such as Night Ranger’s “You Can Still Rock in America” and “Your Love” by the Outfield, in contrast, seem to exude a timeless quality despite the prevalence of ‘80s hair and fashion. “The Flame”, with the gratuitous use of video screens and scenes of the band members being primped for their shoot, seems to be sapped of energy. Not only do the musicians not seem to be enjoying themselves, but the individuality that once defined Cheap Trick has been submerged in lighting styles and camera angles reminiscent of every other hair band ballad being shot. Happily, Cheap Trick endured past this moment, and after splitting from two major labels is now bigger than ever in pop culture through prominent placement in shows, ads, video games, achieving recognition from peers and a new legion of fans.

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