[16 October 2007]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
By 1984, the music video format had catapulted the careers of many, and everyone from Madonna to Tina Turner was using the medium to their own advantage. Meanwhile the scruffy, poodle headed, hard rockin’ bands from across the country, and especially Los Angeles, were creeping out of the clubs, into the arenas, and into the collective consciousness of young teens everywhere, thanks to some of the most memorable videos of the decade.
Perfectly marketed toward the junior high crowd, the clips either used tame sexual innuendo, elaborate set pieces, liberal doses of humor, fashionable clothes and coifs, energetic live footage, or any combination thereof, and by that summer, the kids had bought into it, big time. The formula worked whether it was the kung fu goofiness of Motley Crue’s “Too Young to Fall in Love”, the slapstick comedy of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, or in the case of one certain LA band, a memorable clip with Milton Berle and a latex-clad woman.
Although Ratt had been working the Southern California circuit since the late ‘70s, first in San Diego and then in Los Angeles, they were viewed by many as overnight sensations, thanks to the stunning success of the single “Round and Round” and its accompanying video, which quickly became an MTV staple. Directed by Don Letts (he of Big Audio Dynamite notoriety), its premise was straightforward but effective: a hoity-toity dinner party, featuring Milton Berle in a dual role (his nephew managed the band), is terrorized by the sound of the band playing in the above attic, save for one slender lady, who is drawn to the band’s tunage, crawls upstairs, and is transformed into a writhing, uh, Rat Girl. Okay, on paper, it’s incredibly stupid, but back then, it was awesome, and coupled with arguably the best song of the ‘80s pop metal era, it worked brilliantly.
So after giving us one of the defining music videos of 1984, and playing a major role in the popularization of mainstream hard rock/metal, you’d think that Ratt would continue to give the kids cool vids to go along with the wealth of strong singles they put out from 1984 to 1989. But despite all the continued success throughout the decade (including four consecutive platinum albums), Ratt’s videos, failed to keep pace with the music. Whether it was the cornball cowboy fantasy of “Wanted Man”, the cheap-looking “Back For More”, the surreal “Lay it Down”, or the elaborate, epic disaster “Shame Shame Shame” the videos just got worse. Consequently, the bare-bones DVD retrospective Videos From the Cellar: The Atlantic Years is a major, major flop.
Rhino’s recent reissues of classic, out of print, metal VHS releases from the mid-80s, including titles by Dokken and Twisted Sister, have been hugely entertaining, but Ratt’s turn in the rotation is a rather joyless endeavor. Not only are the videos themselves awful, but the two videotapes, 1985’s Ratt: The Video and 1991’s Detonator: Videoaction 1991 were hastily and lazily assembled. They were crass attempts to cash in on a burgeoning medium while giving fans only the bare minimum of content. Thirdly, there’s very little present-day input from the band, save for a bland commentary track by singer Stephen Pearcy and guitarist Warren DeMartini. The Dokken and Twisted Sister DVDs were tremendous in how the band offered stories from the decadent past and poked fun at their own dubious choices in video concepts, but there’s virtually none of that here. In fact, when we see the band spend days and days filming the disastrous videos for “Shame Shame Shame” and “Lovin’ You’s a Dirty Job”, both of which coming right before hair metal collapsed under the weight of grunge, it’s just plain sad, as everyone involved seems utterly clueless and obsessed with going as far over the top as possible.
The success of “Round and Round” aside, Ratt’s career was a very impressive one, and has been very well encapsulated on the excellent accompanying CD compilation Tell the World: The Very Best of Ratt. All Videos From the Cellar tells us is how, in direct contrast to the talented band’s musical chops, they used that one video to springboard to fame then just went through the motions in subsequent pieces. Thankfully, for most of us, the songs have since outlasted the images that once accompanied them on television. Except for that creepy kid in the “Lay it Down” clip…