Blame MTV. On August 1, 1981 MTV went on the air, changing music (marketing) forever. Punk was still making parents everywhere cringe, and new wave was in its infancy. The dawn of the music video era helped change the musical landscape, with record labels scrambling to sign or create groups and individuals to showcase on the fledgling network. The new artists became increasingly homogenized, with the emphasis of style over substance becoming more and more important to the labels. It is not a coincidence that the '80s are often characterized as the era of the one-hit wonder -- with the popularity of music videos, sales of singles rivaled those not seen in more than a decade. Now, some 20 years later, nostalgia for the time period is high. The most popular program on MTV offshoot VH1 is Behind The Music, with the majority of the its subjects being refugees from "The Decade of Excess". Universal Music has been capitalizing on this renewed interest by releasing a series of '80s music compilations. Pure 80's: The DVD is a video companion to that series.
It is fitting that this DVD compilation starts with the first video clip ever aired on MTV, The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star". A notion ahead of its time, producer Trevor Horn's 1979 song was a vision about to come true. As with many of the clips on this collection, it is very much visually and stylistically of the time period, and in retrospect more amusing to watch than ever intended. The same goes with Animotion's "Obsession". The haircuts, the costume changes, and the wacky video effects can't help but make you laugh, almost in astonishment. You like extra cheese? This DVD serves it up video by video. The disc includes a pair of Tears For Fears hits, "Shout" and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World". The "Rule" video is made up of reasonably cohesive sunny, summertime visuals (though why there is a pair of men in tuxedos dancing in unison in front of gas pumps, remains a mystery). "Shout" chalks up the '80s cliches -- guitar soloing on a mountaintop, walking on a beach, and most curious, performing on a stage in a studio with a whole bunch of folks and kids standing around them, clapping and singing out of time. The Fears' earnestness is almost overwhelming.
The intensity of any of the videos on Pure 80's: The DVD cannot be matched by the hard rock power balladry of Night Ranger. "Sister Christian", released in 1983, garnered much attention for both its name and ambiguous lyrics. In my small Canadian hometown, the song was banned from radio play. The song became the one most associated with the band, and was used to hilarious effect in PT Anderson's film Boogie Nights. But even that memorable scene cannot hold a candle to the over-serious over-emoting of singer/drummer Kelly Keagy in this video clip. His fist clenched, eyes closed dramatizing of the songs final lyrics is one of the funniest moments committed (intentionally) to tape. The opposite is true of Swing Out Sister's "Breakout". Meant to be a light and playful video for an even more lightweight song, the zany antics of the group come off just as annoying as they did in 1986.
Still, there are some real gems here. Songs like Level 42's "Something About You" and Berlin's "No More Words" stand up well to age, as do their videos. "Something About You" may not have a completely clear narrative, as singer Mark King, dressed as an evil vaudevillian clown, seems to interfere with his bandmates' relationship with the same woman. But the scenery and sets have a grand sort of feel to them, and was more of a short film than music video. Same goes for "No More Words". Set during the depression, it has the band as a Bonnie and Clyde-like group, who not only leave their loot with the poor and downtrodden, but get away in the end. There are some gorgeous shots throughout it, and led to a (personal) long held fascination with singer Terri Nunn. There was just something about her black-tipped blonde hair that was so . . . right.
Pure 80's: The DVD is a fitting addition to Universal's Pure series. It is a document of another time, and whether all the clips stand the test of time or not isn't relevant. The music video was meant to be used as another marketing tool for the record companies, a commercial for their products. Some directors and artists raised it to a type of art form. It would have been nice to have had more videos included here, as the 14 clips barely approach an hour of material, negating the DVD formats large capacity. Some of the selections may have been better chosen as well. Why is Asia's "Heat of the Moment" included, but not their stunning video for "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes"? And why was the little seen version of Dan Hartman's "I Can Dream About You" used in place of the more well known "Streets of Fire" one (seen in brief moments on a TV screen in the clip). No matter. They did include what is likely the most recognizable and widely held favourite one-hit wonder of the '80s, Dexy's Midnight Runners, as well as the criminally under-appreciated Big Country. And Universal is sure to continue this line of releases, as long as nostalgic interest remains. Hopefully with all their music acquisitions and possessions, they will dig deeper and include more content next time out.