...just call it one or more of the following: make-up; dancing lessons; a mullet; rehab; a pastel blazer.
TOPIC: 1980's video breakthroughs by artists who debuted in the 1960's.
The irony is not lost on me.
Had I posted this blog entry, oh, six weeks ago, I could have afforded to bring the snark. As in, "here's your super productive music blog guy back again, and this time, we're here to look back in amusement at the period in a certain generation of artists' careers in which they, despite having more than proven their artistic merit for the previous 15-20 years, found themselves bowing to the cheeseball conventions of the time. Pastels, drum machines, dancers...MTV and 80's pop culture...blah blah.."
Then I'd possibly riff about these legends having to play the MTV game if they were to keep their mansions, antique cars and pay their lawyers, rehab bills, etc.
But here I am, the one recently so bereft of inspiration, who hasn't posted in, what, two months? And finally returning with a fluffy, obvious topic, and one which, I'm sure, has been done before, and better, by other writers.
I am Robert Plant, and this is my new single, "Tall Cool One".
(stay tuned for why "Tall Cool One" isn't on this list after all).
Whatevs. The point is, these artists did come back.
And so have I..
..And in my defense, I was actually writing, but in other areas. Like new songs and stuff.
But what I will plea guilty to is chipping away at this entry over the course of the last six weeks, and completely losing focus, as you may notice below. Wait--Who am I apologizing to?
As I state in the title of this entry, DON'T call it a comeback. I should say that, to their credit, these artists didn't resist the times. A good portion of their generation were also proudly donning mullets and Don Johnson duds to keep them feeling young. Those who didn't want that still had Family Ties' Steven Keaton (played by Michael Gross) to have as a role model.
|Don Johnson. 80's archetype for Jagger, Winwood, Daltrey and Robertson.
|Michael Gross. 80's archetype for Crosby, Garcia, Dylan and Davies.
I will now say that I don't presume that most baby boomers were looking to prime time TV to guide their fashion choices. It's just that I was watching a lot of TV in the 80's, and my own parents were too old to be baby boomers. Thus my view of what boomers were up to in the 80's was/ is completely informed by what I saw on TV. Not even cable TV. We didn't get that until 1990. So to be honest, when I mention seeing these videos as a youth, I was actually seeing them on either V66 or daily afternoon shows like Hot Hit Video with Bill Smith. MTV was only seen when I was over a friend or band mate's house.
For every one of the below examples, there was another artist who would have killed to have successfully crossed over from FM to MTV, but was relegated to nostalgia shows or mid-sized clubs. For every Eric Clapton, there was an Eric Burdon. For every Monkees, there was a Turtles. For every Stills, there was a Furay. For every Robbie Robertson, there was a Richard Manuel.
Management, luck, discipline, desire, willingness to kiss butts and play the game...there's kind of no one definitive reason why those who weathered the 80's, did. But they did, and at the time, I was at an age where they seemed old, but not embarrassingly so.
And in many cases, they crossed a necessary--if sometimes embarrassing in retrospect--bridge that afforded them a very nice artistic license as they cruised toward the sunset in the 21st century. They were just doing what it took to survive. Plant had to experience "Tall Cool One" to get to his Grammy in 2008. Paul McCartney had to do "Broad Street" to get to his amazing revival in his last several albums. For these artists, the 80's was their mid life crisis. The generation that thought they'd change everything was now being told what to do by RISDi grads half their age (if they were lucky).
How did they weather it?
Criteria: Song+Video: where does it stand in the artists' greater work? What did I think of it at the time and what do I think of it now?
Rating System: 1 to 5
A "1" means it DEPENDS on the past/the artists' legacy and/or FORCEFULLY/SELF CONSCIOUSLY EMBRACES the 80's. (Don Johnson/Miami Vice mid life crisis.)
A "5" means the song stands up and the artist is fully aware of the fact that this bizarre video is just how the game is played now. They aren't trying to fool anyone. (Michael Gross/Family Ties dad who has happily changed with the times, but still embraces his 60's values.)
note: as the writing of this dragged on, the above criteria began to get a bit slippery...
Santana-Hold On (1982)
We all know that "Santana" is basically a name brand. Any song with a cowbell and Carlos Santana playing a guitar solo means that the song can be on a Santana album. Doesn't matter who wrote it (probably not Santana). Doesn't matter who's singing (definitely not Santana). It's Santana nonetheless. I don't know how that all works, but it must be some karmic reward for something. I will not listen to any of the formula crap he's been doing since the 90's. Who am I kidding? I don't listen to Santana, period (though I do like "Hope You're Feeling Better" from Abraxas.)
But I do think that this song has a killer chorus, and is early-80's enough that despite its undeniably 80's video, the song could be from 1978. And Carlos maintains his dignity in the clip.
The Rolling Stones-Under Cover of the Night (1983)
Oh my. Just to let you know how sporadically I've been chipping away at this entry, I'll tell you that before settling on this video as the definitive representation of The Stones' entry into the MTV era, I had 1989's "Mixed Emotions" (too "comeback"-ish), then 1986's "One Hit to the Body" (too....not really The Stones), and 1981's "Waiting on a Friend" (too not-quite-80's). But "Under Cover of the Night" has it all: a bit of acting, a plot, and the song has some 80's dance music quality to it. Listening to it now, it still stands up. It's really an anomaly in the Stones catalog, sort of how "2000 Light Years from Home" is.
When I was 11, the fade out/fade in bits of this song kind of scared the crap out of me, particularly while laying in bed listening to the clock radio late at night on the weekend (ahhh...WBCN late night in the early 80's. Now that was Rock School.) The video is still kind of scary, though it was years before I saw the "unedited" version.
Bob Dylan-Sweetheart Like You (1983)
High grades all around for boring the crap out of me when I was 12. I knew he was a legend and was supposed to be bowed down to, but I just thought, "he probably smells bad and is mean to kids and boring to be around.".
As an almost 40-year old musician, if I appear cool to a 12 year old, lord knows it's not because I'm trying. Now I see that they got the right guy to make the video.
Yes-Owner of a Lonely Heart (1983)
The aging nerd-herd also score aces. I LOVED this song and video as a 12 year old.
They were wise to get an actor to be the main focus of the video, because Yes has never been a pretty sight.
And the song--perhaps the poppiest in their catalog? Plus, the samples and drum machine patterns etc were totally state of the art. You can tell that this was a very rewarding song for Yes--a lot of hard work, and yet fun as hell to work with all that new technology. And it came out perfectly.
Robert Plant-Big Log (1983)
I admit, I had 1988's horrible (though I liked it at the time) "Tall Cool One" all set to go, when I remembered, "Planty actually had a couple of great singles and weird videos in the early 80's!".
This song and "In the Mood" were both more "vibes" than songs, and yet both made the top 40. In 1983. That kind of rules, doesn't it? When you think of it, 1983 was a pretty great year for pop music. Human League? Eurythmics? New Wave was old, but this was the year it broke! And Robert Plant's hits were kind of New Wave, weren't they? He cared not at all that Def Leppard etc were the new cocks of the walk.
Especially since in 1983, "Led Zep Rules!" was the rallying cry for pimply teens working at the mall, wearing acid wash denim, and this song bears none of the Zep vibe.
"Zep Rules!" was also the rallying cry for the handful of older kids from the Catholic school who occupied the back of my 5th-8th grade school bus, and who, every morning, would BLAST Zep, Aerosmith and Floyd from the last couple seats, exhaling their Marlboro Lights out the open windows, and taunting the bus driver. Didn't matter that it was different kids each year--they all had the St. Michael's uniform, brought a huge boom box onto the bus, smoked cigarettes and taunted us kids and poor ol' Mrs. Potter the driver.
Anyway, I hadn't watched this video in decades, but it's great.
Plant stares, perplexed, at a pinwheel for an awfully long time. And writes on a chalkboard. A bit "Man Who Fell to Earth".
I may give The Principle of Moments a spin soon.
Lou Reed-I Love You, Suzanne (1984)
Well, this song is kid of boring, isn't it? Especially when one knows what Lou can do. I didn't love it then, or now--and in 1984, my sister was loaning me Transformer and VU, so I was no Lou novice.
In retrospect, I'll give it an extra .5 because it sounds like mid 80's Feelies sounding like Lou Reed.
The video....Lou, Lou, Lou.
Really? Bad acting, and a stunt double dancing? (that is a stunt double, right?)
**bingo....extra point....bingo....extra point....bingo....**
THIS IS THREE YEARS BEFORE GEORGE HARRISON'S VIDEO FOR "GOT MY MIND SET ON YOU" USED THE SAME DANCING-STUNT-DOUBLE SCHTICK.
**bingo....extra point....bingo....extra point....bingo....**
It seemed perplexing and weird when I was 12, but I had my sister to explain why it was funny.
Still, in retrospect, it seems like a newly-sober Lou doing whatever it takes to project a cartoon image of himself for the MTV.
Tina Turner-What's Love Got To Do With It? (1984)
Because you really can't diss Tina Turner.
CSN-Southern Cross (1984)
The other day I was in a CVS and this song was playing. I totally dug every minute if it. CSN in CVS.
There's nothing "eighties" about this song. It's pretty classic. The video...well, it's hard to diss. Because it shows the three guys pretty accurately. Stills was a living, breathing "Yacht Rock"-er. Crosby is firmly in freebase-land. He and Jerry Garcia were on parallel paths throughout the 80's. But Crosby was into guns and that's why he served--and quit the hard stuff and is still alive. More about Garcia later.
Nash...now he's the one who embraced the 80's, with his mullet and aerobics-instructor stage demeanor. One point off because of his solo song "Innocent Eyes" with a video featuring John Ritter. I'm not gonna link to it. Why a point off for a song that C+S had nothing to do with? It's that bad.
Paul McCartney--No More Lonely Nights (1984)
song-4.5. Wait. Take 1.5 off for his embarrassing dance version and even more embarrassing video for it where he's wearing a Bill Cosby-esque sweater and stiffly dancing in a disco surrounded by real dancers. Add .5 because this is classic McCartney.
--Linda's gifts were photography and cooking. Shame on Paul for encouraging her to sing and act. I think her legacy would be a lot cooler had he not.
--It's from a horrible movie.
--I love seeing Ringo do anything--he's got great stage and screen presence. But it's sad to know that this was in the years where he (and Elton and Clapton) was the last guy at the booze n' blow rock and roll party--all his mates were dead or in rehab. A few years after this, he finally rehabbed and this is why he is still kicking today.
The Kinks-Do It Again (1985)
I loved it then and I love it now. This may be the last perfect Kinks song? I think so.
Kudos to Ray Davies' production. Especially compared to the average 1985 fare, this sounds like a 4 piece rock and roll band playing together. The snare drum sound is sweeeeet. As is Dave's solo.
Pete Townshend- Face the Face (1985)
I was way into The Who when this came out and this seemed pretty cool. I didn't buy White City, because I didn't really get the concept. But I dug the single, and I remember thinking the distorted harmonica solo was a guitar.
The video was fun and fitting and not embarrassing, then or now. Seeing Townshend's daughter Emma in the video was a bit puzzling at the time, but now it seems quite cool.
Roger Daltrey-After the Fire (1985)
I know Pete wrote this song, but there seems to be an obvious reason why he gave it to Roger for his solo album. Daltrey's not a songwriter nor a visionary in any way. After the "fire" (The Who's break up), Pete could still write, record and perform as a solo act and sell records, tickets and get good reviews. All Roger could do (and still does) is rest on the legacy of The Who. This song seems like Pete letting Roger be his mouthpiece one last time. But for me, it doesn't work. Because it's not The Who, because Pete's not there hearing Roger sing his words and so the words don't ring true. To hear fit 'n trim Roger in 1985 belt "I gotta stop drinking, I gotta stop smoking" just sounds like a Broadway actor portraying a rock star. If you've ever heard Pete's demo for this song--much like hearing his demos of any Who tune--you hear the truth from the horse's mouth (or horse's neck, ho ho). Roger's album's title track, "Under a Raging Moon" was a tribute to Keith Moon--with several drummers playing solos on it. So, yeah. Only three years post Who, and Roger was already clinging to nostalgia to sell himself. When that song came out, as I said above, I was way into The Who and worshiping the Moon, and thought, "5 session guys soloing (with horrible 80's reverb) doesn't create 1/5 of the excitement of Keith".
Eric Clapton-Forever Man (1985)
Not a bad song, and a great video to present Eric Clapton to the MTV generation. Here's this guy everyone says is God, on this cold looking sound stage, in an overcoat and not playing at all to the camera. He seemed God-like enough to me--a distant and cold God, but that was cool. Plus, I was just getting into Cream at the time, so I knew his best work.
Unfortunately, a couple years later came "It's in the Way That You Use It", beer commercials, sobriety, that annoying one-length haircut and all the jocks and cheerleaders in my school becoming huge Clapton fans. Blechh.
John Fogerty-The Old Man Down the Road (1985)
1985 was when I was getting into anything Classic Rock, and so it was great that everyone I dug (I was on a CCR craze at this time) was coming back, bright and shiny for the MTV (or whatever video show/channel I was watching.)
I never bought any of these artists' new stuff, because I already knew that there was no beating what they'd done in their youth. This song was great because it sounded like CCR (that would have been a 5 when I was 13, but is a 3 now--thus, the 4). Fogerty was (and still is, albeit, quite well), rehashing his three-year creative CCR blast. This was the start of that. This video is all about the bayou, and Mr. Oakland still being sold as Mr. Louisiana. It's a bit boring (conceptual and bayou don't mix well) and the pay off at the end? Hey, there's old John, smirking at the camera, looking a bit not ready for prime time.
The Moody Blues-Your Wildest Dreams (1986)
This song is actually what birthed the idea for this entry. I don't normally partake in tributes, but within the same 3 week period, I found myself partaking in a Jerry Garcia tribute and a Moody Blues tribute. In each, I got to play the big 80's song they each had, along side their more classic, vintage stuff. And in both cases the 80's hits stand up because they really could have come out at any time in their respective careers.
In 1986, I wasn't crazy about this song. Now, I appreciate it. It's classic Moodies, and, yeah, you can complain about the cheesy space synth or the new age cosmic lyrics, but they were ALWAYS about that. But, yes, you can complain about the hair and wardrobe. But no points off because the Moodies know they aren't trying to fool anyone (like the aforementioned Garcia/Dead). They are who they are--weird middle aged dudes-- and that's refreshing.
Paul Simon--Call Me Al (1986)
Hammy and not-trying-to-be-hip. And so, it's pretty hip. Maybe the last cool thing Chevy Chase was ever involved in. And anything associated with Graceland gets aces.
UPDATE: I said that thing about Chevy Chase before I'd ever seen an episode of Community.
So, I take it back. He's awesome in Community.
Steve Winwood--Back in the High Life (1986)
A Baby Boomer anthem for the 80's. A supermarket anthem for all eternity. Great to hear Winwood's ageless voice, but ugh. When this came out I was just getting into the awesomeness of Traffic and this was really kind of gross. Synth-y, targeted to the boomer generation, plus Stevie's been totally remade. The mullet, the dancing...if you've ever seen, say, Traffic Live in Santa Monica, 1973, that's vintage Winwood, singing and playing his heart out, and yet, seemingly broadcasting from another planet. Here, he still seems distant, but it comes across as a guy not totally convinced of "the new Steve". Still, the yuppies bought it and at the very least, it's better than 80's Joe Cocker (what isn't?).
Grateful Dead-Touch of Grey (1987)
This sure surprised....I guess everyone who was paying attention, which apparently was a lot of people. The Dead had been performing this song since 1982, but before this video, not too many non-Deadheads were going to their shows, so it was new to the world. What the recording did was force the Dead to settle on a tempo and a feel and Jerry to settle on the order of verses. How did this become a hit? Did Jerry lose 50 lbs, wear something besides his t-shirt and jeans and learn some dance steps? Nope, still the same Garcia.
Did he go for a Steve Vai tone for his solo? Nope. Clean and noodly. In fact, at the time, I had a hard time convincing my Van Halen-loving friends that Garcia was, in fact, a great guitar player. Did the band undergo a makeover? Nope, still a ragtag bunch wearing the same Goodwill wardrobe.
Well, ok, drummer Bill Kreutzmann seems to have dyed his greying hair brown, but that was probably an attempt to make up for his rapidly receding hairline (and perma-mustache).
You mean the Dead were presented, in sound and vision, as they really were, and the song became a top 10? You mean "straight folks" were drawn by the thousands to their shows (and either were scared and bored and said "well, that was...interesting", or found a new religion), thus creating a big problem for the band and their fans? Yup.
Mullets and MIDI, rehab and embarrassing videos followed, but it didn't really matter. The Grateful Dead were still The Grateful Dead, jamming and forgetting lyrics and doing drums and space at every show. Deadheads got younger and thought that the horrible 90's were good, but after this song's moment in the sun, the Clapton/Winwood contingent stayed away.
The Monkees- That Was Then, This is Now (1987)
I don't really have to explain why, do I?
George Harrison-Got My Mind Set on You (1987)
It was so cool to have George back. Yes, the production is very 80's, and the album cover of Cloud Nine could have been a bit--well, a lot--cooler, but if you listened to the album, you could tell that George was still George. Philosophical, funny, biting, and pining for simpler, more psychedelic times--and not caring (he was already dismissive of new music by 1974).
The song loses a point just because George didn't write it, and because it's kind of repetitive.
The video loses half a point because Lou Reed had already done the stunt dancer bit. Otherwise, it was awesome to see George in a somewhat trippy video, totally poker faced--but with those ancient wise man eyes that let you in on the joke.
Robbie Robertson-Somewhere Down the Crazy River (1987)
I don't like this song very much at all, but how it came about gives it an extra point. According to producer Daniel Lanois, he secretly recorded Robbie while he was telling a story about hanging out in Arkansas with native guide and Band mate, Levon Helm. But otherwise, out of that context, it's annoying and pretentious.
The video doesn't help matters. Lip syncing to spoken word is always a dicey business. Plus Robbie has a mullet, overacts and there's that whole steamy, sweaty Cinemax After Dark vibe to the song.
Pink Floyd-Learning to Fly (1987)
I'm gonna cop out because I don't really speak Floyd post-72. I guess it's all fine if you're into that sort of thing. I remember hearing this a few times on WBCN but wasn't a Floyd fan (a couple years later I'd become obsessed w/ Syd Barrett, but never got into the famous mid/late 70's Floyd stuff). And I vaguely remember seeing this video at a friend's house. "Eh" then and "eh" now.
We'll end this with two bummers.
If this was actually a fair and balanced blog entry, you know what video would go here, don't you?
Yes. "Kokomo" by The Beach Boys.
Not that any of the songs above and below represent the pinnacle of any of these artists' careers, but that song was a crime against society, and thus, will not be featured here.
Plus, my typing teacher in high school used to put it on to get us to "get into the rhythm of typing".
And, Fucking Stamos. And Mike and Bruce breaking up The Beach Boys mid-reunion.
And by the way, why isn't there a video for Brian Wilson's "Love and Mercy"? I'd put that here and give it a 5. No, a 4.5 for the use of the word "crummy", which musn't ever be heard in a pop song again.
(fail) Jefferson Airplane--Planes (1989)
I won't bother grading this. Most of you probably forgot that the original Jefferson Airplane--no, not Jefferson Starship, and no, definitely not Starship--reunited in 1989. My sister and I saw them at Great Woods. It was good. Unlike their comeback album or this video, which were both sort of a failures on all fronts. And I really loved the Airplane at this point. But at this point, they were a mish mash of: Grace Slick still radiating Starship (though she totally quit music shortly after this), a newly sober Jorma (and Jack?), a totally "oh, right! That guy!"-worthy Marty Balin, who seemed to be taking Davy Jones lessons, and most importantly of all, Mr "I Love Drugs", Paul Kantner (who actually did utter those words at the Great Woods show we saw. We repeated that many times afterwards. It seemed to be some sort of fightin' words to the sober contingent. Sad and bizarre).
Ok then. I cannot wait to hit publish. I have no closing words because I have no editor. And you just came here for the videos anyway. Goodnight.