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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Video did more than kill the radio star . . .

Merritt sent out a MySpace bulletin yesterday that had Jason and I cracking up. Along with the video for Journey's "Separate Ways," she posted this commentary:

Okay, we've all seen this video, but it's probably been a while. I would just like to take the opportunity to examine some of the worst (and simultaneously, the best) aspects of it:

1. invisible instruments. seriously.
2. steve perry's high-waisted, tight-crotched tapered jeans
3. the leather-clad hair model with no apparent destination but numerous wharf warehouse doors
4. headless bass
5. band choreography - both West Side Story and drill team styles
6. steve perry's repeated use of universal handsign for "chains that bind you" (ie, making fist, then grasping the wrist below it)
7. keyboardist's pawing motions during frames near beginning (this might be included with number 1, but I feel it's absurd enough to stand on it's own)
8. steve perry's horror-stricken backward run through stacked pallets
9. white pumps, tweed blazer, foosball t-shirt
10. hubcap cymbals
11. slow-mo montage

It is, I think, both brilliant and atrocious.

The result of this "journey back" in time? A visit to this site that Jason found via this blog. Hilarity ensued with watching videos from acts like Icehouse, Bad English and Whitesnake. Yet the watching of them got us to thinking about how music videos have impacted us as listeners. Jason made the remark that these are good songs, but we tend to remember the really silly parts of the videos in addition to (and sometimes more than) the hooks of the songs. I gotta wonder: have we been duped?

I recently watched School of Rock for the first time and a line that really stood out to me was:

It was called rock 'n roll, but guess what, oh no, the Man ruined that, too, with a little thing called MTV!

I understand why MTV gets the slagging of "Image became more important than the music!" but I think MTV should not get the full blame here. Full disclosure: yes, I have worked for a division of MTV's parent company, Viacom, before, but I think a bigger part of the blame should be on the videos themselves.

If I were to think of a song like "Is This Love?" by Whitesnake, not only would I think of the slow pace, piano accompaniment and its melodic similarities to Hey Mercedes' "Quit," but I would also remember Tawny Kitaen's sexy looks, David Coverdale's rugged face and hair, the smoke flying around the set and the headless double-neck guitar. The same can be said about so many songs with their videos, but was all of this a ploy to get us kids born in the mid- to late-'70s to be excited about music and buy it? I think they were.

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of the Mars Volta said last year that the video for "The Widow" was a "trailer" for their second album, Frances the Mute. I think that's a good way of describing a sort of tip-of-iceberg with how a video can give a taste of what's on an album, but not everybody makes "albums" if you know what I mean. Not all artists put out an album that is meant to be listened to the whole way through. Videos are a vehicle for product, but they have become an art form unto themselves.

Plenty of aspects from music videos from the '80s and '90s were not cheesy. However, the cheesiest aspects of them have found a way into our psyche. I'm talking the tight zoom-in of Neal Schon singing the chorus to "Separate Ways," Icehouse's Iva Davies' mullet in the "Crazy" video, Dee Snider's hair and make-up in Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" and so on.

At least they weren't commercial jingles for something other than vinyl LPs, cassettes and CDs, but videos made an impression on us that the generation before us didn't get. That generation just had album covers, periodic TV performances and live concerts to give them something to look at with the music. With the nature of videos being a form of documentation, we can look back and laugh at really silly stuff from the past. For some reason, a Flock of Seagulls video is funnier than a Yes live performance clip from the '70s. Whether or not videos devalue the appreciation of music, I can't help but think of headbands and three quick shots of cymbal hits whenever I hear Loverboy's "Everybody's Working for the Weekend."

Ultimately, I think this is a way of us twenty/thirty-somethings to laugh at what we thought was cool when we were younger and "didn't know any better." I gotta say though, videos kept my attention with music through the years. I wasn't going to find out about a band like Mission of Burma from my parents, so with regular MTV, VH1 and radio playing stuff that I couldn't get into in '96 and '97, I had to look elsewhere for music that spoke to me.

2 comments:

Mr Atrocity said...

Good heavens, next you'll be suggesting that "Hot For Teacher" was not a defining moment for cinematic art.

Marginally more seriously though, in an age where music magazines and newspapers' importance to the mass listenership dwindled, the music video became a band's way of explaining what they were about, and their cultural identity. Most of the huge acts from the 80's are impossible to seperate in the mind's eye from the image that they projected in their videos.

Whilst it doesn't necessarily take anything away from the music, because of all the other cultural references that music videos must employ e.g. camera angles, costume, makeup, visual effects, use of colour and so on there is so much more to date badly than just a tune and a bit of album art (though there are some stinkers there too).

Treblephone said...

Speaking as someone who turned 43 today.....

Image has always been a part of popular music, of course, but the 'music video age' is the point at which image became paramount.
And, frankly, a lot of crap got sold because of spiffy videos.

It was like everything else in popular culture with a life-cycle...it started out as inventive, got invaded by people who smelled money and opportunity, and became over-saturated with overblown hackwork, soon to crawl away into the darkness.

Frankly, videos have almost gone underground to a degree, and I say: good riddance.