Thirty years ago, a-ha were at No 1 in the US with Take on Me, on the third time of trying, a success credited to its new video. It’s made us a little nostalgic for some memorable music clips.
Let’s put aside for a minute how bloody brilliant the actual song is and the effect Morten Harket’s piercing blue eyes and cheekbones you could eat your dinner off had on an eight-year-old girl (and watching it again, 38-year-old woman). Man, the video. The award-winning, rotoscoping* 1985 video by Steve Barron.
1980s girl sits in a 1980s diner, reading her 1980s comic. There’s a super handsome 1980s cartoon man. He winks at her (WHAT NOW?!). Then a sketchy arm comes out of the comic and pulls her into the animated 1980s world (HOLD THE PHONE!). 1980s love and adventures ensue, including being chased by 1980s bad guys with pipe wrenches (date unspecified: a wrench is a wrench is a wrench).
Check out 2.07 for the most soulful drumming ever and there’s a cool cartoon keyboard bit… Look, the other a-ha-ers are in it somewhere, is what I’m saying, but who gives a rat’s arse? This is all about Harket. And his pipe wrench.
The times I sat reading a comic just waiting for a cartoon hand to emerge and beckon me in so we could have adventures and wind up grubby in a cafe bin? Innumerable. I don’t even think I’d have been freaked out; I was that ready for it. Sure, I was a lonely child. It’s testament to mini-Noonan’s naivety that I only just realised it ends with a hot, sweaty Harket on the floor. Excuse me a moment…
*Had to look this up. It’s a pencil sketch animation/live action combo.
It’s not the most exciting of Fatboy Slim tunes (Rockafeller Skank pisses all over it) but the video to Weapon of Choice is four minutes of pure weird joy. Why is Christopher Walken alone in an abandoned hotel lobby, save for a small radio and the sound of distant hoovering? Has the apocalypse gone down, leaving only SuperWalken and a diligent housekeeper? Is this all the lucid cheese dream of the king of Hollywood Creepy?
Don’t know and, as he goes all Scary Fred Astaire on us, don’t care. It’s CHRISTOPHER WALKEN DOING A PARTIALLY ZERO G DANCE ROUTINE. All senior movie stars should do this. Think of it! A Busby Berkeley number with Sirs Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, holding aloft Dame Judi Dench. Yes, more of this please!
Highlights of this video include the bit where he pops up in the foreground of the shot after clearly-somebody-else has just done an amazing somersault because that trick always makes me laugh; the bit where he leaps, dreamlike, over the mezzanine and starts fricking flying and the fact my six-year-old son only knows Christopher Walken as ‘the flying man in the Fatboy Slim video’.
The Beastie Boys – Sabotage
In the same way that the sadly missed Adam Yauch rushed the stage of the MTV Awards in a comical costume to protest Spike Jonze’s lack of awards for this video, I’m barging on to the metaphorical Standard Issue stage to say this is best music video ever. Because it is.
Why? Because it’s silly. So wonderfully, effortlessly, just titting around with your mates silly. There seems to have been no reason for The Beastie Boys and Jonze to make a homage to/pastiche of 70s cop shows other than they thought it would be fun. And it is.
Every dumb cop show cliché is here: driving into boxes, falling into swimming pools, tackling people into piles of rubbish, donut eating, slow-mo walking in a line. There’s terrible false ‘taches, there’s ridiculous fake cop names – of which Nathan Wind obviously takes the prize – and there’s a lot of running up corridors.
I think it’s pretty clear we have a winner.
Aphex Twin – Come to Daddy
Voted by Pitchfork Media as the Best Music Video of the 1990s and by viewers of Channel 4 as one of the scariest TV moments of all time (despite not even being a TV moment), there are some visuals you never forget, and this is certainly one. Chris Cunningham’s music videos for Björk, Madonna, Aphex Twin and many more have become a genre in their own right; you can even buy a DVD of Cunningham’s collected work rather than theirs.
To set the unpleasant scene, Come to Daddy is shot around the same council estate/underground carpark in Thamesmead as Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and it begins with a vulnerable old dear walking a waggy dog through this bleak and intimidating concrete jungle… So far, so scary. BOO!
Don’t be spooked too soon though because things get fucking weird in a way you’re just not braced for. The dog urinates on an abandoned television set that causes a demon to appear on screen, laughing about eating your soul and then – out of nowhere – a gang of terrifying school children appear, dressed in summer dresses and Mary Jane shoes, armed with baseball bats, fixed grins and ALL with the beardy face of the pony-tailed Aphex Twin.
The shrunken twins hold hands, skipping while they riot towards you, pressing their faces to car windows as people try to escape. Their sharp-toothed soul-hungry Daddy grows as you watch him stand hunched over the terrified pensioner, screaming so hard in her face that her hair (and cheeks) fly backwards…. Industrial drum and bass is ab-solutely exhausting.
Thamesmead is basically destroyed in this video, so at least there’s a happy ending.
Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
I fell in love with the first music video I ever saw – Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. We’d seen performance clips but nothing telling the story of the song. Not that it helped make sense of Freddie Mercury’s epic operatic prog-rock mash-up. It meant, he said later, “whatever you wanted it to mean.”
‘Simple’ is not a word normally applied to a Queen production (‘overblown baroque’ fits nicely) but the elegant symbolism in Bruce Gowers’ direction of this ground-breaker makes a powerful counterpoint to the excesses of the over-dubbed, layered vocals. The black-for-bad and white-for-good Zandra Rhodes stage costumes; the mannered opening shot inspired by a photograph of Marlene Dietrich; Freddie’s cheekbones cascading backwards to vanishing point and the slow build through restraint to an explosion of dry ice, light, noise and free movement before it’s reined back to a stripped and oiled Roger Taylor swinging slowly at the tam-tam in camp homage to the Rank Organisation’s iconic Gong Man as the sound and fury dies on a lullaby whisper are all… perfect.
Buddy Holly is the video that ALMOST didn’t happen, because the song almost didn’t happen.
Rivers Cuomo, Weezer’s lead singer, felt the track was a mite bit too cheesy for their debut album. Luckily, Mr Paulina Porizkova (Ric Ocasek, album producer and Cars frontman), convinced Cuomo to keep it on the record.
The video, as directed by (then) wunderkind Spike Jonze, was a delightful amalgamation of footage from Happy Days—that 1970s sitcom about the 1950s and Weezer, sockhopping their alt-rock hearts out in swell beige cardigans. The conceit being that Weezer was playing a special gig at Al’s Diner.
100% invested in the concept, the video is brilliantly broken up at the halfway point with ‘to be continued…’ and ‘stay tuned for more Happy Days’ bumpers. The beat kicks back in with “Bang bang, knockin’ on the door” and the rock n’ roll resumes.
Released at a point in my life when I felt pretty smug and cool for listening to ‘alternative’ music, the video looked as good as the tune sounded. The rest of the world pretty much agreed with me, Buddy Holly winning both breakthrough and best alternative video in 1995 at the VMAs.
OK GO – Here It Goes Again
This is my favourite music video of all time. OF ALL TIME. It’s four men dancing on treadmills, and it’s mesmerising.
The whole thing is so simple and low budget. There’s a not particularly smooth silver backdrop that looks like they’ve slung up a massive fire blanket, and then there are just four dudes, dressed in their secondhand finery, performing an immaculately choreographed routine on treadmills. It’s a joy and it’s shot in a single take.
It makes it even better that they’re not professional dancers. Having spontaneously tried a shimmy on a moving treadmill myself (look, it was a very good song, and I was excited to be hearing it) I know the jeopardy.
The song is punchy and exuberant; every band-member’s focus is intense and their moves are impressively in unison. At one point, they even have their feet on more than one treadmill at once (which limits them to two, but still).
Whenever I watch it, I can’t help grinning like a loon, but also wondering how many times did they have to do it, before they nailed it? And how much fitter were they, by the time they did?
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