Thursday, 7 April 2011

News, Views and Music Issue 94 (Top Ten): Music Videos

Music Videos have had a funny relationship to selling singles and albums down the years. First made in the 1960s when groups like the Beatles and Stones still wanted to plug their products but would have caused riots had they appeared in TV studios, they really took off in the 1980s when arguably more care went into the videos than the music – and have now disappeared again to the point where only multi-million pound superstars make them (ie the people who’d sell millions of copies without the videos – what the heck is going on with today’s music market?!) The AAA crowd have, naturally enough, delivered quite a few classy and pioneering promos down the years – along with plenty of weird ones too (such as The Hollies miming to ‘Dear Eloise’ in a car park and the AAA king of promo videos Paul McCartney miming to his song ‘Press’ while on a tube station – oh and incidentally can any Macca fans please explain what on earth the baffling video to ‘This One’ is all about, I’m still getting nightmares!) Honorary mentions too to a second Macca promo ‘Coming Up’ which is well worth looking out for and highly cleverly edited and the under-rated monochrome psychedelic one for the under-rated ‘Pretty Little Head’ which have both been left off this list in the sake of getting more artists included in our list!) 10cc too did a whole series of classy videos in the 70s, with the under-rated ‘Oomachasooma’ tennis match promo about the best (certainly the weirdest!) – which we’ve had to leave off the list in favour of a pioneering Godley and Creme vid. There’s a few missing here as well – The Monkees were the darlings and indeed pretty much the creators of MTV but most of their promos tend to be mimed songs or romps from the Tv series and as such are disallowed (I’ve also never actually seen Mike Nesmith’s own pioneering vids although I suspect I might have to add ‘Rio’ to this list from what I’ve heard about it). The Beatles, too, are just pipped at the post for this list despite starting the trend of filming themselves singing to avoid having to appear on every single TV programme that asked them. But, these aside, here’s our handy guide to the best AAA promos out there and whether they’re currently available on video or DVD or not:

10) Neil Young “This Note’s For You (1988, not yet available so keep your eyes peeled on VH-1!): The funniest AAA video is surely Neil Young’s MTV-kicking sponsorship deal-blowing video for one of his lighter songs (heard on the bluesy album of the same name). ‘Ain’t singing for Pepsi, ain’t singing for Coke, don’t sing for nobody, makes me look like a joke!’ sings Neil to a parpy chorus of blaring horns while a bunch of spoof music videos go o n behind him (including a Michael Jackson lookalike whose hair really is set on fire – like the close-run accident Wacko Jacko nearly had filming an advert for Pepsi, although my personal favourite is a Whitney Houston wannabe whose wig falls off mid-song!) MTV got so many requests for this video in the late 80s they showed it regularly –more than any other video on this list – but balked when it was voted ‘best video of 1988’ on a sponsored MTV programme and pulled it at the last minute. To the best of my knowledge, it’s only been seen since on YouTube. Which is a shame – Neil at his funniest.   

9) Rolling Stones “We Love You” (1967, not yet available so keep your eyes peeled on VH-1!): Another pioneering clip was this one from the Stones, one of the first videos to tell a ‘story’ rather than feature miming musicians and almost as inventive and daring as the soundtrack (it’s still my favourite Stones song!) Mick Jagger is in the dock as Oscar Wilde, girlfriend Marianne Faithful appears as the ‘friend’ Oscar is meant to have been carrying ‘relations’ with and Keith Richards, resplendent in wig, is the judge. Seeing as the video was filmed when the two Stones were still facing trumped up drugs charges, this is heady taunting stuff and the message is clear: in the 1960s the cases against homosexuals from earlier in the decade brought a sudden wave of sympathy and incredulity from the general or at least the younger with-it public; in the future the same will be said about youngsters on the lowest class of drugs. Elsewhere we get almost our last shot of the original Stones as a five piece band; Brian Jones is clearly in decline and yet, somehow, they still look like a fully functioning ‘band’ for the last time (and yes, that really is Brian playing the terrific and complex never-repeatable mellotron solo at the end!) 

8) The Monkees “Heart and Soul” (1987, available on the VHS ‘Heart and Soul’): The only true specially made promos by The Monkees not specially designed for a TV programme were for their first two ‘reunion’ singles in 1987 starring Micky, Peter and Davy. This first video is hilarious – the out-of-work band from the TV series are back together, having been revived from a freezer dated ‘the 1960s’! - walking down the street in days of old, but can’t afford to make a full video – so they find a ‘rent-a-tent’ film studios and put their money in the meter outside. Cue much spoofing of 1980s rock stars and a typically down-to-earth experience for The Monkees which deserved to have been seen more – and to have sold more copies of the pretty spiffing comeback single too. The band certainly put their ‘heart and soul’ into it! The second, ‘Every Step Of The Way’ with the band dressed up as heavy metal rockers, is fun too.   

7) The Kinks “Predictable” (1981, available on the DVD and VHS ‘Come Dancing With The Kinks’): There are a long range of Kinks promos in the 1980s directed by future star Julian Temple, then just a young kid with a Kinks obsession, but ‘Predictable’ is about the best, giving Ray Davies some great chances to indulge in his own acting obsession. We see Ray as a hapless figure from the 50s (with greased back hair)the  60s (with pyschedelic kaftan and lots of drugs) and in modern day (in a yuppie business suit with all the lateswt gadgets in his room) but despite the appearance some things never change – things still keep going wrong for Ray’s character in a variety of infuriating ways which, ironically enough, aren’t as predictable as you might expect. Cue much Kinky hilarity.

6) Crosby, Stills and Nash “Southern Cross” (1983, not yet available so keep your eyes peeled on VH-1!): There’s nothing much going on in this rarely seen promo, but I love it anyway for it’s air of untrying casual cool. We see Stills busy steering a ship – not Crosby’s beloved Mayan apparently though it’s similar – while back in the studio all three men add some sparkling harmonies. Ships and boats have always been a big CSN symbol (‘Wooden Ships’ ‘Shadow Captain’ etc), a metaphor for the way that life steers out of control or offers escape from mainland troubles, but this song about picking yourself up after disappointment is a perfect match between words and music. All together now, ‘Think about how many times I have fallen...’

5) Grateful Dead “A Touch Of Gray” (1987, not yet available so keep your eyes peeled on VH-1!): Another classy promo with a bit of fun attached was this ‘comeback’ single for the band’s first release since Jerry Garcia’s coma two years earlier. As if the ‘I will get by, I will survive’ chorus wasn’t enough, the band makes fun of the whole event by replacing each member of the band with specially designed puppet skeletons, dressed in the band’s clothes and made specifically to their measurements (the Garcia puppet is even accurate to be missing one of his fingers, like the real model!) Look out for Micky Hart’s dog running off with the drummer’s leg during the last verse! Classic.

4)Moody Blues “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” (1988, available on the DVD ‘The Moody Blues Collection’ and a Video-CD single of the title track): Another story song which is a sort of sequel to the band’s well received promo for ‘Your Wildest Dreams’. In that song a lot of scarily accurate looking youngsters play the band’s 1960s selves (OK, so technically Justin Hayward and John Lodge weren’t in the band in this period but that’s artistic license for you!) while a groupie falls in love with singer Justin and follows him around. This sequel video finds Justin remembering the girl and wondering what happened to her with lots of moving shots of the pair mirroring each other without knowing it, wondering what their lives could have been if things had gone differently. Very Moodies and the perfect match for the contents of the song.

3)Godley and Creme “Cry” (1983, available on VHS ‘Changing Faces – The Best of 10cc and Godley and Creme”): Music videos were still people miming (often badly) to their own songs before Godley and Creme, recently released from 10cc commitments, pioneered the art form. This promo is still their most famous and the most cutting edge (although fans should look out for their distinctive ‘video player’ promo for the under-rated ‘Golden Boy’ single too). In ‘Cry’ the duo’s faces morph into a whole cast of unknown extras of different ages, races, genders and classes, each of them mouthing a line of the lyric before turning little by little into someone else. Lol Creme revealed later that the hi-tech effects only worked if the people in shot stayed very still – so they tied everyone’s heads to the back of a frying pan to keep them in shot! A classy song anyway, ‘Cry’ is made even stronger by this inventive moody video which made the sentiments seem universal and epic. It made me wanna cry... 

2) Oasis “Whatever” (1995, available on DVD on ‘Time Flies’):There are lots of great Oasis music videos on their recent ‘Time Flies...’ DVD, many of which I’d never seen and pretty much all of them on a bigger budget than this one (there’s even a return to Pepperland for ‘All Around The World’!) But this small budget promo for the band’s non-album single is hilarious – the band are meant to be miming to an orchestra and that’s that, but Noel Gallagher, a bit worse for wear after a party the night before and already getting fed up of this popstar lark, simply messes around. First he upstages brother Liam by appearing in shot when he’s trying sing, then he’s got a broom, then he’s mimicking the violinists, then he’s playing football, then he’s offering the production team a McDonalds. Liam, enjoying the major part the video’s given him for the first time, looks daggers at his brother whose so busy getting a giggling fit he barely notices. Not Oasis’ most distinguished moment by any means, but somehow ‘Whatever’ works like the Beatles’ Christmas fanclub records or Keith Moon’s radio shows, making the biggest band in the world at the time appear human.  

1) Paul McCartney “Pipes Of Peace” (1983, available on DVD on ‘The McCartney Collection): It was a big problem whether I should pick this First World War re-enactment or the similarly classy video for ‘Coming Up’ where Macca effectively plays with himself in a band called ‘The Plastic Macs’ in deference to the Plastic Ono Band, appearing in lots of guises including The Beatles circa 1963! But ‘Pipes of Peace’ is an entirely different beast, one of the few promo videos that really does try to change the world in a small way instead of making its audience laugh and is genuinely moving I think, despite the stick both songs and video have taken down the years. Paul is a soldier in the trenches, dreaming of getting back to his girlfriend back home when suddenly a day of truce is declared on Christmas Day and Paul goes over the trenches to meet his German equivalent. The pair swap stories and pictures and even play some football before some unbeliever throws a bomb in their wake and they scuttle back to their holes. If this story wasn’t true this promo would be a laughing stock – but it is, right up to the point where the bomb falls (even the uniforms are spot on – in a nice twist Paul is wearing a Royal Lancashire Regiment uniform, which is what he would have been wearing as a Liverpudlian conscript in the 1914-19 war). A very special video indeed for one of Macca’s most under-rated songs.

And so ends another newsletter. We’ll be getting back to the audio rather than the visual next week – see you then!   

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