Hold your hats, folks; this one’s gonna be a long one. Not to mention this is setting a record for the number of links I’ve ever included on a post. My third blog and I’ve already killed the data on your smartphone. All apologies, but all in all is all we are. Today the discussion takes a turn down for what as I share some – haha, did I say some? – of my favorite music videos.
A few weeks ago I was dining with friends when my dear pal Dan asked if anyone had seen the video for DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s party jam “Turn Down for What”. Only I had, but our combined enthusiasm was enough to ensnare our fellows’ interest and we were soon disturbing the peace the poor patrons around us. It should have ended there, but it didn’t. I saw his Lil Jon and raised him Duck Sauce’s “Big Bad Wolf”. You decide which is wilder.
This funfest with my friends got me pondering about the appeal of music videos. Which are the best ever? Why do relish watching the weird ones? So I did what I always do when I don’t have anything better to do: I looked up videos on YouTube for hours on end. This time though with a purpose, for the world must know about what I have to tell it!
Now there have been video accompaniments to people singing and playing music for about as long as the technology to record picture and sound have been around, and many musicians took advantage of these capabilities to promote their art long before you and I existed. Elvis made movies, The Beatles made movies, some third example also occurred, but the true birth of what we now call the music video happened at 12:01am on August 1, 1981. That was the day MTV, which apparently stands for My Teenage Vagina based upon what they now air, first aired and they opened up broadcasting with this little ditty.
Are they really playing all those keyboards? Who cares!?! Apparently this was kind of a big deal back in ’81 and helped to prompt an enormous creative revolution. Obviously music videos existed before this moment, but MTV provided an outlet for aspiring artists, musical and cinematic, to show off their stuff to the adoring adolescent public. With The Buggles “Video Killed the Radio Star” masses of Americans were introduced to not only the music video in an easily accessible format, but they got to see a prime example of an 80s music video (never mind that this one was first released in 1979): crazy hair and costumes, goofy glasses, not quite worked out computer graphics and effects, and the previously pointed out wealth of keyboard. Fun fact: the keyboardist in the back in the full black outfit is Hans Zimmer, the film composer who has scored movies like The Lion King, The Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and of course Inception, which means he’s the guy responsible for every new movie trailer going “BRAHHHHMMM!”
Now when you say “80s band” one of the first names I think of is Duran Duran. And when you say “Duran Duran” the first thing I think of is bubble-popping keyboard music and Simon Le Bon likening his hunger to that of the wolf. The video for this most 80s of 80s songs is pretty 80s itself, featuring a loose narrative that one band member summarized as “Indiana Jones is horny and wants to get laid”.
What’s that? You want more 80s? Well since you asked so nicely, have it you shall! Crack that whip; it’s the only way to live; you might get what you’re after; and this dance really isn’t safe. That’s right, that’s four videos in one sentence! The 80s video revolution seemed to have an anything goes feel to it which is how such a variety of styles blossomed (that and drugs). One of the most memorable was A-ha’s pencil-doodled video for “Take On Me”. This song remained the most played song on American radio from Norwegian artists since it first hit the airwaves in the mid-80s until September of last year when a video made by a couple of Norwegian late-night talk-show hosts aiming to make an instant failure for the sake of a joke created the song of the year.
I would be bereft of my duties to the 80s if I did not mention the greatest (music video) performer of the decade, Michael Jackson. “Billie Jean”, “Beat It”, “Bad”, etc. did more than just give Weird Al ammo and Grammys for brilliant parody (we’ll talk more in a future post), they established the King of Pop as the King of Dancing in Front of a Camera While Squealing Mid-Crotch Grab. And no music video talk is complete without the grandest of them all, “Thriller”. Directed by John Landis, the comedy director who did Animal House and The Blues Brothers, “Thriller” made music videos into music movies and set the bar super duper high for all that followed. Plus your probably singing it right now.
But hey, the 80s may have most of my favorites, but there have been a plenty music videos that are even more freaky-fresh in terms of having been released closer to the present day.
Did you see Guardians of the Galaxy? Are you at least a fan of its trailer? If so, then you’ve probably found yourself whistling “Hooked on a Feeling” at some point this summer. What you may not be aware of is that there is a music video too! Not by B.J. Thomas who originally sang the song, or by Blue Swede whose cover is the famous version heard in the trailer. No, this video is by the enigmatic David Hasselhoff, and it might be the most laughably bad music video I’ve ever seen…. Then again, this does exist too. Ugh, facepalm. The latter is more disappointing than it is funny (though it’s still hilarious!) because it features two of my favorite rock and roll singers of all time; the former however is just everyday Hasselhoff, and I expect nothing less from him.
Definitely the best music video makers of the 90s were ones that knew their stuff in the 80s too. If other acts of the 90s are bustin’ in and sayin’ what’s that noise? then tell ‘em they’re just jealous I picked The Beastie Boys. Mike D, MCA, and Ad-Rock churned out some of the greatest crazy videos through the 1990s from “Intergalactic” to “Hey Ladies” and beyond, they worked wonders with always entertaining production. I mean, “Body Movin’” only has like six words uttered through the entire song but the video is a wild five and a half minutes. But the king of their crop has got to be “Sabotage”, a send up of 60s/70s cop thrillers that is absolutely bonkers. This will forever stand as one of my favorite music videos. RIP MCA.
Fortunately there are even more current musicians with video brilliance. In 2001 we got this gem from Fatboy Slim and Spike Jonze (who directed) that showed what we all already knew: Christopher Walken can fucking fly.
During the 2000s, The White Stripes had a pretty palate of tasty videos that displayed their signature kookiness such as “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”, “Blue Orchid”, “The Denial Twist”, and of course the tunneling effect of their megahit “Seven Nation Army”. I love them all, but there are two that stand out as my favorites, and both utilize stop-motion in different ways. The first is “The Hardest Button to Button” which takes us on a journey through Central Park, some New York City streets, and a subway car as Jack and Meg jam their way along. Apparently drumming is a great way to travel, just be sure not to literally run into the duo that wrote the song. Second is the best in this case though, and if there is only one video from this list that you actually watch, let it be this one. This song’s actually really easy to play on guitar too, so if you want to sound like a badass grab a guitar and some LEGOs and crank up the amp full blast.
Keeping with the colors, my favorite currently performing band is easily The Black Keys, and they’ve got a hell of a sense of music video humor too! Hey, the guy dancing in “Lonely Boy” is awesome, and “Tighten Up” is hilarious, but there is no Black Keys video like “Howlin’ For You”. It plays like a preview to an over-the-top, south-of-the-border, action-packed, big guns, bigger boobs grind house movie the likes of which Robert Rodriguez wishes he could make.
Fear not, it’s almost over, and I’ve saved the best for last. Once again, the 1980s was the prime time for music vids and I’ve already discussed a bunch of ‘em, but what’s my favorite music video of all time? Only the best one ever! Utilizing claymation, stop-motion animation, and Peter Gabriel’s quirky madness, “Sledgehammer” is more than just a catchy tune; it is an epic musical journey in which rotisserie chickens take center stage, literally.
Thanks for reading! My sincerest apologies for not getting this bad boy out earlier in the day, but that Simpsons marathon isn’t going to watch itself. Be sure to have a moment of silence for the recently departed Richard Attenborough as he certainly spared no expense in life. Come back again for an explanation as to why people are dousing themselves with buckets of ice water and how it pertains to the creation of the universe. Same bat time, same bat channel.
I wanna be your Sledgehammer,