In their 2011 book I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, authors Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum revisit the “golden age” of music videos, from 1981 to 1992, based on interviews with more than 400 people. As they learned, sometimes bad videos happen to great songs. Here are ten examples.
Psychedelic Furs, “Pretty in Pink” (1984; 1986)
One of the great songs of the ‘80s, but as a video, it’s a two-time dud. The original video, from 1981, was too dreary and claustrophobic to capitalize on MTV’s emerging Anglophilia. Five years later, a new version, rerecorded and re-filmed for the John Hughes movie of the same name, lacked the snarl of the original; Andie, Blaine and Ducky should never have even bothered.
Fleetwood Mac, “Hold Me” (1982)”
Making a video in the desert is sweaty and difficult, especially with a band that can’t stand one another: “It was so hot, and we weren’t getting along,” Stevie Nicks recalls. “Hold Me” is like a sun-baked hallucination, with sand dunes, guitars, Magritte paintings, Nicks in five-inch platform heels, and an obligatory, early-1980s slow-motion shot of breaking glass. Director Steve Barron: “That wasn’t a good video.” Producer Simon Fields: “John McVie was drunk and tried to punch me. It was a [expletive] nightmare, a horrendous day in the desert.”
Rick James, “Super Freak” (1982)
Not long after MTV launched with a nearly all-white playlist, Rick James decried the network as “racist,” charging that MTV’s segregated programming was “taking black people back 400 years.” James was enraged that MTV refused to air “Super Freak”; in fairness to the network, this gully video, starring James and a multiracial array of hot messes in streetwalker garb, was more akin to Pootie Tang than, say, “Billie Jean.” Carolyn Baker, who was MTV’s director of acquisitions, says, “As a black woman, I did not want that representing my people as the first black video on MTV.”
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, “The Message” (1982)
In the concluding scene, two cops arrest Flash and his band mates, possibly for the crime of making this awful video. The lyrics describe and denounce the dangers of urban poverty – so why are these rappers dressed like low-budget Michael Jacksons? “An immortal song, but the video was pure ghetto,” says Def Jam executive Bill Adler. “Some of the earliest rap videos were terrible.”
Bruce Springsteen, “Dancing in the Dark” (1984)
Springsteen is adorably dorky in his first-ever video appearance, no more so than during his infamous new-wave dance-off with audience plant Courtney “Monica Geller” Cox. Directed by famed filmmaker Brian DePalma, “Dancing in the Dark” was catnip to MTV’s teen demo (girls in particular), but Springsteen’s longtime manager, Jon Landau, says the singer had “mixed feelings” about the video: “It broadened Bruce’s appeal, but the whole thing was slick and high gloss. Not a typical Bruce Springsteen thing.”
Billy Squier, “Rock Me Tonite” (1984)
There are only two videos which merit their own chapters in “I Want My MTV,” and this is one. Squier was a hard-rock superstar before he released this video, which he describes as “diabolical.” Here’s the plot: Squier wakes up in a bed of silk sheets, puts on white drawstring pants, skips around his bedroom, grinds on the floor, rips off his t-shirt, then puts on a pink tank top, and collapses back on his silk sheets. Squier blames this video for ending his reign on the rock charts.
U2, “Pride (In the Name of Love)” (1984)
There are three different video versions of U2’s tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., and none did any favors to the song. The second was shot by Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn, and in his defense, he directed it hurriedly, in the basement of a hotel near Heathrow Airport, before U2 flew to Japan. He uses closeups of the band’s faces, mostly in profile and shadowed, until the end, when Bono frenetically shakes his grand mullet. Corbijn recalls that when the band’s manager saw the video, “he swore that I would never be allowed near U2 again with a film camera.”
Prince, “Raspberry Beret” (1985)
For an artist at his zenith in the ‘80s, Prince never quite figured out music videos. “Raspberry Beret” is the most egregious example of Prince-the-control-freak taking a perfectly bad idea–let’s hire two animators to work around the clock on a tale about a girl in a hat!–and making it worse, by taking the twee animation and clumsily combining it with performance footage. Producer Simon Fields: “Prince would mess with directors. He’d give them the impression that they’d be in charge of the video, then halfway through he’d go, ‘Thank you,’ take what he liked, and edit it himself.” Much respect to his Liza Minnelli hairdo, however.
Aretha Franklin, “Freeway of Love” (1985)
In this comeback hit for the Queen of Soul, it’s difficult to decide which is the worst part of the video. Is it the performance footage, where Franklin and her band grin like someone’s pointing a gun at them? The literally-translated lyrics, which show a pink Cadillac when Aretha sings “Pink Cadillac,” and a traffic jam when she sings “city traffic’s moving way too slow”? Or is it the dance sequences, which seem to have been choreographed by Benny Hill? Let’s say each.
Pixies, “Velouria” (1990)
Not even Dave Kendall could like this one. In need of a last-minute video for the U.K.’s influential Top of the Pops countdown show, the band–not exactly telegenic on its best day–is filmed in suuuuuper sloooowwwww moooooooootion running through a quarry. Any slower and they’d be time traveling. One camera. One shot. That’s it. Band. Running. Quarry.
Remember the first time you saw Michael Jackson dance with zombies in “Thriller”? Diamond Dave karate kick with Van Halen in “Jump”? Tawny Kitaen turning cartwheels on a Jaguar to Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again”? The Beastie Boys spray beer in “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)”? Axl Rose step off the bus in “Welcome to the Jungle”?
Remember When All You Wanted Was Your MTV?
It was a pretty radical idea-a channel for teenagers, showing nothing but music videos. It was such a radical idea that almost no one thought it would actually succeed, much less become a force in the worlds of music, television, film, fashion, sports, and even politics. But it did work. MTV became more than anyone had ever imagined.
I Want My MTV tells the story of the first decade of MTV, the golden era when MTV’s programming was all videos, all the time, and kids watched religiously to see their favorite bands, learn about new music, and have something to talk about at parties. From its start in 1981 with a small cache of videos by mostly unknown British new wave acts to the launch of the reality-television craze with The Real World in 1992, MTV grew into a tastemaker, a career maker, and a mammoth business.
Featuring interviews with nearly four hundred artists, directors, VJs, and television and music executives, I Want My MTV is a testament to the channel that changed popular culture forever.
About the Author
Rob Tannenbaum has been the music editor at Blender, a columnist at GQ, and has written for The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Details, New York Magazine, Playboy, Spin, and The Washington Post.
- Hardcover: 608 pages
- Publisher: Dutton Adult (October 27, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0525952306
- ISBN-13: 978-0525952305
OHH…How I want this book!
Interesting about having two different covers. I do wish MTV had left more music and a little less reality tv as their programming changed over the years!
I would love to read this book…I know the info on the songs and artists would take me back in time.
Thanks for the wonderful review. 🙂