June 20, 2010

Some bad music videos, part II

At the last BQT, I posed this query:

As suggested by its lyrics, what year did Asia release the song “Heat of the Moment”?

Slight caveat to this: Asia frontman John Wetton claims that the number in the lyrics does not refer to the year, it refers to some kind of place, and the accuracy is a coincidence. Oh, those wacky British prog rockers!

I had this song on the brain because…well, I often have it on the brain, I think it's a brilliant piece of songwriting and performance (though some people do like to mock it). I always seem to enjoy shifting time signatures in rock & roll, and Asia was blessed with some sterling musicianship. And recently, I went back and watched the video:

I want to love this: that whole flipping-squares thing is kind of cool, in an elegantly low-tech way, and there's some intriguing imagery. Plus, compare it with most music videos at the time, and the whole production is pretty slick (not unlike Asia's debut album). But here's the problem (apart from guitarist Steve Howe being a strong contender for the next "World's Ugliest Musicians" video round): It's so literal. We start with a spinning globe stopping on Asia, of course. Soon after: "A look from you" (woman looks to the side) "and I would fall from grace" (her hands are joined in prayer) "and that would wipe the small right from my face" (a smile is almost literally wiped from a man's face). Then the chorus: "It was the heat" (the word "heat" is branded into wood) "of the moment" (clocks) "telling me what my heart meant" (EKG monitor). It goes on like this.

MTV changed everything, and part of the problem is that musicians, who were accustomed to being audio performers and not visual ones, had to adjust, quickly and sometimes awkwardly. Many of them flailed around for the best ideas they could find, and I imagine the guys in Asia didn't have the graphic sense to think beyond the most basic idea for how to visualize this song. Some blame should also rest with the directors, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, former members of 10cc, who went on to make a lot of the best music videos of the 1980s; clearly, they were only just starting to figure it out here. The result is an somewhat embarrassingly primitive clip that cuts against the polished musicianship of the song itself.

Another thing you see a lot in early music videos was a palpable discomfort on the part of the musicians themselves. I remember being nine years old, in school, and the teacher, for some reason, had a video camera and filmed a few minutes of fourth grade in action. We all had watched TV till our eyes had melted, but I bet most of us had never seen an actual video camera before, certainly hadn't been filmed. We were smiling nervously, laughing like idiots. We just didn't know how to act in front of a camera.

That effect is on display on a lot of early videos. Here's an artifact: One of the first videos to be shown on MTV, "Hold on to the Night," by Baltimore generic-rockers Bootcamp.

First, this is just a dreadful song (no, Mr. Perm, you cannot sing, and when I heard the line "Sometimes lonely but never along," I just knew the rhyme would be "danger zone"). But there is just no imagination in the video, and the band members are making complete asses of themselves goofing around like self-conscious nine-year-olds. I picture the director saying, "Okay, fellas, we've blocked off the street, sent all the hookers home: Here are your unplugged instruments, the camera's on: Do something!" They don't even give the drummer his kit, and the keytar guy puts it in his jacket when he's done playing it. I'd say it's good that at least they look like they're having fun, but I don't think they are—they look incredibly uncomfortable to me.

Enough crappy videos for now. I still plan to get back to my "Greatest Hits" blog series at some point, and I want to write up the recent, long-awaited DVD release of The T.A.M.I. Show. Better music is coming.


the kevin scurry blog said...

The best thing about Kevin Godley and Lol Creme's "Cry" was that it featured uberproducer Trevor Horn as the last cry-face.

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