Here’s another another iconic 80s video that arrived too early for the first MTV Video Music Awards, She Blinded Me With Science by Thomas Dolby. Did you know that the old dude who hollers “Science!” was real-life British TV presenter scientist and all-around good sport, Dr. Magnus Pyke? He was probably as recognizable in the UK as Bill Nye would have been in a US 90s video. (Come to think of it, Nye included a science-themed parody music video in each Science Guy episode; here’s one called Smells Like Air Pressure. But I digress.)
According to a great interview in SongFacts, Dolby said he wrote the song just so he could direct the music video. That site’s got a wealth of fun details about the song. Remember “Mutt” Lange, the guy who wrote Huey Lewis and the News’ first hit? Lange sang backup on Science. You know that line, “Good heavens, Miss Sakamoto, you’re beautiful”? Dolby wrote it just because he wanted to include a beautiful Japanese woman in the video.
Was this the first video where the idea for it came before the song? I don’t know, but it’s fun to watch this catchy, deliberately silly video.
As we continue the summer of music videos, let me present the video I promised you last week. At the first MTV Video Music Award show, here’s the video that beat out Rockit, Every Breath You Take, Girls Just Want To Have Fun, and even Thriller, the most expensive music video ever made.
You Might Think by The Cars was not a cheap video to make either; this early computer-enhanced work cost $80,000, more than double a typical 80s video budget. Like the Nintendo Entertainment System, which came out around the same time, You Might Think looks a bit crude now but was state of the art in 1984.
There were some pretty good videos before the VMAs started. My favorite for videos that appeared on MTV too early to qualify for this first award would be The Clash’s Rock the Casbah, but Eddie Money’s I Think I’m In Love had better production values, and I Ran by A Flock of Seagulls is more iconic of that period. (Don’t You Want Me was a gorgeous video, shot on film actually, but I was always disappointed that it didn’t match the vivid word-picture of the song, since I heard that before I saw the video. Shouldn’t it have included a waitress at a cocktail bar? But I digress.) Enjoy!
As we continue the summer of 80s music videos, let’s check out Rockit by Herbie Hancock. How exactly is this an unusual video? Let me count the ways.
The robot apartment set was designed by Godley & Creme, formerly half of the band 10cc. The video for Rockit was one of two Godley & Creme creations to be nominated for MTV Video of the Year 1984, along with The Police’s Every Breath You Take. Both lost to the video I’ll profile next time.
Rockit was performed by an African-American artist at a time when some MTV executives were afraid of scaring off white suburban viewers. That’s reportedly why Hancock only appears on a television set in the robot apartment.
I can’t be sure what’s cause and effect, but videos with heavy doses of MTV airplay usually made it to the Billboard Top 10. Rockit was featured on MTV but never even made it to the top 40.
Hancock is really a (magnificent, renowned) jazz artist, not a pop star; he has never cracked the Billboard top 40. This may be the only crossover jazz song to get serious MTV airplay.
Finally, the most basic reason this video is unusual is that it’s an instrumental. You can count the significant 80s instrumental music videos on one hand. I can think of Art of Noise, which won for Most Experimental Video for Close (to the Edit), and that’s about it. Leave a comment if you can think of any others.
Last week, I mentioned one of my favorite questions: Why did anyone make a second music video of the same song? Here’s a good example of an excellent reason for a video remake.
The Norwegian band a-ha made it big right off the bat, but only in Norway. Its first big hit, Take On Me, hit #3 in Norway but didn’t make a dent anywhere else. The video for that song is shown above.
Enter Irish director Steve Barron, best known at that point for the ground-breaking video for Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. Barron animated a rotoscoped comic book story featuring a-ha lead singer Morten Harket as a motorcycle racer. Both Harket and the other lead character, then-girlfriend Bunty Bailey, carry off their roles well, a testament to Barron’s ability.
Thanks to the video and its frequent play on MTV, the re-release of Take On Me shot to #1 in the US, Australia, Norway and Sweden, #2 in the UK and Ireland, #3 in France. Although the band persisted for decades and had many other European hits, I’d say that folks in the US know them almost solely as the band in this video.
At the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards, Take On Me won awards for Best Concept Video and Best Direction, but lost out on Video of the Year. More about that in a later installment. For now, enjoy this Pop-Up version.
I often wonder what’s the story when there are multiple music videos for the same song. That’s the thought that eventually came to mind as I researched Give It Up by KC and The Sunshine Band. In this case, I wonder if this is a Europe / America divide.
The folks on the other side of the pond always liked KC and the Sunshine Band almost as much as US audiences did, but they preferred different cuts. Brits weren’t so excited by US #1 hits Get Down Tonight (peaked at #21 in the UK) or I’m Your Boogie Man (#41), but they loved Queen of Clubs (#7 vs. #66 in the US). So it was for the group’s only 80s hit, which spent three weeks at #1 in the UK, then topped out at only #18 on the Billboard charts.
The video at the top of this post is the good video, or at least the video with decent production values. H.W. Casey strains to find a screen persona as the hero who rescues a bunch of women from a spooky house with the help of some magic child or something. Why does he pause to sing a few bars with a faux Star Wars cantina band? Because it’s an 80s music video.
The other extreme is at the bottom of this post, where Casey strains to be his likable self in a candidate for cheapest-looking video I’ve seen. It’s just two dancers, a pound of dry ice, a small room with corrugated metal walls, and Casey, of course. With the Halloween-themed real video available, why would anyone bother to spend the half hour it probably took to record this? Maybe the rights to the “good” video stopped at the border?
In any event, I can’t recall seeing either of these videos on MTV, and the song’s retro-disco feel would tend to make it unwelcome there. After I heard Give It Up on Sunshine Band greatest hits’ CDs, I figured for years that it was just another 70s UK hit like Queen of Clubs or Sound Your Funky Horn (#17 there). But no, it’s an 80s song with two types of 80s videos: unrelated, incomprehensible eye candy and ultra-low budget lip sync. Enjoy them both!