Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Set Your Flux Capacitors!

On New Year's Eve, 1985, MTV broadcast a special countdown featuring the top 100 videos of the year.  This blog features an in-depth review of those videos.

I began blogging last year, reviewing the video that placed at #100, and then #99 and so forth each succeeding day.  I lost steam along the way, and after #40 or so my postings became less frequent, but I finally did finish the blog yesterday with a review of the #1 video.

I want to thank each of you who have shared my journey through the top videos of 1985.  It's been a lot of fun!  And for those of you arriving here for the first time, please continue and enjoy the top 100 videos of 1985!

Monday, May 27, 2013

#1 - Money For Nothing

Artist: Dire Straits
Album: Brothers In Arms
Video:  From YouTube.

It seems appropriate that MTV’s best video of 1985 would refer to the music video channel right there in the lyrics.  We all wanted our MTV, and Dire Straits delivered it better than anyone else with this all-time classic.

"Money For Nothing" was inspired by the true rantings of an appliance store worker overheard by lead singer Mark Knopfler.  In the electronics section of the store where Knopfler was shopping with his wife, all the TV’s were tuned to MTV, and this guy was reeling off line after classic line.  Knopfler grabbed a pen, and the rest was history.

Also featured in the song is Sting, who contributed the "I Want My MTV" line, which is sung to the tune of the Police hit "Don't Stand So Close To Me".  That makes Sting a contributor to three songs in this countdown’s top ten.  Sting was actually embarrassed to be given a co-writing credit on this song, but his publishing company insisted.

It’s definitely a worthy choice for #1, spending 17 weeks on the weekly countdown.  I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t fully appreciate this song in its time.  A killer guitar hook backs some of the 80’s best lyrics.  "Money for nothing, chicks for free"…what a great way to sum up  the rock 'n' roll lifestyle.  So you get a blister on your little finger, big deal.  Meanwhile, we got to install these microwave ovens. 

Dire Straits experienced a great deal of backlash with regards to some of the racier lyrics, especially the “little faggot” line which was edited out of most radio versions of the song.  The line was included during the airing of the 1985 MTV countdown show, however.

And as if all that wasn’t enough, the video is an absolute classic in its own right.  It was the first MTV video ever to feature computer generated human characters.  The appliance store workers are played by a thick blue guy with a beard, and a skinny pink guy with overalls.  The skinny guy has an awesome pixelated dog.  State-of-the-art 1985 animation. 

Well, that’s it for the blog.  It’s been fun reviewing all these great 1985 videos with y'all.  I'll wrap up with some final comments tomorrow.   If you're coming across this for the first time, you're in for a treat.  Please continue browsing the rest of the top 100.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

#2 - We Built This City

Artist: Starship
Album: Knee Deep In The Hoopla
Video: From YouTube.

Twenty years after their original formation as Jefferson Airplane, the band Starship ascended to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 with “We Built This City”.  Nearly thirty years following that, confusion surrounds the song: is it awesome or horrible?

In 1985, I was firmly in the “awesome” camp.  I heartily enjoyed Starship’s bold architectural claim.  I delighted in the triumphant chorus, the brazenly ridiculous lyrics, the nonsensical video, and the cheerful radio DJ insert.  Americans at large held a similar point of view, if the lofty #2 position on the MTV video countdown can be believed.

But popular opinion turned against this song over the years.  In 2011, a Rolling Stone reader’s poll voted it as the worst song of the 80s by a landslide.  And in 2004, the now-defunct Blender magazine ranked it as the worst song EVER.

If you google "we built this city worst song", many relevant websites will be returned.  The vehement hatred expressed by many posters on message boards is alarming.  I will admit that the song is difficult to listen to today.  I guess some things just don't stand up to the test of time.

The video is sheer madness.  Huge dice chasing people through the streets of Las Vegas, paying tribute at the Lincoln Memorial, plenty of mugging by Mickey Thomas and Grace Slick.  It ends with the band and assorted hangers on rejoicing atop a huge scaffold overlooking a mashup of major American city skylines.

In the final analysis, “We Built This City” has my respect.  Sure it’s kitsch, but Jefferson Starship (or whatever they’re called) really went for it.  You gotta admire that. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

#3 - Broken Wings

Artist: Mr. Mister
Album: Welcome To The Real World
Video: From DailyMotion.

This is actually a pretty good song, and it took me all these years to realize it.  For you see, back in 1985 I had a vague distaste for all things Mr. Mister.  Perhaps it was because of that silly name.

Ah, Mr. Mister.  Their "Welcome To The Real World" album featured three top ten hits, including two #1 singles.  And just like that, they were done.  They never had another hit.  The band members dispersed and became session musicians after breaking up in 1990.  An odd fate, it seems.

But they will always have their greatest legacy, two back-to-back songs that ascended to the top of the Billboard Hot 100.  "Broken Wings" and "Kyrie" both had two week runs atop the pop charts.  "Broken Wings" is based on a novel of the same name, written by Lebanese artist Khalil Gibran in 1912.

Lyrically, the song is a poetic mourning of a doomed relationship.  The main hook of the chorus is borrowed from "Blackbird", one of the Beatles' most beautiful songs.  "Take these broken wings and learn to fly."  Paul McCartney tosses off the line lightly, while Richard Page draws it out.

The video primarily features Page driving, seemingly anguishing over his soon-to-be lost love.  At one point he appears alone in the back pew of a church, and he shares a moment with a hawk that soars in through an open window.  Lots of bird imagery throughout.  Also notable is a couple dancing, shown only from the waist down.  At the end, he drinks from an enormous canteen and litters.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

#4 - Lonely Ol' Night

Artist: John Cougar Mellencamp
Album: Scarecrow
Video: From YouTube.

"Lonely Ol' Night" was the first of five top 40 songs from John Cougar Mellencamp's wildly successful "Scarecrow" album. 

The song was inspired by a Paul Newman line from "Hud", a movie Mellencamp enjoyed so much that he named one of his sons after the title.  Newman's character actually says "it's a lonesome old night", but it sounds so much cooler when you drop the "d" in "old". 

Growing up in 1985, this song never made an impression of me.  In fact, if pressed I would say I didn't like it.  However, after watching the video all these years later, I was surprised that I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.  It's a simple song about feeling lonely and looking for a little company, if you know what I mean.

But the fourth best video of the year?  No, that is just ridiculous, especially after all the awesomeness that is ranked in the lower spots.  But such is the MTV countdown.  This song peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The video is another Indiana special, shot entirely in black and white.  Most of the scenes take place at a county fair, and the vibe is captured perfectly with spinning rides and characters and fried goodness.  Another great scene is Mellencamp playing guitar on a stoop with a porch swing and small amp.  Groovy stuff.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

#5 - Don't You (Forget About Me)

Artist: Simple Minds
Album: The Breakfast Club Soundtrack
Video: From YouTube.

Brat Pack anthems back-to-back!  Love it.  The song's actual title is simply "Don't You", although nobody calls it that.  The "Forget About Me" portion is parenthetical.

"Don't You (Forget About Me)" is one of the 80's signature songs, and its lofty position on this countdown is well deserved.  It was a #1 smash on the Billboard Hot 100.  This is a classic goodbye song for graduation parties, kind of an upbeat yearbook K.I.T. message.

A karaoke favorite, the most fun parts to sing are the nonsense sounds, the "hey hey hey hey", the "whoo whoo whoa", and of course the "la la la la" coda.  The latter was birthed because lead singer Jim Kerr was tired of trying to add new lyrics.  Co-writer Keith Forsey had a tough time finding a band to record this song for the soundtrack, and Simple Minds only agreed to it reluctantly.

Of course, "Don't You (Forget About Me)" plays over the closing credits of "The Breakfast Club", one of director's John Hughes' greatest films.  It features five teenagers forced to spend a Saturday together in detention: a princess (Molly Ringwald), a jock (Emilio Estevez), a brain (Anthony Michael Hall), a basket case (Ally Sheedy), and a criminal (Judd Nelson).  Ringwald and Hall were the only Brat Packers who did not appear in St. Elmo's Fire.

The most memorable image from the video is Jim Kerr dancing in a large room with a checkerboard floor and a chandelier high above.  The space is filled with a variety of unique objects, including trains, a stuffed bear, various toys, and a jukebox.  There are surprisingly few clips from the Breakfast Club, only appearing sparingly on a number of TV screens that fill the room.

Monday, May 6, 2013

#6 - St. Elmo's Fire (Man In Motion)

Artist: John Parr
Album: St. Elmo's Fire Soundtrack
Video: From YouTube.

That's right, St. Elmo's Fire!  With this song we have attained a new level of awesomeness.

The greatness of St. Elmo's Fire is multidimensional.  First, we have a classic 80's movie which features a full six members of the Brat Pack, more than any other film.  It follows the adventures of a group of best friends in the year after their college graduation from Georgetown. 

Then there is the song itself, a motivational triumph written by David Foster, who also composed the “Love Theme From St. Elmo’s Fire”.  Deservedly, it climbed the highest mountain, that being the top of the Billboard Hot 100.  The “Man In Motion” subtitle references Canadian Paralympian Rick Hansen, who circled the world in his wheelchair to promote awareness for spinal cord injuries.

John Parr's music career was not especially lengthy or successful, but with this masterpiece he ensured an enduring legacy.  He only had one other top 40 hit and had a ten year period in which he didn't record any music at all.  In 2011, he forever tainted his classic by recording new lyrics referencing unemployed quarterback Tim Tebow.  Whatever it takes to pay the bills, I guess.

The video is most outstanding for its inclusion of scenes from the film, allowing us to relive its greatest moments.  Mixed in with the clips, Parr performs at the St. Elmo's bar which is the watering hole of the characters.  We also see fire.  The video ends with worlds colliding, as he interacts with the Brat Pack as if to become one of them.