It’s a cold Friday night in Michigan. Spring break at GVSU has technically started, but we’re too exhausted to do anything more than plop down on an overstuffed couch and relax. There’s nothing on television worth a darn (we had Will and Grace on WeTV, but that ended in favor of Marriage Bootcamp and promos for a show about Mama June from Honey Boo Boo, so we fled.) The dial stopped on MTV Classic, which is running a few blocks of I Want My 80s. It’s a charming throwback to when MTV actually featured music. Let’s see what comes up:
REM – “Finest Worksong“. Sometimes the video tries just a little too hard to make an artistic statement. “They’re working, and throwing a globe in the oven, because, like, the world is on FIRE.” Every song on the Document LP had the word “fire” in it. Get it? Also, every song on that album was played excessively on WLRA, our college radio station. I preferred “It’s the End Of the World As We Know It,” with which I ended every show every Saturday.
New Order – “Bizarre Love Triangle.” The only thing that got more airplay in college than REM was this. I might have been responsible for that, and I make no apologies for it. The video, though? I simply do not get this. A lot of random shots of stuff, and.. the song stops for dialogue? I’ll stick to the longer version on Substance.
Hall and Oates – “Out Of Touch.” This is a disco remix, which is all I have to say about that. Also, you never see John Oates and the cop from the Village People in the same place. Just sayin’.
George Michael – “Monkey.” Guilty pleasure alert: I like this song. There was a day in college when I went to a new hair stylist who cut my hair too spiky and added too much product. Went to a party that night and my friend Chuck gave me a hard time for sporting a “George Michael do.” So, I sang this. The more we drank, the more often we sang it, which is sort of ironic, given the subject of the song.
Steve Winwood – “Valerie.” I’ve always been a little beige on Steve Winwood’s solo stuff. For as much as I didn’t care for this one, I liked “The Finer Things.” The video, though? I didn’t remember it, and it’s cool. A lot of pre-Video Toaster hand-coloring effects. I will be watching this one again, and darned if the video didn’t enhance the experience for me. Nice job.
Run DMC – “Walk This Way (Live)” . Here’s where the video detracts from the experience. I liked their take on the song – hell, their take on the song brought Aerosmith back to the spotlight, whether anyone wants to admit that or not. This is from the “Live In Rio” concert that MTV did, and it’s just not good. The original video is much better.
Glenn Medeiros – “Nothin’s Gonna Change My Love For You.” I have not heard this song in years, and I don’t think I have ever seen the video. Glenn’s singing to a girl that looks much older while standing on a cliff. At first glance I thought it was his mom. Fun fact: Glenn is now Dr. Medeiros, and is the president of a private school in Hawaii.
The Cars – “Drive.” This video was directed by Timothy Hutton. It’s kind of, well, artsy. Why is the girl scribbling on the wall? And why would we believe that she’d be attracted to Rik Ocasek? (Well, Paulina Porzikova was, so maybe I’m the crazy one.) When this song came out our high school started its “Safe Rides” program, so that kids who got drunk wouldn’t drive themselves home from parties. We thought this should have been the theme song. (We never thought about a drinking problem in high school that was bad enough to require a taxi service, though.)
Heart – “What About Love.” 70s Heart? Yes. 80s Heart? No. Without exception.
ZZ Top – “Legs.” Now I really make people upset. 70s ZZ Top? Yes. 80s ZZ Top? It depends. 90s ZZ Top? No. This video got a TON of airplay when this was out. Remember – this bad was big enough that they earned the nomination for president on Saturday Night Live in 1984. The video, sadly, has not held up over time. People pick on plain couple in diner. Scary women physically abuse the rude people and take the girl from the couple out to get her pretty. Girl, now pretty, comes back to diner and physically abuses the people who picked on her. Band spins fuzzy guitars and disappears. I’d rather dig out the Greatest Hits LP by the band, which entirely predates Eliminator, and is really good.
Def Leppard – “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” This is a live performance from 2005, and it’s not a good one. I think it’s being sung in the key of Asia Minor. This was one of two songs I added to the WLRA playlist the first time I was asked to pick hits (the other was Guns ‘n Roses’ “Welcome To the Jungle”), and I vaguely remember older students trying to make a video for it. What I remember more clearly, though, was that this was the encore at a Def Lep show we went to in 1988. My friend Rich and I made two high school girls sitting near us angry by singing “Pour Some Boogers On Me.” You’ll never hear the song the same way again.
The Smiths – “This Charming Man.” Blech. This was never a band I enjoyed. In college the rest of the airstaff played the literal shit out of “Girlfriend In a Coma,” and some did it to annoy me. John Strolia, who was the production director at the station, even changed the lyrics: “Girlfriend in a coma, I know, I know Len hates this song.” Mary is pointing out that there’s only about five notes in this. At least it’s short, and gives way to…
Erasure – “Chains of Love.” Now we’re getting somewhere. The video is so-so, but Erasure sounds good at a high volume. If I close my eyes, it’s a Friday night and I’m in a club, not in the basement thinking about making popcorn and going to bed by ten.
Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam With Full Force And Whoever Else Showed Up – “All Cried Out.” She’s a little old to be in bed with a teddy bear. I mean, the other video (“Lost In Emotion”) showed enough for the audience to know she’s not a little girl, and – wait – the guys are done singing, and the boobs are back at center stage. The record label knew what it was selling here, and it wasn’t the music. Apology not accepted.
New Kids On The Block – “Hangin’ Tough.” My favorite moment in this video is when they pan to the concert crowd, and there’s a little girl staring up at the stage, mouth agape, as if to say “I don’t get it.” Me either, kid – me either.
Culture Club – “Karma Chameleon.” I will never, ever turn this song off. Nor anything by this band, really. There was no escaping Culture Club my first two years of high school, and the songs are just damned catchy. This was when many homes first got MTV, and many parents let out shrieks of “What… the hell… is that?” when Boy George appeared. So, we kept watching, and singing along.
-Break for a “Randee of the Redwoods” promo. MTV went all-in on this campaign for a while. Much like Spuds McKenzie, I never quite got the joke.
The Go-Gos – “Head Over Heels.” I love this song. As written about earlier, Charlotte Caffey was my favorite Go Go. This video, though, is pretty funny. Some time in the future I’ll write about my college VJ days, and this video figures prominently into that.
Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes – “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.” The Dirty Dancing craze of 1988 was inescapable – except at our college station, where we made a pact not to play this song. By the end of the year I was working in soccer-mom radio, and made up for all of those lost plays. Now? This sells cruises, right? Or are the people in the two bathtubs on the porch singing it? I forget.
Atlantic Starr – “Always.” I cannot hear this song and not hear a sock hop DJ shouting over the beginning of it “All right – we’re gonna slow things down now!” Time to hide before that funny looking girl from English class asks me to dance.
Survivor – “Burning Heart.” This song is from the Rocky movie where he fights the Russian guy. We know that from the hammers-and-sickles and images of Lenin. Do they stop the video for an unintelligible rant about nuclear weapons at the end of it?
Talking Heads – “Burning Down The House.” It’s the live version from Stop Making Sense. There is nothing to dislike here, although (as I usually do) I preferred the original version of the video where the lookalike version of the Talking Heads keeps replacing the band and eventually fights them. But for a live version, this is pretty solid. It makes up for the Run DMC debacle from earlier in the evening.
Dire Straits – “Money For Nothing.” This was THE video that we all wanted to see in the fall of 1985 when it came out. In 2017 it’s been shortened to take out the verse about “the little faggot” that, if you remember the verse in question, was actually critical of the speaker of the line. Of course, when I see this video now, I think of Weird Al and UHF instead.
That’s a good place to stop. Primary observation: the same complaint I have about satellite radio’s decades channels applies here. There’s no good reason not to go deeper. A few hours in front of the TV yielded precious few “oh, wow” moments. The network would do well to dig a little bit, and not just for the once-an-hour retro promo message. Thank goodness for boxes of records, I guess.