Half Empty, Since 1998

1986 was a good year for the beginnings of Music Television and the promotion of funky trends.

Video Killed The Video Star

Chad J. Sutton. June 8th, 1998

So I was digging through my videotape archives tonight when I came across a tape all covered with dust labeled simply “Lots of Videos MTV 1986.” It intrigued me so much I forgot what I was originally looking for, and I ran to the living room to watch it.

What awaited me was a veritable cornucopia of cheese and nostalgia! I mean, 1986 was 12 years ago, and it feels like both a lifetime and yesterday all in the same breath. Set the wayback machine, Sherman, and join me on a journey through 6 hours of music and pop culture, a time when I was a sophomore in high school, my adolescence was at its peak and the world was a wondrous place.

The first video on the tape: “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” by the Smithereens – a bunch of nerdy looking guys dressed all in black. The Smithereens were actually an “underground” or “progressive” band back then (the musical label “alternative” hadn’t been coined yet.)

The next one worth noting, if only for its “Gawd, did I really LISTEN to that?” factor: “Walk Like an Egyptian” by the Bangles. This song, in fact the whole album, evokes the time I spent out of school, laid up for 6 weeks in a cast from my ankle to my thigh after a skateboarding accident. I couldn’t do much but lay on the couch and veg, and of course I OD’ed on MTV. My school sent a tutor to my house twice a week, and man did I ever have it bad for her. She couldn’t have been more than 23 or 24, fresh out of college, and probably the only teacher crush I’ve ever had. Ah, 15-year-old lust. Anyway, back to the song, I made my mom buy me the Bangles album and also REM’s “Green” – One because I was also hot for Susanna Hoffs and the other because I thought Michael Stipe was a genius.

Dweezil and Moon Zappa light up my screen next, remember when they were VJs? And they were not the only rock star progeny to appear on MTV in 1986: one of my favorite VJs of that era, China Kantner, is the daughter of Grace Slick and Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane fame, not to mention a total babe. More on Dweezil later – I will uncover a kind of six degrees of separation thing with Frank Zappa, you’ll see. Read on.

Some fashion trends that defined the 80’s, like it or not: Funky hats, acid-wash denim, torn T-shirts, and big hair. All of the above appear in the next vid, “Someday” by Glass Tiger. What? Don’t remember Glass Tiger? They were one of the plethora of one-hit wonders that graced the airwaves in 1986. Kind of a cross between Culture Club and Mr. Mister.

“Josie’s on a vacation far away…” – What a great first line for a song. “Your Love” by the Outfield. They were a cool band. Their other hit, “All the Love in the World,” shows up on the tape later. That one was better from a video standpoint – the story line goes something like this: boy beams his face over a satellite onto every video screen within miles, even closed-circuit televisions (hmmm) and of course, the little hottie he’s trying to get the message to is watching attentively, puts on her cute little cowboy boots, and marches right over where he and the band are playing and just can’t find the sound.

More fashion trends, this time evinced by a commercial break: Swatches and Levi’s 501 jeans. Both are still around, interestingly enough.

Next up: the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right to Party.” OK, I don’t need to comment on this one, other than to impart some video trivia: Tabitha Soren is in this video, and she’s young, blonde, and chunky. Look for her in the end when they shoot down on the party; she’s the one near the top of the screen.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m only listing the videos/effluvia that mattered to me both then and now. If I were to make you laundry list of six hours of videos, this page would be waaaay too long. On to the Pet Shop Boys and “West End Girls” – God, I wanted to be British so bad. First I wanted to be Johnny Rotten, then once I witnessed the Eurotrash fronting of Neil Tennant, I wanted to be a Pet Shop Boy.

The first degree of separation: Dweezil’s “Let’s Talk About It” video comes on, featuring basically the entire Zappa family. Second degree: not ten minutes later, I see Steve Vai playing guitar in David Lee Roth’s “Goin’ Crazy” video. Vai played guitar for Frank Zappa, father of abovementioned Dweezil. Now for the third degree (OK, so there aren’t six. Sorry.) – I saw Vai on the G3 tour last year, and playing 2nd guitar/keys for him was none other than Mike Keneally, whose own album I was listening to right before I sat down to watch the videotape. Mr. Keneally was Frank Zappa’s last touring guitarist, which brings us full circle. Talk about karma.

After that, it’s the Fabulous Thunderbirds – man, looking back now, these guys were so hip, even if at the time they were a bit anachronistic. And Kim Wilson dressed soooo cool. Bit overdone with the dancing chickies in the video, though – I’ll say this now for the world to read: when I’m a famous rock star, there will be NO, repeat NO gratuitous girlies in my videos.

Speaking of gratuitous girlies, the next video is Robert Palmer’s remake of “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On.” The name of the singer who originally recorded it escapes me at the moment; if you know, please emailme and tell me. Robert Palmer is one suave motherfucker. That’s all I have to say about him.

Wham broke up in 1986. Boo hoo.

Interesting note: in 1986, not ONE commercial had a website address flashing across the screen. Another funny flashback: Rock Against Drugs (RAD) – rumor has it the rockers would do these commercials when they were in between tours and needed money to buy drugs.

And the final video I’ll comment on in this installment: Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach.” Here we see a Madonna that lost the baby fat, shaved her pits, and cropped her hair. I believe it was the first major transformation that Her Divaness went through. I also remember her catching some serious shit for the subject matter: single motherhood. There’s more where this came from: I have heaps of old tapes full of videos. I plan to start flipping through them and getting more in-depth with my analyses. Stay tuned!