Friday, November 26, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 1: A-Ha to Besti Flokkurinn

I now present the first installment of a ten-part series entitled "100 music videos". Like my "Check Out This Thang I Found On Teh Internetz" feature, it exists mainly as an excuse to add blog entries while other people do the work. As the title suggests, it will present one hundred music videos, ten in each installment, covering a range of eras and genres but, each in their own way, somehow pretty cool (don't worry, the ICP entry in the fifth installment is there ironically).

Some ground rules. No fan-made videos (sorry Jonathan Coulton). And there has to be a video online that can be embedded. It has to be reasonably good quality. So I'm not including videos that had the sound removed for copyright reasons (sorry, Prince) or if the only video is an incomplete copy from a VHS tape (sorry, Miranda Sex Garden). Some of the videos may be NSFW. In those cases, I will put a warning before the video that explains what potentially objectionable content may be found therein.

Let the videos commence!

1. A-Ha – Take On Me [dir. Steve Barron]

There’s not really all that much to say about this video that hasn’t been said hundreds of times before. It’s probably one of the best known videos of the MTV era and, thanks to the “literal video version”, one of the best known videos of the YouTube era. But to get to the coveted #1 position on this list, it all comes down to one defining quality: the band’s name starting with an ‘A’ and then a punctuation mark.

2. Adam and the Ants – Stand and Deliver [dir. Mike Mansfield]

For a guy whose style is referred to as “New Romantic”, Adam Ant seems pretty obsessed with the aesthetics of the 18th century, i.e. the age of reason. I mean, come on! Those tricorne hats went out of style before the French Revolution. Okay maybe if he’s harkening to the Sturm und Drang of the 1770s and 1780s, I guess that could be considered romantic. But then he’s talking about being a “dandy highwayman”, but the dandy school of fashion didn’t start until the regency. And why is he calling himself a “dandy” when he’s clearly dressed like a fop? Come on, Adam. I think most people expect a little more accuracy in their music video costumes. Oh well, at least the song’s good.

3. Aesop Rock – None Shall Pass [dir. Jason Herring & Jeremy Fish]

This gritty sci-fi re-imagining of The Warriors posits New York a city torn between rival gangs like the Baseball Furries (who wear Yankees uniforms over their fursuits) and the Guys With Pigs on Their Heads (who wear pigs on their heads). And the lone Jewish rapper Aesop Rock has to traverse a city filled with enemies and try to bring people together. It’s all pretty ludicrous, but not as ludicrous as the original version of The Warriors. I mean that movie had a gang called the Baseball Furies who wore Yankees uniforms over goth clown make-up! Now that’s just crazy!

It may be too much for some people to take. But don’t worry. Aesop is perfectly willing to acknowledge that he’s not for everyone, which is why he gives you the chance to unwatch it at the end!

4. Tori Amos – Cornflake Girl (UK Version) [dir. Big TV!]

There are actually two videos for this song, because the Americans thought the original (this one) was too weird. Crazy Americans! It’s not that weird, kiddos. It’s an homage to The Wizard of Oz. And there’s a piano because Tori Amos is a pianist and she’s taking on the role of Dorothy. And those two Eskimos tied together are obviously some sort of commentary on the movie Heathers. And the two scantily-clad chicks having a catfight are there because, well it wouldn’t be a music video without that. I mean, other than that, the only difference between the video and The Wizard of Oz is that Dorothy doesn't normally get caught in a giant spider web on the way to Oz. Okay? See, it’s not that complicated, America!

5. Fiona Apple – Not About Love [dir. Michael Blieden]

I know Fiona Apple took a lot of heat for her video for “Criminal”. Something about the incredibly hyper-sexualized video didn’t jibe with her earnest girl power messages. But I would argue that this video helps put everything into its proper context. By separating the visual content from the lyrical content and putting herself to the side it allows the listener to view the song as its own being.

6. The B-52’s – Roam [dir. Adam Bernstein]

Although this music video came out in 1989, it’s actually pretty relevant to the current economic crisis. You’d think a song with lyrics like “Roam if you want to. Roam around the world.” would have a bit of a “Let them eat cake!” quality since most of us can’t afford to go gallivanting about the globe, no matter how much they want. But with the video they provide the secret for aspiring world travelers on a budget: blue screens!

7. Barenaked Ladies – One Week [dir. McG]

Barenaked Ladies - One Week
Uploaded by WBRNewMedia. - Watch more music videos, in HD!

This is what’s known in the movie biz as a “gearshift video”. It starts out as one thing but then ¡BAM! it’s something else. For example, Psycho spends its first 40 minutes as the story of a woman on the run for stealing her boss’s money, then suddenly changes into a slasher movie. In this case the video starts out as the usual mish-mash of Alice in Wonderland-inspired imagery, albeit with a bunch of chicks dancing around in skimpy vinyl devil suits. But then Chickity China, the Chinese chicken shows up and, in a mind-blowing development, the whole thing turns into a riff on The Dukes of Hazard. Such cinematic daring can only be achieved by a true auteur like . . . wait a minute? This is directed by the guy who did the Charlie’s Angels movies?! Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

8. The Beatles – Ticket to Ride [dir. Richard Lester]

Since the Beatles predated MTV by quite a bit, they had to look for other means of making music videos. They worked around this by incorporating the videos into movies. So in order to truly appreciate the video you need to have a little context. On it’s own, is seems like they’re innocently dicking around while skiing in the Alps. What’s really going on is that they’re innocently dicking around while skiing in the Alps so they can hide from a pair of mad scientists and the members of the Thuggee cult who are out to get them! It kind of gives the whole thing a darker feel when you know that, amidst all these shenanigans, the scientists are secretly planting a bomb in Ringo’s curling rock.

9. Geoff Berner – Iron Grey [dir. Pepper Sunlight Productions]

WARNING: This video contains graphic cop-on-accordion violence.

Geoff Berner and his accordion are always getting into trouble with the law. But he’s not gonna let the man stop him from pursuing romance with that lovely grey-eyed, salt-of-the-earth spark-welder. But he’s got trouble coming, ’cause the fuzz have his accordion on file and are on the look-out. It’s a bittersweet romance for the ages.

10. Besti Flokkurinn – Besta Lagið

Even out of context this video is pretty great. A pitch-perfect parody of those “We are the World”-style charity singles filled with deliberately vacuous politician-speak. When you know a little more about Iceland, it gets even better. For instance, in Icelandic Christmas folklore, there are 13 Santas or yule lads, so that “we only need one Santa” bit makes more sense.

But in the full context, the video goes from cool to pure awesome. Besti Flookurinn means “Best Party” and was a joke political party founded by a bunch of Icelandic punk singers. The above video was their campaign video for the 2010 Reykjavik elections. And they won! That’s right. The other political parties had become so tarnished by that whole entire-country-going-bankrupt-because-we-listened-to-Milton-Friedman thing that these guys actually won the election. That “we only need one Santa” guy; he’s the new mayor.

And in case you’re wondering, they did fulfill their promise to have free towels at the public swimming pools, thereby callously abandoning their promise not to fulfill any of their promises. What lying bastards!

Part 1: A-Ha to Besti Flokkurinn
Part 2: Bijelo Dugme to Bruce Cockburn
Part 3: The Coup to Finntroll
Part 4: Freezepop to The Imagined Village
Part 5: Insane Clown Posse to Corb Lund
Part 6: M.I.A. to My Chemical Romance
Part 7: Sinéad O’Connor to Public Enemy
Part 8: Pulp to Smashing Pumpkins
Part 9: Todd Snider to Suzanne Vega
Part 10: Julieta Venegas to Zemfira

1 comment:

  1. Those Beatles movies are amazing. I haven't watched them since I was about 12, but I really should. Great work as always George.