Thursday, December 2, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 7: Sinéad O’Connor to Public Enemy

Question: What do the first and last tracks of today's installment of "100 Music Videos", Sinéad O'Connor's "The Emperor's New Clothes" and Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" have in common? Okay, they came out in the same year, but what else? Answer: Hank Shocklee.

Shocklee was the leader of "The Bomb Squad" an old-school hip-hop production team, known for utilizing a large number of samples, and creating dense, harsh, dissonant beats, influenced by musique concrète, to enhance the lyrics. They produced most of Public Enemies albums, including "Fear of a Black Planet". And Hank Shocklee also produced the incredibly melodic Irish chick rock of "The Emperor's New Clothes". I don't know, I thought that was interesting.

So let's get on with it, shall we?

61. Sinéad O’Connor – The Emperor’s New Clothes [dir. Sophie Muller]

This video gets a lot of hate for Sinéad O'Connor's limited dancing range. It is true that her dancing mostly involves flailing randomly, but the video isn't supposed to be a dancing showcase. The song is about getting over a bad relationship. Or it's about the Catholic Church. I'm not sure which. Now that I think about it, it's probably both. But the point is that now she's not being forced to please anyone. So, even if she's on a stage, in the spotlight, with disco balls and confetti drawing attention to her, she's doing what's right for her. So all the haters are no better than the bad boyfriend and/or Pope. Fight the real enemy!

62. OK Go – This Too Shall Pass [dir. James Frost]

Back in the days of MTV, music videos were mainly about showing off new bands and new releases by old bands. Then MTV became the network that airs “The Hills” and YouTube became the primary purveyor of music videos. But YouTube was never about “check out this band” so much as “check out this giraffe fight”!

That’s where OK Go comes in. While they have yet to make a video about fighting giraffes. But they have “Here it Goes Again” featuring an elaborate dance with treadmills, and “White Knuckles”, featuring elaborate stupid pet tricks. And this video, which has a ginormous Rube Goldberg machine designed to cover the band in paint. And apparently they also write and record songs or something.

For the list, I picked the Rube Goldberg one. Mainly because Rube Goldberg machines are awesome. Also, one of the steps in the Rube Goldberg machine involves a TV that’s playing the treadmill video. So this way, you get two videos in one.

63. Old Crow Medicine Show – Wagon Wheel

Wow! This has got to be the most depressing burlesque show of all time. Where did all the campy decadence go? They’re outdoors at some two bit county fair and the MC is just standing and singing a ballad about a south-bound train to Raleigh so he can die free, while the girls walk around in their underwear and they have a flashlight instead of a spotlight. The band isn’t even smiling. The only guy who seems to be enjoying himself is the audience member at the 3:16 mark.

64. The Oyster Band – New York Girls

This is the only music video made by any Oysterband incarnation, but it’s a good one. In fact, it’s quite possibly the best music video for a traditional sea chantey of all time. What happened is, they recorded a cover of “New York Girls” for their “Ride” album. The song prominently features the chorus “And away, you santy! My dear Annie. All you New York girls, can you dance the polka?” So when they went to New York on a tour and stumbled across a bunch of polka dancers, they decided “We should make a music video!”

65. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Mary Jane’s Last Dance [dir. Keir McFarlane]

Tom Petty has established himself as a very literary-minded artist whenever he’s ventured into the visual realm. He is of course, best known, as the guy who played Tom Petty in the cinematic adaptation of David Brin’s masterpiece, The Postman. But before that, he made this video, which is apparently some sort of adaptation of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. I will admit that I have never read Great Expectations, but I assume it’s about necrophilia.

66. Liz Phair – Polyester Bride

WARNING: This video contains eggs.

This video reminds me of the Reduced Shakespeare Company's 35-minute version of Hamlet. They have a bit where they have the audience do an abstract psychological profile of Ophelia, with actors portraying her id, ego and superego. An audience member representing the ego runs back and forth across the stage, while the id audience members say "Maybe! Maybe not!" over and over again. The the rest of the audience represents competing aspects of her superego, saying "Get thee to a nunnery", "Paint an inch thick" and, most importantly, "Cut the crap, Hamlet! My biological clock is ticking and I want babies now!"

The same sort of thing is going in here. The ego and id are taken care of in the song itself. Liz Phair, is the ego who wants to get away from it all, and stop dating unfamous men. But Henry, her bartending friend, is the id who keeps on questioning whether she's making the right decision. After all, does she really want to be a polyester bride and find alligator cowboy boots she just got on sale? But it's the video itself that completes the picture, representing the superego. and that part's pretty self-explanatory.

67. Pink Floyd – The Trial [dir. Alan Parker]

WARNING: This video contains cartoon nudity/brief regular nudity.

It’s a shame Terry Gilliam never directed any music videos. He's really good with visuals, but often runs into trouble with coming up with a coherent narrative. Plus he had great animation. Well, Pink Floyd's the wall is the closest you'll get to a Gilliam-esque aesthetic in music video form, even if Gilliam himself had nothing to do with it.

68. The Police – Synchronicity II [dir. Godley & Creme]

Hey, everybody! Remember eco-chic? You know, that period in the ’80s and early ’90s when it was actually considered cool to be to care about the environment? Do you know what else was strange about that era? It was considered cool to like Sting! Man, that was weird.

I’d have to say, those modern charity singles can learn a thing from Police-era Sting. Nobody’s going to get moved to action by seeing a bunch of celebrities congratulating themselves in a recording studio. If you want people to care about the environment, you have to dance around on ginormous piles of garbage. You’ve got to show them the problem.

69. Primus – Mr. Krinkle

Since this whole video is shot in a single take, it means all those circus performers had to get everything right or they'd have to shoot the whole video over. If one of them, just one of them, messed up and fell to their deaths or impaled themselves or something, it would ruin the whole video. That's pretty impressive. But most impressive of all is that guy who's on fire. He had to walk across the floor and act like everything was normal. Now I'm sure he had lot's of training lighting himself on fire and acting like everything is normal. But can you imagine walking past a giant, bass-playing pig in a tuxedo and not cracking up? I know, man! Now that takes talent.

70. Public Enemy – Fight the Power [dir. Spike Lee]

It’s hard to believe now, but Flavor Flav was once a respectable human being. Back in the old Public Enemy days, he was a light-hearted voice to bring humor to the righteous anger of the rest of the band. Without the rest of the band, he became, well, the less said about that, the better. So it can be a bit jarring when the big crowd of demonstrators in this video are carrying signs that say “Flavor Flav”.

Less jarring are the dancing Black Panthers. That’s what really makes the video. It all goes to show the importance of proper stewarding at demonstrations. No stewarding, and you get riots. Some stewarding, and you get a well-coordinated demonstration can prevent unnecessary violence and adequately defend against the inevitable police violence. Spike Lee-directed stewarding, and you get dancing Black Panthers. And not even Flavor of Love can take that away.

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

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