Music videos are becoming a lost art form. Actually, to be specific, the self-indulgent rock video is becoming a lost art form. There was a time when a musician was forced to act in a video. Seeing a singer step too far outside of his comfort zone to pour all of his high-school-drama angst into a poorly scripted scenario was a sight to behold. Now the band either plays the songs or steps aside altogether to make room for a computer animation orgy. Boring! Where's the bravery in that?
I'm old-school. Give me a lame story line and a band forced to act badly any day of the week. That's rock 'n' roll. It's also why I love literal videos. They're a reminder of the unintentional hilarity of my favorite '80s and '90s videos. They're also a reminder to any musician about to walk onto a music video set: the shelf life for these things is short. "Take on Me" is not Truffaut. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" is not "The Seven Deadly Sins." The song may live forever, but the video will invariably look silly down the road. Consider yourself too important at your own peril. A literal video may be in your future.
There are lots of literal videos out there. Most of them are lame, confusing the ability to make up lyrics with humor. However, a few rise to the gold standard of genius parody. They maintain the delicate balance of smart insider references and punchy sitcom one-liners. Here are my five favorite literal videos. Four were created by literal-video pioneer Dustin McLean. He cracked the Rosetta Stone of '80s and '90s video absurdity. He says he wants to be a film director. I just hope he stays away from music videos - and doesn't get busted for copyright infringement along the way.
Tears for Fears, "Head Over Heels"
Roland Orzabal has called this '85 single "one of the most simple tracks that Tears for Fears have ever recorded." No argument here. This video, from their second album, "Songs From the Big Chair," was filmed in a Canadian library and made two classic mistakes of '80s videos: casting a model in an "acting" role and making the band members do something other than play.
Anthony Kiedis' raw autobiographical tune brought the Peppers into the mainstream and peaked at #2 in 1992. It's shocking to learn that Gus Van Sant, the director who brought us "Milk" and "Drugstore Cowboy," was the creator of this mess. The video's filled with split screens, cheesy superimposed shots (inspired by Van Sant's work with novelist William Burroughs), and Kiedis' pecs. Maybe it's art, but I'll take the literal version any day.
Billy Idol, "White Wedding"
The second single from Billy's self-titled '82 debut introduced the world to his bleached hair and black-gloved fist. The video was more of a goth wedding than a white one - a point that doesn't go unnoticed in this literal version. By the way, the bride in the video was Idol's girlfriend, Perri Lister. They didn't get married, although they did have a kid.
a-ha was Norway's gift to America, and this debut single was their gift to the MTV nation. The rotoscope animation video was actually the second one the band filmed. The first version was simply of them performing. Apparently, no one wanted see three Norwegian dudes playing a song. "Take on Me" won six MTV Video Music Awards in '86 and was the subject of a "Family Guy" parody before Dustin McLean turned it into his first literal video in 2008.
Bonnie Tyler, "Total Eclipse of the Heart"
Tyler's 1983 single is the very definition of rock self-indulgence, which is understandable when you learn the song and video were created by Jim Steinman, the man who brought us Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell" and "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)." The man is not known for subtlety. So grand was Steinman's video vision (inspired by the '76 Peter Fonda film "Futureworld") that the video ran one minute longer than the recorded version. DASjr Productions created this parody in homage to Dustin McLean as well as bloated rock videos everywhere.