“Live videos > fake live videos any day of the week.” – Harrison the Mad Metal Man
RECORD STORE TALES #905: Growing Up With Video
Music videos of the 80s could, in theory, be broken down into three major categories:
- Conceptual videos. Sometimes with a storyline intercut. Occasionally the musicians got to act. Other examples have no musicians at all. (Iron Maiden’s “Can I Play With Madness”.) Conceptual were majority of music videos — usually combining the conceptual part with the band performing on some kind of stage. Not to be confused with…
- Stage videos. Or, as Harrison calls then, “fake live videos”. Lipsynching the hits, on a stage, sometimes in front of a crowd, with no conceptual content. Sometimes these were simply live concert videos dubbed over with the album tracks. “Thrills in the Night” by Kiss, for example.
- True live videos. Many Van Halen videos we grew up with, from “Unchained” to “Best of Both Worlds”, were live in concert — audio and video both. In some cases you could not buy these live tracks on any kind of release.
Of course there are more categories and sub-categories, just less significant. Some videos are entirely animated, which is more common today. We also have something new — the lyric video.
I can remember the sixth grade. Mrs. Peterson’s class. Van Halen’s 1984 was out and Quiet Riot were burning up the charts. These were pretty much the only bands I heard of. I hadn’t seen the music videos and I didn’t even know what Quiet Riot looked like. The only pictures I had ever seen of Quiet Riot were the buttons that the masked guy is wearing on his vest on the front cover of the cassette version of Metal Health. I squinted hard, but the Kevin DuBrow I imagined on that button looked nothing like the real deal.
The teacher was getting us started on simple surveys. To make it fun, she took a survey of all the most popular music in the class. Each kid got to name one favourite artist. I named Quiet Riot, and Kevin Kirby named Van Halen. Michael Jackson and Duran Duran were the top two.
As the discussion proceeded, many of the kids mentioned that they liked the music videos. Michael Jackson was at his peak, and he was the pioneer of the modern music video. Other artists like Culture Club made an impact with their image, which came across best on video. The teacher was curious about all this, so the class explained what a music video was. Something dawned on the teacher, and she exclaimed, “So to be a music star today, you not only have to be able to sing, but you also have to be able to act!”
No, and yes. You didn’t have to “act” per se, but you did have to be able to present yourself and play to a camera. David Lee Roth was not an according-to-Hoyle actor. Some would say he’s also not a singer, but he is a master at playing for the camera. Staring deep into the lens, gazing with the come-hither look, just so. Doing easily what other rock stars couldn’t, or didn’t want to.
So yes Mrs. Peterson, in a sense, to be a star in 1984, you had to be able to “act”. Video didn’t kill the radio star but it sure took a bite out of them.
Kids used to catch the videos on various cable shows. There was one called The Great Record Album Collection on WUTV that I sometimes caught before dinner. The Canadian movie channels (Superchannel, First Choice) would run music videos in the dead minutes after the credits rolled, to the top off the hour. Until MuchMusic came along, we Canadian kids didn’t have a one-stop-shop to watch all our music videos. Fortunately, having MuchMusic coincided with getting our first VCR.
Once we became seasoned in the way of the music video, we developed clear favourites. 12 and 13 year olds didn’t have a lot of money. We also had never attended a concert. Therefore, live videos with music that wasn’t what we were getting on the album were rarely favourites. We preferred the “fake live”, as Harrison the Mad Metal Man calls them. Then our immature ears could hear the songs clearly, and that would help us decide if were going to spend our nickles on a new tape.
Best of all though were the conceptual videos. Some were not good (just ask Billy Squier), but some really captured our imaginations. In Record Store Tales Part 206: Rock Video Night, we discussed some of my favourite clips to show to younger folks who weren’t there in the 80s. They were all conceptual clips. Many of them involved a band on a mission of some kind. There were so many of that kind. Thor had “Knock ‘Em Down”, Queensryche had “Queen of the Reich”, and Armored Saint had “Can U Deliver”. These videos featured, at least partially, a band on a quest. They also featured scantily clad women, and lots of “fake live” footage.
But the “fake live” footage often featured cool angles and close-ups. That meant we could examine the finer details of the outfits and guitars. You couldn’t just look up pictures of your favourite stars on the internet back in 1986. “I want hair like that!” Bob said about Eric Brittingham from Cinderalla. “That would look cool in red!” Meanwhile, I wanted Rob Halford’s leather jacket from the “Turbo” video. Of all these videos, we liked the Iron Maiden clip for “Wasted Years” best, which we watched in slow motion, pausing to identify every single Eddie. There were many we had never seen before.
We just weren’t as interested in purely live videos back then. For example, MuchMusic had two versions of Judas Priest’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”: the original and the live one from Priest! Live. After the live video came out, that’s the one they primarily played. It was disappointing because if I was going to only hear Priest on TV once that week, I preferred the original. Frankly, we didn’t buy a lot of live albums as kids. When we collected bands, we would try to get all the albums including the live ones. But when we wanted to buy one tape from a band, we didn’t go for live ones. Some live albums we heard scared us off from the format. The Song Remains the Same wasn’t the kind of thing we had patience for.
That all changed for me in highschool. I wanted to buy a Triumph album. It would be my first. On recommendation from a kid in my history class, I picked Stages. And it was like a lightbulb went off in my head. Virtually every song was awesome! In fact the only track that wasn’t was a studio track! And then I had the joy of making those live versions my first Triumph loves. When I got the studio renditions, they seems thinner and colder by comparison. I never had that experience before.
I wonder if any of this will be interesting to anyone at all. Videos are irrelevant today as far as heavy metal goes. Today, we are not interested in the same things we were in our youths. We don’t care what the singer is wearing or what the drummer did to his hair. We care more about how the band is sounding, and how the crowd is responding. A new music video by a metal band is not as interesting as pro-shot live footage from Wacken. We want to listen carefully for backing tapes, we want to see the band gel on stage, and we want to cheer along when it’s good.
It is incredibly fortunate to have grown up in the 80s, when videos were in their prime, and still be rocking today when all that stuff is available at our fingertips any time we need a blast of nostalgia. Younger readers will never know the tense excitement of hitting “record-pause” on a VCR and waiting for the premier of the newest video by Maiden, Priest, or Def Leppard. Seeing the carefully edited stage moves paired with salon-fresh hair. It was a glorious time even if was completely ridiculous.