Decades as we remember them tend not to coincide with the calendar. There are things that we think of as belonging to the '50s that are really the early '60s. 1980 was definitely more like 1979 than it was like 1985, but was 1980 more like 1975 than 1985 as well? I don't know; I'm only thinking of it because of Billy Squier.
There were three main things that I learned from Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum's I Want My MTV that I had never heard of before. One is that the playing of black artists started mainly because CBS forced the issue. I'm sorry it had to be that way, but I am glad for CBS's efforts. Another was that the reason that everyone referred to Michael Jackson as "the King of Pop" is that he made them. I was pretty disgusted by that. Also, Kurt Loder probably leaked it, so it should have been possible to know, but I didn't. Finally, somehow, I had never seen or heard about "Rock Me Tonight":
I did despise Billy Squier, so I can't rule out that maybe there were times when I could have watched it and chose not to. I feel bad about that. First of all, many people who are quoted on the topic describe him as a really nice guy, so it was probably wrong of me to find him so repulsive. But also, somehow, I missed out on something legendary. Video Gaga called it one of the worst videos of all time. Wikipedia, in director Kenny Ortega's article, says "often cited as the worst music promo clip ever made". This is a bad video, and I missed it.
Watching it years later deadens the impact, but it's still pretty bad. As is my wont, I started performing an autopsy.
Yesterday we talked about not being overly literal in the message of the song, and I forgot to mention being overly literal to the lyrics. Here, as Squier sings "We go down in the shadows and crawl between", it is a little dimly lit, not necessarily shadowy, but yes, he does go down and crawl and it is hideously cheesy.
The other thing I noticed is that while everyone makes a big deal about the pink tank top, there is also aqua, and pastels, and art that isn't exactly Nagel, but reminds me of that style. I thought maybe they were trying to bring a guy from the '70s into the '80s, where he did not belong, but technically, Billy Squier is from the '80s. He was a professional musician in the '70s, but going solo and signing with Capitol happened in 1980. His big hits were in 1982. I just say those were actually still the '70s.
The song is moving toward the newer sound with more synthesizer, so updating the look of the video (with his previous videos being very concert performance-oriented) may have made sense, but not this way.
Squier's initial idea, according to the book, was to show him getting ready for a show, and the fans getting ready individually, culminating with everyone at the show. That works well with the message of "Rock Me Tonight". The song seems to be more about two people planning on having sex, but it doesn't contradict the general feeling, and if every song that was about that had a video about that, there would be a sad loss of creativity.
I don't know if that would have been a good video or not, but I know Squier prancing around a bedroom does not make a good video. It's kind of train-wrecky, but also boring.
Ortega choreographed Dirty Dancing, so I know he can do a good job, but it is really easy for just one person dancing for an extended period of time to be boring. The only similar video that I can think of that works is Janet Jackson's "Pleasure Principle, but she has a more interesting dance environment and also, she is a better dancer.
Even the video for Michael Sembello's "Maniac" was inter-cut with other things. If you just watch that final scene in the movie, it's not as exciting. (Plus, she had a dance double, reminding us that not every actor or singer can do an amazing dance sequence.)
So it was a boring video, but it did not feel true to the musician, which was the real problem. In this case that meant people wondering if he was gay or on drugs. Oddly, both had a bigger stigma back then.
Ortega claims he tried to toughen it up, and it was Squier's fault, but I don't believe Squier came up with those moves on his own. If I recall, Squier said he expressed concerns and Ortega kept saying to trust him and that it would all look right at the end, which does sound like something directors say, but I think ultimately that they never really met up artistically on their vision for the song.
Having someone who has made other successful videos can be great, but it's no guarantee. Looking over Steve Barron's video credits, no matter how much I love "Take On Me", I see a lot of titles that I hate. For A-ha specifically, the video for "The Sun Always Shines On TV" worked pretty well, but after that they just kept getting weirder.
My favorite collaboration was between My Chemical Romance and Samuel Bayer. He was hired for "Welcome to the Black Parade" and did a video that fits the theme and echoes the album artwork and is kind of amazing, but he wanted to do one for "Famous Last Words", before they had even titled it. And he made it work budget-wise too, where they just burned the set from the previous video to create a new set.
Technically this is an example of video shoots going wrong too, kind of, with Bob Bryar getting burns that got infected, Gerard Way getting hospitalized with leg and foot injuries, and a canceled show based on doctors orders, but still, you do have a successful video that is an interesting companion for the other, and hey, art for art's sake. The point is the band found someone who spoke their language.