Music Video of the Day: Real Men by Joe Jackson (1982, dir. Steve Barron)

Sometimes I remember a special day or month, and sometimes I forget. When I noticed it was Pride Month, I thought I should deliberately put in a couple in that area. I’m glad I remembered this one specifically because much like special times, I always forget that I have Joe Jackson music in my collection.

Technically, my first exposure to Jackson’s music was when I saw There’s Something About Mary (1998). It featured the song Is She Really Going Out With Him? I was really introduced to Jackson’s work by way of the album Strange Little Girls by Tori Amos. I liked the song, found out it was a cover, and sought it out. Cut to a few years later, and I got to see the video for the first time. In fact, I’m quite sure that the version I’ve embedded here is the exact airing of it that I saw.

Back in the early to mid-2000s, VH1 Classic used to do this thing where they would play two songs that would have some connection to each other. I’m pretty sure the pairs would have some connection to each other as well. I don’t remember them ever telling the audience that. I just recall noticing that they played this song along with I Don’t Like Mondays by Boomtown Rats. That song was covered by Amos on the same album. I picked up on a couple of other connections, and figured that’s what they were doing.

If you look around online, then you’ll find plenty of other people who have already written out their opinions on the song and video.

This is one of those that has some material from the book I Want My MTV:

Jeff Ayeroff [former creative director at Warner Bros. Records and the co-chairman of Virgin Records America]: Joe Jackson ended up selling many more records than Elvis Costello did, mainly because of his videos he did with Steve Barron.

Joe Jackson: Music videos weren’t even discussed when I made my first album in 1979. By 1982, there’d been a distinct shift. I made videos with Steve Barron for “Real Men” and “Steppin’ Out,” and by the time we got to “Breaking Us In Two,” I said to the label, “I don’t think this song should have a video.” I was told I had to made a video, whether I liked it or not. “Breaking Us In Two” was a crappy video. I was embarrassed. So I decided in my great wisdom that not only would I no longer make videos, but I would write an anti-video editorial for Billboard magazine. I mean, I’m not such a miserable bastard that I won’t admit that some videos are great fun. But I believed MTV was beginning to have a negative effect on music.

I’m well aware that refusing to make videos accomplished nothing whatsoever except–how should I put this?–to make my next record less successful. It damaged my career and it never fully recovered.

I like Breaking Us In Two. I see where he’s coming from on that one though. Out of the three Steve Barron videos, Steppin’ Out is the best. You can tell from all three of those videos that Barron was trying to craft a reusable formula for his songs. They have all have a similar visual style. Most importantly, Barron found a good place for Jackson. Yes, I’m aware he does more than just play the piano. I’m referring to the idea of each video being a short film that happens to have Jackson pop in, not as a the star, but as the story teller. Kind of like a holographic musical narrator.

Jackson didn’t completely leave music videos. He came back with other ones, which includes getting the Propaganda Films treatment for his song Nineteen Forever. You might know a couple of the people who worked or founded Propaganda Films, such as Nigel Dick, David Fincher, Michael Bay, Mark Romanek, and in the case of Nineteen Forever, Jackson got Alex Proyas.

Despite the 1979 comment, you can find several music videos from 1979. I guess they were done just for fun rather than something that he was obligated to make and weren’t taken so seriously. You can see the second one in the video for his song I’m The Man.

As for this video, it’s pretty basic all things considered. You have the kid who doesn’t like seeing a girl getting pushed around. Then you have the same kid going to put on some powder in a mirror with an American flag in the lower right. He decides against it, and instead goes and watches Red River (1948). Then you get some of the typical gay imagery with bikers and our main character who has grown up to be James Dean. He has trouble with girls and isn’t sure if it’s just that he isn’t good with them or if it’s something else. Jackson pops up occasionally, but isn’t the main focus.

The best part of the video is how it cuts back to footage from earlier in the video as you approach the tragic ending. I especially like the part where it implies that the kid who shot at the girl may or may not be straight himself. They also pair the two guys hitting it off with each other with him not being able to kiss the girl he’s with because she pulls away.

Despite the content of the song and video, it appears to have done well on early-MTV. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from doing these posts, it’s that music video history is distorted. For awhile, early Bon Jovi music videos, like the one for Runaway, were not to be played because it conflicted with the current image of the band.


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