Music Video of the Day: Don’t You Want Me by The Human League (1981, directed by Steve Barron)

Inspired by a story that the Human League’s Phil Oakley read in a teen-girl’s magazine, Don’t You Want Me is a song not about love but instead a song about two people battling for control.  While the song was originally conceived as being a male solo, Oakley made the last-minute decision to turn it into a duet, with Susan Ann Sulley taking on the role of the girl who once worked in a cocktail bar but always knew she was meant for a much better life.

After the song was recorded, Oakley disliked it because he felt that the song’s sound was too “poppy” and he was not happy when Virgin decided to release Don’t You Want Me as the fourth single off of The Human League’s third studio album, Dare!  Despite Oakley’s misgivings, Don’t You Want Me went on to become the band’s biggest hit and one of its signature songs.

(As of 2014, Phil Oakley still didn’t think much of the song.  In an interview with Classic Pop Magazine, Oakley said, “‘Don’t You Want Me‘ might have shifted gazillions, but either I’ve heard it too many times or the rest of Dare! is just so far ahead that it puts it in the shade. Still, it made the band.”)

The music video was shot at a time when MTV was still in its infancy and many people weren’t even sure what a music video was supposed to be.  Filmed on a cold, rainy night in Slough, Berkshire, the video featured Phil Oakley as a director and Susan Ann Sulley as the actress who walks out on him during the filming of a murder-mystery.  Director Steve Barron used 35mm film, giving the video a richly cinematic look that was unusual for the music videos of the time.  Reportedly, Barron was influenced by Truffaut’s Day For Night, which is why the clapper board features the inscription, Le League Humain.

The video not only helped to make the song a hit but it also did the same for MTV itself.  At a time when many were still wondering if people would actually watch MTV, the popularity of this video gave them a reason to do just that.  The video proved that music videos didn’t have to just be bland performance clips.  Instead, like any film, a music video could tell a story of its very own.

Don’t You Want Me was the 1981 Christmas number one in the UK, where it has sold over 1,560,000 copies, making it the 23rd most successful single in the history of the UK Singles Chart.  In 2015, in an ITV poll, it was voted the 7th most popular number one single of all time.

Rest In Peace, Stan Lee

In 1939, a 17 year-old aspiring writer named Stanley Lieber landed a job at Timely Comics in New York City.

At first, Stanley’s job was just to get coffee, make sure that the inkwells were full, and occasionally proofread copy.  In 1941, when the third issue of Captain American Comics needed a text story so that it could be shipped as a magazine instead of just as a comic book, Stanley was assigned the job.  Because the young man had an ambition to some day write the great American novel and felt that being associated with comic books would make it more difficult to convince publishers to take him seriously, Stanley Lieber wrote the story under a pseudonym, Stan Lee.

And the rest, as they say, is history.  Timely eventually became Atlas and then Atlas was rebranded Marvel and, through it all, Stan Lee remained at the company, providing continuity from one decade to another.  Ironically, for someone who originally feared being too associated with comic books, Stan Lee went on to become not only the face but, for several decades, the voice of Marvel Comics.

Among comic book historians, Stan Lee is an often divisive figure.  By his own admission, Lee loved the spotlight and it can be argued that he unfairly overshadowed his publicity-shy colleagues.  To solely give Lee the credit for creating characters like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four does a disservice to the work of artists and writers like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and so many others.  As a company, Marvel has a deserved reputation for not treating its artists with the respect or the financial compensation that they deserved.  How much of the responsibility for any of that falls on Lee’s shoulders is a controversial subject and will continue to be so for years to come.

What isn’t controversial was that,  whether he hitting the college lecture circuit, recording the introductions for the animated Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends TV show, or giving interviews with publications like Playboy and Rolling Stone, there was never a bigger cheerleader for comic books than Stan Lee.  At a time when DC comics was busy imitating the campy Batman TV show, Marvel Comics were, in their own way, dealing with world in which their readers lived.  From the platform of Stan’s Soap Box, Stan Lee spoke against racism and prejudice.  When the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare approached Lee to do a story about the dangers of drug abuse, Lee did it in defiance of the Comic Codes Authority.  Three issues of Spider-Man were released without the CAA’s seal of approval, opening the way for all comic books to deal with real world issues.

Stan Lee as Mr. Fantastic in What If #11 (as drawn by Jack Kirby)

For many comic book readers who might have otherwise felt that they didn’t fit in, Stan Lee said, “Here, you do belong.”  Today, it might seem easy to poke fun at Lee’s endless enthusiasm, his cries of “excelsior,” and the way that he called Marvel readers “true believers.”  But for many readers,  there was much comfort to be found in Lee’s corny sayings.  Lee had a way of making readers feel as if they were all in it together.  Whether you were a true believer or a member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society, you belonged.  For kids who felt like outsiders, Lee was there to tell them that everyone was capable of being a hero, whether they had super powers or not.

In his twilight years, Lee was rediscovered by a new generation of fans.  Spotting Lee’s trademark cameos became one of the pleasures of watching any Marvel film.  Sometimes, he was a postman.  In Deadpool, he worked in a strip club.  More than once, he was a janitor.  I once saw him driving a bus.  In the second Guardians of the Galaxy film, he was sitting on the moon and telling the Watchers about his adventures on Earth and it just seemed like he was right where he belonged.

Stan Lee passed away today at the age of 95.

I knew I’d have to write this some day but I always hoped it wouldn’t be any time soon.

Rest in Peace, Stan Lee.


Music Video of the Day: True Faith by New Order (1987, directed by Philippe Decouflé)

As is the case with many of New Order’s songs, the meaning of True Faith depends on who you ask.

True Faith has long been assumed to be about the sense of detachment felt by users of heroin, an interpretation that was denied by New Order’s bassist, Peter Hook.  As he told Songfacts, “‘True Faith’ features some of the best New Order lyrics in my opinion, but no, it is not about heroin, that is not something that any of our lyrics ever touched on. I think it’s clear to see though that the lyrics do reflect being under some sort of influence.”

However, in an interview with Q Magazine, lead singer Bernard Sumner said that, though he had never used heroin, he still wrote True Faith from the perspective of someone who had.

Regardless of what it’s about, True Faith is one of New Order’s most popular songs.  It’s my second favorite, after Blue Monday.

As for the video, it was directed by the French mime, dancer, and choreographer, Philippe Decouflé.  Starting with a slap fight to end all slap fights, it also features a person in green makeup hand signing the song’s lyrics.  According to Wikipedia, the video was inspired by an earlier video performance piece that was done by the Serbian performance artists, Marina Abramović and Ulay.  I’ll have to take Wikipedia’s word on that.

Philippe Decouflé went on to direct the video for the Fine Young Cannibals’ She Drives Me Crazy, as well as choreographing the opening ceremony of the 1992 Winter Olympics.

Music Video of the Day: Touched By The Hand of God by New Order (1987, directed by Kathryn Bigelow)

23 years before she made history as the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Director, Kathryn Bigelow directed this video for New Order.

The video features the members of New Order as you’ve never seen them before.  With the band’s long hair and the codpieces and the explosions going off in the background, you might think that an aging glam metal band is trying to rip off the British new wave sound.  Instead, it’s the members of New Order, wearing wigs and poking deserved fun at the bands like Poison, Cinderella, and Great White.

While New Order performs, Bill Paxton runs through traffic and makes out with Femi Gardiner.  Bill Paxton was everywhere in 1987.

Music Video of the Day: Devil Inside by INXS (1988, directed by Joel Schumacher)

Even if you did not already know it, you could probably guess who directed this video.  Everything from the back lighting to the color filters to the fog machine to the leather jackets and the gang of shirtless body builders identifies this video as being the work of Joel Schumacher.

This video, which was filmed in Balboa, California, was made during Schumacher’s Lost Boys/Flatliners phase.  His infamous Batman films were still several years away.  INXS guitarist Kirk Pengilly has gone on record as disliking this video because he felt that, unlike the other videos that INXS was doing at the time, it was “too American.”  He was probably right.  The video’s mix of strippers, bikers, yuppies, and rent boys feels more appropriate for a film adaptation of a Bret Easton Ellis short story than an INXS song.  Even if it isn’t an ideal INXS video, Devil Inside is still probably one of the better entries in Joel Schumacher’s filmography.  If I have to choose, I will always pick this video over watching Batman and Robin.

With the video’s help, Devil Inside was one of INXS’s most popular songs in America, reaching the number two spot on the Billboard Hot 100.  By comparison, it peaked at #6 in the band’s native Australia and only reached #47 in the UK.

Music Video of the Day: And She Was by Talking Heads (1984, directed by Jim Blashfield)

What And She Was is about depends on which member of the Talking Heads you ask.

In an interview with WCNX, drummer Chris Frantz interpreted the song literally, explaining that “It’s a story about a woman who has the power to levitate above the ground and to check out all her neighbors from a kind of bird’s eye view. And the guy who’s writing the song is in love with her and he kinda wishes she would just be more normal and, like, come on back down to the ground, but she doesn’t. She goes floating over the backyard and past the buildings and the schools and stuff and is absolutely superior to him in every way.”

David Byrne, on the other hand, said that it was a song about a “blissed-out hippie chick” that he knew in Baltimore who once told him about an acid trip that she had while lying in a field next to a Yoo-hoo chocolate soda factory.  Byrne explained, “Flying out of her body, etc etc. It seemed like such a tacky kind of transcendence… but it was real! A new kind of religion being born out of heaps of rusted cars and fast food joints. And this girl was flying above it all, but in it too.”

As for the video, it was created by experimental filmmaker, Jim Blashfield.  Blashfield previously pioneered collage-animation style with his short film, Suspicious Circumstances.  The members of Talking Heads were fans of the film and asked Blashfield to create a similar video for their song.  Blashfield, who cited Terry Gilliam as being his number one influence, went on to direct similar videos for Peter Gabriel, Michael Jackson, Tears For Fears, and Weird Al Yankovic.

Hinzman’s Revenge: FleshEater (1988, directed by Bill Hinzman)

It’s Halloween in rural Pennsylvania.  It is a time for hayrides, trick or treating, and flesh eating.  A farmer comes across a box underneath a tree stump.  The box has a seal that says it shouldn’t be opened so, of course, the farmer opens it.  Out pops a member of the undead (Bill Hinzman) who tears the farmer’s throat out and, before you can say Night of the Living Dead, starts an entire zombie outbreak.  Soon, the entire town is under siege as the zombies eat farmers, teenagers, and children alike.  The only thing more dangerous than the zombies is the posse that’s been put together to take them down.  You might survive the night but, in the morning, just try not to get shot by mistake.

Bill Hinzman might not be a familiar name but every horror fan knows his face.  He played the graveyard zombie in the original Night of the Living Dead, the one who killed Johnny and then chased after Barbara.  He ws he zombie who started it all.  Hinzman not only stars in but he also wrote and directed FleshEater, which is basically an extra bloody remake of Romero’s better-known film.  Hinzman even got the some of the same actors who played the members of the posse in Night of the Living Dead to play essentially the same roles in FleshEater.  Hinzman made for a good zombie but, unfortunately, he was not as good a director as Romero.  While there’s more than enough gore and nudity to keep the film’s target audience happy, FleshEater never comes close to duplicating Night of the Living Dead‘s nightmarish intensity.  With most of the victims consisting of shallow teenagers and dumb rednecks, you’ll be on the side of the zombies for the entire movie.