Music Video Of The Day: Jump They Say by David Bowie (1993, directed by Mark Romanek)

Though this is one of David Bowie’s most popular videos and also features one of the best performances of his often underrated acting career, the story behind it is a sad one.  Bowie wrote the song from the point of view of Terry Burns, his schizophrenic half-brother who once attempted suicide by jumping out of a window.  Though that attempt failed, a few years later, Terry did succeed in escaping from the mental institution where he was being held.  After escaping, Terry was hit by a train and killed.  Much like Bowie’s previous song, All the Madmen, Jump They Say was inspired by Terry’s life and Bowie’s own attempts to understand the source of his brother’s mental illness.

This makes the video all the more poignant as Bowie plays a businessman who comes to suspect that his colleagues are plotting against him and, in order to escape from them, ends up throwing himself from the roof of an office building.  Mark Romanek directs in such a way that it’s never clear whether Bowie’s character is correct to be paranoid or if it’s all in his mind.  Romanek throws in visual references to other films that dealt with the themes of paranoia and conformity, including A Clockwork Orange, Alphaville, and The Trial.  Romanek has subsequently gone from being an in-demand music video director to directing films such as One Hour Photo and Never Let Me Go.

When this video was released, Bowie was going through something of a career slump.  Jump They Say was a bit of a comeback for him, reaching number 9 on the UK charts.


Music Video of the Day: Back on the Chain Gang by The Pretenders (1982, directed by ????)

This classic song from the early 1980s was inspired by a great deal of emotional trauma.

At the start of 1982, The Pretenders consisted of vocalist and rhythm guitarist Chrissie Hynde, lead guitarist and vocalist James Honeyman-Scott, bassist and vocalist Pete Farndon, and drummer and vocalist Martin Chambers.  On June 14th, 1982, Farndon was fired from the band as a result of his drug problems.  Two days later, Honeyman-Scott would die of a cocaine-induced heart attack while at his girlfriend’s apartment.

At the time of Honeyman-Scott’s death, he and Hynde were working on the song that would eventually become Back on the Chain Gang.  At the time, the song was envisioned as being about Hynde’s turbulent relationship with Ray Davies of the Kinks.  After Honeyman-Scott’s death, the song took on a different meaning and, instead, became about Hynde’s struggle to keep the band going even after losing two of her best friends.  (Farndon, himself, would die of a drug overdose in 1983.)  Hynde, who was three months pregnant when the song was first recorded, dedicated Back on the Chain Gang to Honeyman-Scott’s memory.  Back on the Chain Gang went on to become The Pretenders’s biggest hit in the United States, where it was adapted as an anthem by people who probably did not know the emotional story behind the song’s composition.

The video, which was put into heavy rotation during the early days of MTV, features the two surviving original members of The Pretenders.  Chrisse Hynde sings while Martin Chambers plays one of many office workers who, upon arriving at work, are briefly transformed into slaves using pickaxes to excavate ruins in the desert.



Music Video Of The Day: Keep Your Hands To Yourself by The Georgia Satellites (1986, directed by Bill Fishman)

From the director of the video for the Ramones’s I Wanna Be Sedated comes a down home, country wedding.  In this video, the groom is lead singer Dan Baird, who goes to his wedding on a flatbed truck and marries his bride while her father points a shotgun at his back.  The video doesn’t make it clear whether Baird was expecting to get married when he and the band first rode up in that truck but at least everyone appears to be having a good time.

This immortal work of Southern rock was the George Satellites’s only hit.  The band still exists, though only one founding member remains, guitarist Rick Richards.  Dan Baird, who left the band in 1990 to pursue a solo career, currently tours with Homemade Sin, a band that features two former members of the Georgia Satellites.


Music Video of the Day: Los Angeles by Frank Black (1993, directed by ????)

“I think I finally figured out my new song, ‘Los Angeles’, this morning. They got one in South Patagonia, they got another Los Angeles in Mexico, they got so many Los Angeleses. Bangkok has a Los Angeles, I read recently. I imagine there’s a lot of places in the world named City Of Angels. I wrote about a futuristic one too: ‘They got one in 2525, where it’s just like a beehive.’ I mean that kind of Los Angeles you might see in a film like Blade Runner.”

— Frank Black in VOX, Issue 30, March 1993

In 1993, after the Pixies broke up for the first time, lead singer Black Francis renamed himself Frank Black and embarked on a solo career.  Los Angeles was the first single to be released off of Black’s first solo album, Frank Black. According to Black, the song was meant to take place in a futuristic version of Los Angeles, much like the one seen in Blade Runner.  The first time I ever heard the song, I misheard nearly every lyric and I thought it was about a man who Black met, a good man who worked as an insurance agent.  (For some reason, my mind always heard “sailing and shoring” as “selling insurance.”)

The video makes it clear that Los Angeles is meant to take place in some sort of future, with Black riding a hovercraft through the desert and looking like an extra from a Mad Max movie.  I’m not sure who directed this video.  Some sources hint that the video was directed by Black himself but I haven’t been able to find any definite confirmation.

After releasing two solo albums, Black went on to front Frank Black and The Catholics before reuniting with the Pixies and eventually changing his name back to Black Francis.

Black Francis’s real name?  Charles Thompson IV.


Music Video of the Day: I Go Crazy by Flesh For Lulu (1987, directed by Andy Morahan)

What was Flesh For Lulu?  It was a British band that found some success in the 80s, a post-punk group whose music has often been described as a mix between the New York Dolls and The Rolling Stones.  Judging by the name of their 6th album, Long Live The New Flesh, they were also fans of David Cronenberg.

I Go Crazy comes from that album.  It become the band’s most successful song in the U.S., largely because it was used in the film Some Kind of Wonderful.  This music video, one of two that was done for I Go Crazy, is a typical movie tie-in video, with clips from the film mixed with clips of the band performing in a garage.  (In the 80s, every successful band had to do at least one video that featured them performing in a garage.)  Parts of the video are edited to make it appear as if Mary Stuart Masterson has joined the band as their new drummer.

This video was one of several to be directed by Andy Morahan.  Among the other artists with whom Morahan has worked: Wham, Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark, The Pet Shop Boys, The Human League, Guns n Roses, Aerosmith, and just about everyone else who has ever recorded an album.


The Hard Way (1991, directed by John Badham)

Lt. John Moss (James Woods) is a cop with a problem.  A serial killer who calls himself the Party Crasher (Stephen Lang) is killing people all across New York and he has decided that he will be coming for Moss next.  However, Moss’s captain (Delroy Lindo) says that Moss is off of the Party Crasher case and, instead, he’s supposed to babysit a big time movie star named Nick Lang (Michael J. Fox)!

Nick is famous for playing “Smoking” Joe Gunn in a series of Indiana Jones-style action films.  However, Nick wants to be taken seriously.  He wants to play Hamlet, just like his rival Mel Gibson!  (That Hard Way came out a year after Mel Gibson played the melancholy Dame in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.)  Nick thinks that if he can land the lead role in a hard-boiled detective film, it will give him a chance to show that he actually can act.  To prepare for his audition, he’s asked to spend some time following Moss on the job.  Mayor David Dinkins, always eager to improve New York’s reputation, agrees.  (David Dinkins does not actually appear in The Hard Way, though his name is often mentioned with a derision that will be familiar to anyone who spent any time in New York in the 90s.)  Of course, Moss isn’t going to stop investigating the Party Crasher murders and, of course, Nick isn’t going to follow Moss’s orders to just stay in his apartment and not get in his way.

The Hard Way is a predictable mix of action and comedy but it’s also entertaining in its own sloppy way.  Director John Badham brings the same grit that he brought to his other action films but he also proves himself to have a deft comedic touch.  Most of the laughs come from the contrast between James Woods playing one of his typically hyperactive, edgy roles and Michael J. Fox doing an extended and surprisingly convincing impersonation of Tom Cruise.  Woods and Fox prove to be an unexpectedly effective comedic team.  One of the best running jokes in the film is Woods’s exasperation as he discovers that everyone, from his girlfriend (Annabella Sciorra) to his no-nonsense boss, are huge fans of Nick Lang.  Even with a serial killer running loose in the city, Moss’s captain is more concerned with getting Nick’s autograph.

Woods and Fox are the main attractions here but Stephen Lang is a good, unhinged villain and Annabella Sciorra brings some verve to her underwritten role as Moss’s girlfriend.  Viewers will also want to keep an eye out for familiar faces like Penny Marshall as Nick’s agent, a very young Christina Ricci as Sciorra’s daughter, and Luis Guzman as Moss’s partner.

With its references to David Dinkins, Mel Gibson’s superstardom, and Premiere Magazine, its LL Cool J-filled soundtrack, and a plot that was obviously influenced by Lethal Weapon, The Hard Way is very much a period piece but it’s an entertaining one.

Music Video of the Day: Seattle by Public Image Ltd. (1987, directed by Nick Wiling)

“We had a week off in the tour for some reason, due to gig rearrangements and/or whatever, and I flew back to LA, but the band hung out in Seattle and they started jamming about and rehearsing and started putting together a really catchy tune. So I flew up, and the words just flowed out instantly. It’s a great song. The subject is about rioting, really, and when you see them World Trade Organization riots, it’s kind of appropriate. It’s an homage to Seattle, a town that’s never done us any harm. A town we feel quite warm about… great atmosphere, the gigs are always amazing. It feels like home to me.”

— John Lydon, explaining Seattle in an interview with The Stranger

Years before Seattle became, however briefly, the center of American music, John Lydon and Public Image Ltd. celebrated the city with their own song.  Given Lydon’s naturally contrarian nature, it is perhaps not surprising that his song celebrates many of the the things that drive other people crazy about the Emerald City.

The same can be said of the video, which not only highlights the industrial and rainy sides of Seattle but which also suggests that it’s a good place to drop a watermelon out of a window.

This video was directed by Nick Willing.  A year after directing this video, he would direct the music video of Debbie Gibson’s Foolish Beat, which is about as far away from working with John Lydon and Public Image, Ltd. as you can get!