The evolution of music videos is an interesting one. Back in the 60s and 70s, it was fairly common for pop/rock artists would burst into the mainstream with appearances on late-night talk shows or through performances on shows such as Top Of The Pops, Old Grey Whistle Test, or Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. Bands did create music videos, but not at the rate they would in the coming decades. As music became more commonplace on television and music specialty channels such as MTV began sprouting up, artists (or their record labels, in some cases) thought to push the boundaries of what could be done in a promotional video by making highly-intriguing and memorable visual art. Some of the more notable examples I can think of off-hand are Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer”, A-Ha’s “Take On Me”, and (of course) Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.
However, not every artist is keen to spend hours in a makeup chair, fork over a ton of money for creative consultants, or would prefer to spend music video money in other ways. This can leads to many outside-the box ideas being explored. I’d refer to some of these as music anti-videos, either due to a minimalist approach or by their very concepts. I’ll share a sample of these types below.
Are these videos doing more with less or are they merely phoning it in? You be the judge.
The Replacements – “Bastards of Young”
Film a record player playing the entire song? Maybe it’s more than a coincidence that one of the Ramones (Tommy) produced the album this track comes from (Tim), because this is a very punk rock idea. I can envision a record executive bursting into some form of band meeting, demanding the band produce big hit for the MTV crowd.
“Guys, we need to get a video out there of your next single”
They took his task to the letter. Or maybe it’s not so much a punk thing to do but more of a stoner’s suggestion.
“The label said that they want a video for the next song, so let’s give them a video of the song.”
“Dude! That’s so meta!”
The band then has a hardy round of laughter, and submit this joke gone too far.
When I first saw this video, I assumed that the outro of the song was the record skipping. That would make more sense to me than a guy kicking a speaker for no good reason. I thought he may have been the director and he was upset that a planned single-take shot was ruined by vinyl imperfection, dreading that he’d need to waste an entire three-and-a-half further minutes getting the video right. Could he have merely been foreshadowing Warner Bros’ reaction to this artistic statement (the single didn’t chart)?
I actually dig this video, but admit that it probably comes down to the song selection. If it had been Starship’s “We Built This City” blasting out of the speaker, I’m sure my mind would be changed.
I’ll have to cram two for one in here. For a band with so few music videos, there aren’t many of them where they seem to take the idea seriously. Let’s begin with “Here Comes Your Man”.
“Here Comes Your Man”, in my opinion, is a much more obvious showing of a band’s intentions than the last video. I hope I’m not shattering anyone’s delusions, but most music videos are lip-synced, and the Pixies aren’t making any effort to hide that fact. The aforementioned Top of The Pops had a policy to have bands mime their performances rather than use live audio (with the odd exception), so you could view this as a nod to that sort of thing.
In spite of the vocalist’s agape mouths, at least they are playing their instruments in sync to the song. Either that was done as a slight compromise, or strumming their guitars or banging the drums out-of-sequence didn’t play well to the cameras. There’s little to explain beyond this, but I’ll add that I appreciate the vibrant clothing choices here, including that Koosh ball brooch sported by Kim Deal.
Next comes “Velouria”, a video that consists of little but super-slowed down footage of the band running down a rock-covered hill.
I wonder out of all the possible sequences of film that they could use, why this one? Did they A/B it against a trip to a petting zoo or fixing a flat tire on their tour bus? Thinking too deeply into it is probably more thought into the video than they put in. Some critics, art school students, and Pixies fanboys/fangirls have likely done their damnedest to make sense of it. In reality, it seems “Velouria” was a quick compromise, according to Fool The World: The Oral History of A Band Called Pixies. They needed a music video of the song in order to perform that song on the BBC program (you guessed it!) Top of the Pops, so this is the result, 23 seconds of footage filmed at a rock quarry (the full-speed chase can be seen here). Bare minimum achieved!
Having more stylized videos like “Dig For Fire / Allison” and “Head On” take a bit away from the rebellious spirit of these two, but I guess coming up with too many ways to give the music video idea the finger could come off as too much of a gimmick.
Brutal Truth – “Collateral Damage”
I love to include some grindcore into the mix in spite of the majority’s taking nothing but bleeding eardrums from this art form. This one gained slight notoriety for earning an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the shortest music video (approximately three second long). Between reading that fact and seeing the poster of their potentially Animorphs-inspired Sounds of the Animal Kingdom at a friend’s house in high school, that was how I first learned of this New York-based outfit.
With this video I could have taken virtually any frame to screen-capture because no matter what I choose, it is difficult to find one to summarize the video. Furthermore, there are no lyrics to “Collateral Damage”. I even double-checked the liner notes of my copy of Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses because with this genre of music, you can never be certain. All we get is Kevin Sharp’s blood curdling scream. When breaking down the video frame-by-frame, it seems like a good match. There is so much in this video that’s worth screaming about. It’s almost the polar opposite of the “Velouria” video since there is so much to take in that you have to slow it down to make any sense of it.
And, boy, did they try!
Little did I know, but the release of the video was a bit controversial. Due to the frantic pace of the video images, there was concern about subliminal messages being masked within. It was featured on Canadian channel Much Music’s “Too Much For Much” segment, where it was left to the viewers to decide whether it is suitable for repeat airing. I also bookmarked a link of similar discussion hosted on the British version of HeadBanger’s Ball. However, by the time I got around to finishing this post, it got the “This video has been removed for violating YouTube’s policy on violent or graphic content” treatment.
Do you think it’s too much? I don’t. What real harm is seeing any one frame of this image? Most of it looks to have been taken from television footage anyway, and in the case of a good portion of it (such as the Bud Dwyer footage), the most graphic parts aren’t even shown. I suppose a compromise could be made to put a disclaimer before the video warning about graphic images, but said message would be far longer than the video itself. If you further consider this video would only be hitting the airwaves late at night, children wouldn’t be subjected to this video in the first place.
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (with PJ Harvey) – “Henry Lee”
I only started to dip my toes in the Nick Cave pool around two years ago. His baritone voice and the sombre vibe of his music reminded me of something David Lynch would include on a soundtrack (that is, if Angelo Badalamenti wasn’t available). I’d known of him since Metallica covered “Loverman” on their Garage Inc. album, but I never pursued the artist. This video for “Henry Lee” was the first Nick Cave video I ever watched.
The entire video consists of a single take featuring the two vocalists embracing each other as they trade off verses. Here is where I believe the less-is-more philosophy shows to great effect. The body language between Cave and guest vocalist PJ Harvey is extremely seductive, as they trade a series of whispers, caresses, appearing ever-so-close to kissing (saving that for the end). If their chemistry seems rather strong, it is, as the pair were in a relationship around this time.
This visual works in great contrast to the lyrics, which only take a passive listen to tell that this is no “I Can See Clearly Now”. “Henry Lee” tells the tale of a woman who seduces a man who has become unfaithful to her, and then proceeds to murder him and throw his body down a well. It’s based off a traditional folk song called “Young Hunting” that follows the same theme. Murder Ballads (on which this song is included) isn’t just a clever album title, it’s chock full of dark tracks like this. But it’s Nick Cave, so I’ve come to learn that’s pretty much par for the course.
Tool – “Hush”
We’ve finally got some fresh Tool music into our lives after thirteen years, but here we are back at their beginning before they could afford to put clothes on their backs. “Hush” comes from their debut Opiate EP, back when their songs emphasized aggression over extensive running times. Not many would call them a progressive rock band at the time, but that’s not to say the band had a lack of inventiveness.
Is it a coincidence that the band don’t appear prominently in any of their other music videos? Too much too soon? Well, not quite too much, as here the band responds to censorship is by releasing a self-censored video. This two and three-quarter minute promo shows bassist Paul D’Amour making a very slow walk to stand alongside his near-naked bandmates, where they proceed rip off the tape from their mouths, stick out their tongues, and start drooling a thick foam. Seems basic, but it gets the point across.
Also, it’s amazing what a few small props can add to a concept because if you take away the black bars and tape, you wouldn’t really have much of a music video. Perhaps that’s technically not entirely true. I’m sure there are more than a few Tool-heads out their that have scaled the Earth looking for an uncensored version or an outtakes reel from this shoot, but like that Kermit the Frog meme says, that’s none of my business.
Melvins – “Don’t Forget To Breathe”
This is the only high-definition music video I’ve selected for the lot, and this is what I’m treating you to?
Be gone, dissenters!! This is minimalist perfection, I say! And that’s without giving the lyrics a second thought, which I assume are about someone who needs reminding to inhale/exhale. Certain shots are held just slightly too long to add to the awkwardness of the still camera display, with mysterious arms reaching in from the camera edges and hard edits as objects come in and out of the picture making noteworthy contributions to the aesthetic. The laid-back energy of the song and the often-wispy vocal delivery by former Butthole Surfer Jeff Pinkus match the tone of this video well, which I couldn’t see working with much of their heavier material.
Its simplicity is reminiscent of a high school film project I helped film where we’d make a messy room clean with that old trick where we’d stop the camera and remove the offending items to make them magically ‘disappear’. It also makes me think of one that my sister made where she re-enacted Macbeth with a selection of Rugrats dolls. I could go on listing off more of these that I can guarantee my mom still has stored somewhere, but I’m sure any kid with access to a video camera took a stab once at a similarly-shot video. I wouldn’t go as far as say that our homemade movies were better, but it’s certainly the type of thing that can inspire someone to go out and giving this artistic medium a shot. It’s for that reason that this gets my approval.
As stated in the opening seconds, this was directed by Ava Hazlemeyer. Her website provides view of the short films she made in addition to this, and they all follow this basic style.There’s also a segment of her site dedicated what she dubs ‘epochés’. There’s something about the one that incorporates rainbow sherbet that calls out to me the most, but for this production, she went with “Sometimes The World Just Makes Me Sick”. No matter if that’s the case, that cake brought in at the five-minute mark looks delicious enough to risk nausea.
Maybe not after that rodent touched it, but my point stands.
Porcupine Tree – “Piano Lessons”
I’ll end with one that’s an anti-video in a different way. It’s actually quite unlike the others and is more evident of having a budget. The high-art flair may make it seem like that, but according to the book Time Flies: The Story of Porcupine Tree, it cost “a meager £12,000” (which still sounds like a lot to me!). Additionally, the book mentions that an earlier concept of the video was to capture the lifespan of an upright piano. I think that may have been more appropriate as a song companion over the long term, but this direction gives the video more appeal to the casual viewer. However, seeing as this is a prog band, the single died a quick death.
It took quite an effort to set all this up, but it has that similar message to the “Here Comes Your Man”. This is product, made evident with the subliminal-style messaging and needless labelling of different song sections to assist the audience’s listening. It’s all handled with a good amount of humour, aided further by the band’s weird mannerisms and costumes (even for a man in Steven Wilson that made habit of wearing women’s clothing onstage in their early days). A bit random in parts, but still an entertaining few minutes.
This was not a very long list from this music video sub-category, and I’m sure there are plenty of other examples I could have chosen. Feel free to drop a line in the comments to mention some good ones I failed to mention.