"Love Is a Battlefield" and
Other Marvels of Western Civilization

by Jeff Lewis

If you were born before 1979, you likely spent a good deal of time watching music videos in the eighties, but probably don’t venture near the reruns on VH1’s “We Are The 80s.” This is almost certainly for the best, since most videos are tedious and only have entertainment value as vessels of nostalgia, helping you to recall when you sat around after school, wasting your life hoping “Dancing On The Ceiling” would hurry up and end.

In order to revisit those wasted hours, I decided to watch about twenty hours of “We Are The 80s.” Thanks to Tivo, this wasn’t as painful as it could have been—it only takes about ten seconds to skip through a Bon Jovi song—and I survived to report to you on the best of the lot, most of which were notable works of comedy.

Pat Benitar
"Love is a Battlefield," 1983

The video begins with Pat riding a bus, having just been tossed out of her house by her dad (“You leave this house now! You can just forget about coming back!”). As she walks from the house, her little brother watches her leave, looking crestfallen.

When she gets to the big city, Pat takes to the streets, wearing a collection of torn, gaudy skirts and frilly belts, which symbolize freedom, but, sadly, also prostitution. As she walks the streets, bumping into people, the video occasionally cuts to a shot of her dad, who apparently is having second thoughts about her expulsion.

Pat takes a job at a nightclub—ostensibly a club of ill repute—and during a break, writes a letter to her brother; when he reads it he lays back on his bed and looks wistfully at the ceiling.

Back at the club, her gold-toothed pimp/manager’s ill treatment of a fellow employee prompts Pat to rise up in solidarity and form a synchronized dancing troupe with her fellow callgirls.

Shimmying ensues. Lots of synchronized shimmying, with exaggerated shoulder twists and faux finger snaps. Then the ladies of the night dance like geckos, with legs apart, arms up and shoulders back, thrusting forearms and knees forward with the beat.

The music soars, the electronic drums go duh-duh, duh-duh, and Pat punches the air and yells, “We are young!” She begins a dance-off with the pimp, singing, “Heartache to heartache.” The pimp, despite having a dancer’s physique, is no match for the feisty Pat. She dispatches him in less than ten seconds, finishing him off with a glass of gin in the eye. She celebrates her victory with more shimmying.

The video ends with the dancers faux finger snapping their way out of the club, into the night. In the next shot, it is morning and they are near a freeway, still dancing, thrusting arms to the sky. Because of Pat’s victory in the dance-off, they are free of the pimp and are now able to follow their dreams, so each woman gives Pat a hug before departing. Pat takes the bus back home.

George Michael
"I Want Your Sex," 1987

The theme of the video is “Explore Monogamy,” the phrase that George Michael writes on the bare skin of his “girlfriend” in the video (this “girlfriend,” Kathy Yuen, was actually his real-life “girlfriend”). George is talking about man-woman sex, which he insists is natural, fun, and always better one-on-one. In the video, however, he seduces two women, which stretches the traditional definition of monogamy. George is an enigma.

The video contains a lot of blurry dancing with George wearing the sea-going blazer that Michael Jackson wore to his child molestation trial. A cross dangles from his ear, letting you know that God is very near and dear to him when he belts, “Hoodoo! Sex!” There’s also a lot of booty and, presumably for George’s sake, a few shots of a man’s abs.

Here’s a bit of advice to take with you from the video:

Sex is natural, sex is good
Not everybody does it, but everybody should

FALCO
"Der Kommissar," 1982

Wearing a black leather jacket, jeans and aviator sunglasses, with hair slicked back, the Austrian singer spends the entire video dancing and running in front of a blue screen with police cars speeding by. Unlike Pat Benitar, he knows that he is funny and you can see his influence on the career of the performance artist Amir Masliyah. This video is vastly superior to the After the Fire cover version.

FALCO
"Rock Me Amadeus," 1986

A horse-drawn coach rolls up to a Viennese building. FALCO disembarks in a manner so stylish that I felt compelled to back up Tivo and watch it at least a dozen times. He is suave, in a tux, hair slicked back, looking for all the world like the Frank Sinatra of Germanic-language pop-rappers. He’s on top of his game, undeniably a superstar, not an 80s version of Right Said Fred. Flanked by what appears to be the extras from the movie Amadeus, FALCO delivers his rap flow effortlessly, with understated hand motions.

Suddenly, the video switches to FALCO in a Mozart costume, with multicolored wig. The film extras are gone, replaced by either leather daddies or a motorcycle gang. He fires them up with his rapping and one burley fellow hoists FALCO up on his shoulders and carries him out of the bar. FALCO straddles a Harley, the riled-up bikers pump their fists and follow.

The video switches back to the suave FALCO, who is passing out sheet music to his 18th century followers, so they can provide choral accompaniment: “Amadeus, Amadeus, Amadeus, Amadeus, oh, oh, oh, Amadeus.” The bikers bum rush the show and all falls into mayhem.

While an argument certainly could be made to the contrary, this song and video surpasses 95% of Mozart’s life’s work.

Scandal
"The Warrior," 1984

“The Warrior” begins with a shot of Patty Smyth’s heavily made-up face (important note: this is the Patty Smyth who has little musical credibility and is married to John McEnroe, not the Patti Smith who is a darling of critics and considered the “poet laureate of punk rock”).

She’s wearing a Japanese-influenced, mid-thigh length black satin jacket. A gray clawed hand rips a vectored section off her jacket, revealing yellow claw marks underneath.

That prompts her to sing:

You run, run, run away. It’s your heart that you betray… feeding on your hungry eyes, I bet you’re not so civilized.

Meanwhile, a guy dressed like a modern dancer/evil pixie—who presumably is The Warrior—struts around a fake boiler room. The video never explains why, but there’s also a guy with a red mesh hat and puffy clothes, two women dressed half like clowns and half like samurais, and an African-American couple dressed in a crepe chicken outfit and sitting in a big brown vat.

A bunch of dancers covered in rope nets jump out from behind oil drums and circle The Warrior, who waves his talons about. Patty, off in the corner, sings, “Shooting at the walls of heartache. Bang! Bang! I am The Warrior.” Now it is unclear whether the pixie man is The Warrior or Patti is The Warrior.

It confuses me enough to rewind and watch the intro again. For some reason, I need to know who The Warrior is.

Back to the action. The rope people whirl about until they become dizzy and jump off the set. The guy with the red mesh face reappears, wearing blue shoulder pads, red baggy shorts and black leggings. He has a modern dance fight with The Warrior. At this point, I decide that the pixie man is, in fact, “Bang! Bang! The Warrior!,” an assertion solidified by his next confrontation. A ballerina attacks him, but is easily thwarted; she dies in his arms. Next, the clown samurais and African-American chicken people—one of whom wiggles on the ground like a worm—emerge from hiding for a dance fight.

An update on Patty’s makeup: she now has blue and red jagged stripes down the left side of her face and her hair is sticking up.

Again, back to the action. Two rope people drop from the ceiling and the chickens wiggle off. The Warrior fights the rope people in a mincing dancer sort of way. Patty clutches her chest, yells “I Am The Warrior!” and pulls her arms apart. Black and yellow streamers now hang from her sleeves, like a cape. Now SHE dance-battles The Warrior. Is she The Warrior? Are there two Warriors. Confused, I am.

The first Warrior jumps over her, doing the splits, and whirls around. The various vanquished rope/clown/chicken people form a circle, hemming in the dance battle.

A naked man with black and white body paint keeps score of their battle with pool hall markers, the type that you can flip back and forth with the end of your cue. The male Warrior tears more velcro off of Patty’s jacket, leaving a red scratch mark on her robe instead of a yellow one. That, presumably, is a more serious fashion injury.

Although Patty is not as good a dance fighter, she does have a signature endgame move that secures her victory: she jumps at the male Warrior, surprising him into… an embrace. This captures his heart and he capitulates.

Victory assured, Patty begins singing again, “Shooting at the walls of heartache. Bang! Bang! I am The Warrior!” She is The Warrior, after all. I’m glad she cleared that up.

Quiet Riot
"Mama Weer All Crazee Now," 1984

In 1983, Quiet Riot had a big hit with the Slade cover “Cum On Feel The Noize” on their Metal Health album. Inexplicably, the first single on their follow up, Condition Critical, another Slade cover, “Mama Weer All Crazee Now.” It is a really bad song.

A man on a gurney rolls into an ER, with doctors and nurses crowded around. They take off the man’s scary iron mask; the director cuts to a reaction shot: they pull back in horror, then push him away. You see his point of view, focused on his red Chuck Taylors, as he hurtles through the swinging doors down a corridor into a room marked, “Condition Critical.”

For some reason, the Condition Critical room contains a movie theater, filled with men with tan baseball hats that have big flaps of canvas sewn to the backs like Eliza Doolittle’s father wore in My Fair Lady, presumably to spare their necks from sunburn after they leave the theater.

On the screen is Quiet Riot’s symbol, a giant floating Scary Iron Mask. The men pound out the heavy metal beats on their theater seats as the floating mask starts singing, “Mama weer all crazee now! Mama mama weer all crazee now!”

Quiet Riot appears on a concert stage on the screen. Here is a description of the band:

Lead singer, Kevin DuBrow:
Red jacket with white rhinestone stars, navy and powder blue horizontally stripped spandex pants, tank top, red volleyball kneepads, starting-to-go-bald mullet-perm, stripped mike stand, red, pink and white vertically striped suspenders

Trademark moves: spinning, bottom wiggle

Bass, Rudy Sarzo:
Red and white horizontally striped spandex pants with red and white tassels, red calf-high pointy boots, black and white horizontally striped spandex top, red and white six-inch-long shoulder tassels

Trademark move: feet apart bending forward, he swings his bass from side to side like he’s spraying the crowd, in a move perfected by Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap

Guitarist, Carlos Cavazo:
Tight white pants, no shirt, white suspenders, blonde highlights

Trademark move: feet apart, head down, rocking his Flying V

Drummer, Frankie Banali:
All you see is a tangle of long black hair

Near the end of the song, DuBrow breaks through the screen into the theater. The men with the cockney hats run out of the theater shrieking because DuBrow is a giant, probably about twenty feet tall. But then, the tables turn, Jonathon Swift-style: DuBrow looks up at a red Chuck Taylor that dwarfs him. Rudy Sarzo, who apparently changed out of his calf-high pointy tassel boots into his red high tops after growing 300 feet now is wearing the Scary Iron Mask! What’s more, he is now Crazee and he needs to be restrained by gigantic healthcare professionals who drag him away and strap him to the gurney again.

Afrika Bambaataa and Soul Sonic Force
"Planet Rock," 1983

This video is like a mini-documentary of the early days of hip hop. It intersperses concert footage of Soul Sonic Force on stage—dressed like intergalactic Vikings—with a tribute to the hip hop trinity: rap, break-dance and graffiti. The highlights are the shots of the Rock Steady Crew engaged in break-battles and a kid that does a poppin’ and lockin’ maneuver that’s so contorted that it dislocates his shoulder.

Robert Palmer
"Addicted To Love," 1985

The first of Palmer’s videos with his model lip-synch band, “Addicted To Love” is without a doubt one of the most famous and parodied videos of the eighties. The key to its success was the varying air-guitar abilities of the band, creating a tension between the lackadaisical finger work of the keyboardist, the angular dancing of the lead air-guitarist, the “I don’t give a damn that my hand doesn’t move to the beat” stoicism of the rhythm air-guitarist and the bonga-bonga-bonga breasts of the curvy air-bassist. Kudos as well to the costume designer for finding a fabric that is only occasionally see-through.


a-ha
"Take On Me," 1985

This video is outstanding, one of the best made, but a-ha’s foremost contribution to popular culture was the cadence of the chorus:

Ta-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ake
O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-on
Me-e-e-e-e-e-e.
Take; On, Me.

Anyway, the video has a comic book motif, in which the actors are inside the panels of the comic book, with the video interchanging between the real and the drawn. The artist is a pro, exceptionally good at showing motion and capturing expression.

The video begins with a black and white comic book motorcycle race between a fair-faced lad and some mean cheaters with big wrenches. A pretty Bridget Fonda type reads the comic at a diner and gets drawn in, literally, by a hand.

An aside: I am not a thirteen-year-old girl, nor was I in 1985, but I can safely say that the lead singer is cute, even cuter than Nick Taylor of Duran Duran. In fact, the entire band is cute, although they look more handsome drawn.

Back to the action. Thinking the girl stiffed her, the waitress at the diner crinkles up the comic and throws it in the trash. This coincides with trouble in comic-book land, where middle aged motorcycle heavies in fascist outfits and giant G-wrenches attack the singer and girl, smashing up the comic panels in the process.

Singer sacrifices self to let the girl get away from heavies; she ends up disheveled near rubbish bin in diner. Takes comic home (still doesn’t pay bill). She finishes reading the comic in her room; finds that the hero is unconscious and maybe dead. She is sad.

He comes out of the page and has some sort of breakdown in her hall, but then they both smile and become the subject of a new a-ha comic. Video ends in a comicland embrace.

I smile.

Europe
"The Final Countdown," 1986

The video for “The Final Countdown” just doesn’t do justice to this kitsch classic. This song deserves an over-the-top space cowboy treatment, but instead it just delivers a lot of shots of clocks, the Swedish countryside and concert footage. As a video, it is “The Final Letdown.”

Joey Tempest and company come across as just a garden variety hair band, with their leather pants, deep-v shirts and dinner jackets. The video gets a little fancy when the band’s clothes change colors, but there’s nothing special here.

One saving grace was VH1’s exclusive interview of Joey Tempest, who was in New York to promote the band’s upcoming tour. (He’d exchanged the permed blonde mullet of his heyday for a straight brown mullet.) He explained that they reunited recently because of the acclaim they received for their rocking New Year’s Eve performance of The Final Countdown before half a million Swedes in 1999. So you still have a chance to see them rock the Final Countdown live. By the way, I was going to review a couple of other Europe videos but their poor quality made me melancholy.

Sammy Hagar
"Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy," 1983

What’s up with rockers and their stripes? This concert video sees the Red Rocker in a red and blue diagonally striped shirt, round and low cut, designed originally for large-chested women. Hagar does lots of bouncy dancing, pointing at the crowd, and climbing of scaffolding on a stage that must have inspired the set producer of Rent.

The band and song are unremarkable, so I’ll continue to describe what Hagar is wearing: black puffy/shiny plastic pants, red high-top Nikes with reflective swooshes, and red bungee-cord things strapped around his knees. He has red bandanas tied around his thigh, elbow, wrists, and around his neck, desperado style.

Sammy Hagar
"I Can’t Drive 55," 1984

Video begins with Sammy speeding around a race track in a black Ferrari. He skids into the pit, where his band and manager are hanging out. Again, his outfit is the story here: he emerges wearing a sleeveless canary yellow jumpsuit with red fabric buckles and a caped-crusader-like red utility belt.

He challenges his band to a race home, which seems like an unfair race since he’s in a Ferrari and they have a bunch of people piled into a pickup, but they get a head start on him and therefore he gets stuck behind them on a windy road. Unable to stomach driving the speed limit, Hagar makes an unwise pass attempt and runs a police car off the road. He compounds his troubles by assaulting the officer.

Sammy is brought before a hanging judge. We know he’s a hanging judge because his name is Judge Julius Hangman and he has a toy hangman set on his bench, which doubles as a cigar clipper. Apparently, the courthouse is in England because Judge Hangman is wearing a white wig.

To set off Sammy’s yellow suit, his band dresses in black jumpsuits. This is a good move by the video’s director because otherwise it would have been tougher to tell the good guys from the bad guys in the ensuing courtroom brawl that breaks out. The climax of the fight comes when one of his bandmates tosses Sammy’s red guitar in the air.

Sammy grabs it and starts rockin’. When a officer of the court starts chasing him, he tosses it up and then runs up the wall, Donald O’Connor-style. He flips, catches the guitar, hurdles the judge and lands on the neck of another officer, piggyback. This is cause for a guitar solo, which ends when an old lady knocks him out with the point of her umbrella.

The video shifts to a jail cell, where the band—now wearing shoulder pads—launches into the chorus, “I Can’t Drive… 55!” This give them the power to bust out of the cell. The video ends with Sammy involved in a high speed chase in his Ferrari; the camera pans to a speed limit sign, which has been modified so that it is now the International Sign for Not Driving 55.

Tears For Fears
"Pale Shelter," 1983

This is one of three great songs on Tears For Fears debut that translated into fine videos (the others being “Mad World” and “Change”). Through a montage of odd images, the video suggests that Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith have had troubled lives, although I’m not exactly sure what it all means: an alligator in swimming pools, an uptight traffic cop, a bipolar airport signalman, swarms of paper airplanes, a house-sized iron burn, “double-breasted” peg leg pants, and braided mullets (with forehead rat mullet).

Dio
"Holy Diver," 1983

Close-up of spooky tree branches, The Beast, a bombed out church. Dio, with sword, approaches a hangman with axe and head wrap. Dio, like Patty Smyth, is a Warrior.

Dio strikes down the hangman. There are rats, The Beast, and fire. Dio sings, “Shiny diamonds, like the eyes of a cat in the black and blue. Something is coming for you.”

He strides into the church. Again with The Beast, and fire.

Dio tosses away the sword and a blacksmith with a leather mask makes him a new one. Dio sings on, “Holy diver, you’re the star of the masquerade. No need to look so afraid.”

He walks by a stork with plucked feathers. He’s now in the bowels of the church, where fallen priests are performing a ritual. They are chained together, looking down. The Beast is in the background; one priest looks up. He has red cat eyes!

Dio strides out of the church—it is unclear what happened with the priests. On close up, the shape of The Beast flashes over his face and he sings, “Holy diver, you’ve been out too long in the midnight sea. Oh, what’s becoming of me? No! No! Ride the tiger. You can see his stripes and you know he’s clean. Oh don’t you see what I mean?”

The video ends with more spooky trees and a shot of a very pointy pyramid, seen from the mouth of a cave.

Prince
"Controversy," 1981

At first glance, this seems like a straight-forward performance video, shot in a warehouse. Prince is wearing a faux military jacket with chains on the shoulder, the room is filled with dry ice “smoke,” and The Revolution is getting funky behind him. The, about two minutes into the video I realize that Prince is not wearing pants! The only thing between us and the Purple One is an untucked dress shirt, which threatens to reveal the jewels with each pelvic gyration.

David Lee Roth
"Yankee Rose," 1986

The video begins with a marginally racist skit in a convenience store, but the rest is in a concert video format. David Lee Roth wears a dizzying array of multi-colored, multi-patterned spandex outfits—including one assless number with a little ribbon covering his crack. Maybe I’m just biased, but this lacks the subtlety of Prince’s pants-less outfit, which sinks in slowly over the duration of “Controversy.”

David Lee Roth’s attire is just too exhausting to describe or comprehend: it is the gold standard of rock spandex. Let me put it this way: if you took the ten most ridiculous costumes in figure skating history, they couldn’t top those worn by Diamond Dave in this video. This might sound like hyperbole, but it is not.

He shows off his ballerina-like flexibility with unnecessary leg kicks and then gets to business, grinding guitarist Steve Vai’s buttocks with his crotch. Later in the video, he also grinds Vai’s shoulder blade, which inspires Vai to simulate painful-looking sexual acts on himself with his guitar. It is hard to tell what the target audience for this video is, but it is not me.

Men At Work
"Down Under," 1982

Due to mental fatigue caused by David Lee Roth’s wardrobe, I was unable to adequately focus on this excellent video, which is filled with inspired zaniness. The highlight for me was the toy koala that one of the band members has tied to his belt during the band’s romp through the song’s quirky storyline. This is Ingmar Bergman on vegemite.

The Cult
"She Sells Sanctuary," 1985

She Sells Sanctuary opens with lead singer Ian Astbury making mystical hand motions while standing in the dark. He is dressed in a black outfit with gauzy scarf-like sleeves, tights, pointy boots, tasseled arms and a hat that looks like it belonged to an 18th century “fire and brimstone” preacher. His outfit reminds one of a gaucho, a wizard and an unfortunate settler of the Roanoke colony.

When the guitars kick in, the video shifts to the full band performing on stage. Astbury has changed to a gypsy/milk maid/Ben Franklin look: a white frilly shirt (again with long scarf-like sleeves), tight white peg-legged pants, a red vest and a pink patterned headband. While his more staid, black-clad bandmates rock, he rigorously stamps his feet to the beat in a rather stylish manner. He also waves his scarf-sleeve about in a less-than-stylish manner (later in the video he also waves a large scarf-like rainbow flag).

The video is primarily a performance piece, but occasionally the viewer gets quick glimpses of the gaucho/wizard/pilgrim Astbury dancing with himself in the dark. Is this Astbury supposed to be the woman who sells sanctuary? It is unclear if anything in the video has any meaning.

Apart from the silly dancing and outfits, this video is notable because of the close up shots of Astbury’s hair. Sadly, his black locks are very damaged, clearly in need of replenishing hair product and a break from dye jobs and high temperature blow drying.

The Cult
"Fire Woman," 1988

This video is in stark contrast to “She Sells Sanctuary.” In the ensuing three years, Ian Astbury did wonders to his hair. It is lush, smooth, straight and flowing. In fact, it is so impressive that my wife and I spent the entire video discussing it, although we did get a little distracted when he started dry-humping the stage, singing about “smoke stack lightning” and admonishing the Fire Woman: “Fire woman you’re to blame, fire woman you’re to blame!”

Is it fair for Mr. Astbury to place so much blame on the Fire Woman? I don’t know. Like most music videos from the 1980s, there’s not a lot of context, which is one of the appeals of music videos. We don’t need to know why Pat Benitar dances like a gecko, why Teutonic motorcycle racers are trying to kill a-ha, or why Prince isn’t wearing pants. The important thing is that these musicians had the artistic vision to match these visuals to their music, so that when their songs get stuck in our heads and drive us crazy (take, on; me), we have visuals to accompany them.

©  Copyright Jeff Lewis, 2005

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