I love music videos, so if you don’t mind, I’m going to babble on about them once a week from now on. Sometimes I’ll be discussing videos from modern chart hits where the video was released too late to be discussed on my New Hits Friday post, but usually I’ll just be banging on about the ’80s, when music videos, like everything else, were so much better. You have been warned.
I’m starting with Howard Jones’ Life In One Day (1985), which works on multiple levels and is a real hidden gem among ’80s videos.
The video starts out not looking like a music video at all. It looks like a Top of the Pops performance instead, complete with an introduction from a presenter (I think it’s Tony Blackburn, but the picture quality is so poor I can’t be sure) about how they’re not going to play the music video because Howard Jones is live in the studio. As the performance begins, there are a lot of jumps and scratches in the tape, like it’s from a dodgy old VHS copy that somebody’s had for years and has played over and over until it’s become degraded.
The original joke, of course, was that viewers would think there was something wrong with their TV picture and get up to perform percussive maintenance on their boxy mid-’80s TVs. A few commenters on the YouTube video describe doing exactly that back in the day.
But what’s so brilliant about the way the joke has aged is the accidental prescience of the way it works in the YouTube era. Here’s the thing: when you search for a music video for an ’80s hit song, YouTube will also throw up a whole load of contemporary performances of the song on music shows like Top of the Pops. Most of them are uploads of VHS copies that people taped off the TV when the show was first on, and so the VHS copy is thirty years old and features the exact kind of jumps, scratches, and other picture issues that were deliberately inserted into the Life In One Day video.
As such, the automatic reaction of a YouTube searcher to this video (it was certainly mine) will be: ‘oh, FFS, this is just the TOTP performance – where’s the actual music video?’ As such, modern viewers are fooled in a way that the video creators couldn’t have imagined back in 1985! Nothing makes this clearer than the fact that the top search on YouTube for the song is ‘howard jones life in one day official video’, which is exactly what you put in when you’ve just watched what you believe to be the opening few seconds of a Top of the Pops performance, shut the video in frustration and try to find the ‘actual’ video instead.
I think this is partly also due to the fact that the Life In One Day video is rarely shown on TV nowadays (I’ve certainly never seen it on any of the UK music channels on my TV package) – perhaps because the joke is (ironically) seen as dated now – and so people are more likely to hunt for the video online.
Anyway, the rest of the video is great too – the imaginary VHS-recording viewer starts to change channels, but the TV keeps flicking back to the performance, and then the song and lyrics start to seep into the other programmes – a newsreader’s words, the background music in laundry detergent adverts, the featured video in a record company advert. It’s all very cleverly done, but of course it’s the initial joke that I find to be the real standout feature of this video.
I noticed from the end credits that Godley and Creme were involved in the production of the video – they did some brilliant videos during the ’80s, so I’m sure I’ll end up discussing them again soon.
Another music video next week!