When MTV launched on 1st August 1981, it was estimated that only 150 music videos were in circulation. So if the round-the-clock station was going to succeed, it needed new content, and fast.
But, mired in the middle of a recession, record companies were initially sceptical about the commercial clout of videos. That period was short-lived; as record exec Mick Kleber put it in the hilarious book ‘I Want My MTV’, ‘Once Duran Duran started selling records in Oklahoma, it opened everyone’s eyes.’
Suddenly the video department of the major labels was the ONLY department that was expanding. In the rush to fill MTV schedules, production went into overdrive. The likes of Toto, Christopher Cross, Journey, Stevie Nicks, Van Halen, Steve Miller and Chicago – still-big-selling acts from a different generation – were forced to ham it up in front of the camera.
And thank goodness that some of their lamest, most ill-advised attempts are preserved for posterity, and for our delectation. We are pleased to present 11 of the worst clinkers. Here you will find a strange parade of transvestites, mullets, models, douchebags, disco line-dancers and little people. What were the directors thinking? Who knows, but for once I’m inclined to concede that the 1980s might have been the decade that taste forgot…
11. Chick Corea Elektric Band: ‘Elektric City’ (1985)
From that weird sub-genre of ’80s music video: the jazz-fusion artist looks for a hit. One has to feel particularly sorry for sh*t-hot guitarist Scott Henderson (who didn’t even play on the track!), looking like Screech from ‘Saved By The Bell’, hamming it up against his better judgement. Not forgetting the brilliant jazz dance troupe IDJ – why, lads, why?
10. Hall & Oates: ‘Private Eyes’ (1981)
After an unforgivable snare-drum-in-the-wrong-place opening, one of the most unimaginative visual documents in pop history, fronted by an anaemic, manic, clearly uncomfortable Hall. It didn’t stop the single from getting to #1 in the States, though…
9. Billy Joel: ‘Allentown’ (1982)
Actually, Russell Mulcahy’s homoerotic curio would make a pretty good musical. Just putting it out there…
8. The Police: ‘Wrapped Around The Finger’ (1983)
Directors Godley and Creme’s instructions to the lads seem to have been: look as much of a pr*ck as possible…
7. Billy Squier: ‘Rock Me Tonite’ (1984)
Apparently our Billy was aiming for a homage to ‘American Gigolo’ but ended up with this slightly deranged, camp classic. ‘Directed’ by Kenny Ortega, later famed for ‘High School: The Musical’ and Michael Jackson’s ‘This Is It’.
6. Steve Miller Band: ‘Abracadabra’ (1983)
Boring, boring, boring, boring, boring…
5. Toto: ‘Waiting For Your Love’ (1982)
We’ll leave aside that this is a very ill-advised choice of single off the back of ‘Rosanna’ and ‘Africa’. According to guitarist Steve Lukather, the video was so bad that even MTV wouldn’t play it.
4. Journey: ‘Separate Ways’ (1982)
Could it have been any more unflattering to poor singer Steve Perry? And whose ideas was it to have the guy playing air keyboards? Not to mention that the preyed-upon, obligatory ‘sexy woman’ is obviously a drag queen, when seen in long shot…
3. The Jacksons: ‘Torture’ (1984)
The clue is in the title. Michael obviously got wind of the impending disaster – he didn’t even turn up for the shoot. They used a Madame Tussauds dummy in his place.
2. Chicago: ‘Hard Habit To Break’ (1984)
Great piece of music, horrible video. Lots of ‘sensitive’ men of a certain age longing for a succession of scantily-clad model/actresses.
1. Van Halen: ‘(Oh!) Pretty Woman’ (1982)
Short people? Tick. Transvestite? Tick. Questionable antics? Tick. Ridiculously cheap production values? Tick. Definitely a case of too much bourbon and not enough brains. Roy Orbison’s views on this monstrosity are not recorded…
Are there other stinkers from the 1980s? Of course. Let us know below.