You’re an executive at a record company and you’re pleased as punch because one of your artists has a hit record about to break in a big way. The next step is to make a video for the song.
You’ve only got one problem: The lead singer is dead . . . and, it goes without saying, unable to make your shooting schedule.
So how do you create a clip around a star who has breathed his last “120 Minutes”? That was the dilemma facing three companies when it came time to shoot videos for current singles: Roy Orbison’s “You Got It,” the Traveling Wilburys’ “End of the Line” (which features Orbison as one of several lead vocalists) and the “duet” between Hank Williams Jr. and his very late daddy in “There’s a Tear in My Beer.”
In all three cases, directors managed to find a creative and satisfying solution to the problem of dealing with the dearly departed.
Those three video eulogies are among the clips featured in this month’s Sound & Vision, where current pop videos are rated on a 0-100 scale.
Clips Picked to Click:
Elvis Costello’s “Veronica.” (Director: Evan English.) It’s not flashy, but it just may be one of the best pop videos ever. At its beginning and end, Costello is in a nursing home talking about his late grandmother, wondering if rather than suffering from senility or forgetfulness, she had “gone to hide” in the recesses of her memories. Then it’s off for a trip through the decades in that very full mind, set to Costello’s bouncy but dramatic ditty, as the aged Veronica flashes back through an entire lifetime--girlhood swims, adult passions, marriage, the war, tears, arguments, joy.
Whenever the video cuts back to Costello in the nursing home, we actually hear him on the sound track quietly singing along to his record. Thus we get the benefit of the song’s full production and a sense of the gentle sadness Costello must have had when writing the tune. Even if “Veronica” didn’t stand out for interrupting the non-stop juvenilia of MTV with the reality of the elderly, its supremely emotional juxtaposition of lyric and image might still be enough to send chills down your spine. Bravo. 97
Michael Jackson’s “Leave Me Alone.” (Director: Kim Blashfield.) Jackson has always seemed so out of touch with the world that it’s a surprise to see him in such a reflexive mode in this surreal video journey. Against the paranoid sentiment of the song’s lyric, Jackson allows the visuals to take a wittier, possibly even self-mocking, turn. Amid the computer-graphics maelstrom are a blur of real-life tabloid headlines, including one about his relationship with Elizabeth Taylor and another about his reported attempt to buy the bones of the Elephant Man. What do we see next but a weirdly disembodied Liz herself, followed by a hilarious shot of Michael dancing alongside the skeleton of an elephant? To quote one of the many songs that Jackson owns, turn off your mind, relax and float downstream. 79
Karel Fialka’s “Hey Matthew.” (Director: Brad Langford.) The point of view here is from the inside of a TV set, from which we view the concerned face of father Fialka and the blank, impressionable one of his young son Matthew as they switch channels. By clip’s end, it’s easy to identify with Fialka’s parental worries: What chance do the professions of doctor, lawyer, policeman or fireman have in young Matthew’s mind, pitted against the glorified images of Rambo and the A-Team? 78
Worth a Look and a Listen:
Hank Williams Jr.'s “There’s a Tear in My Beer.” (Director: Ethan Russell.) One dark and stormy night, Hank Jr. is recording one of his legendary pop’s unreleased compositions when lightning strikes the studio. Suddenly, a silhouette is seen on the glass of the door and the voice of Hank Sr. joins his son’s. The junior Williams opens the door, and there’s his long-dead daddy, complete with his ‘50s band, in glorious black and white. Hank Jr. steps in and father and son happily duet to the finish.
Since this recently discovered song was recorded only as a demo by Hank Sr., you might well wonder where they got this sterling footage of the long-gone crooner singing the tune with a band. Simple (almost): Director Russell dug up kinescope footage of Williams singing another song on TV and superimposed someone else’s lips singing “Tear in My Beer.” Then came the superimposition of Hank Jr. as well. This video is creepy in more ways than one--not the least of which might be its bizarre, ultimate wish-fulfillment for the obsessive Hank Jr. 69
The Traveling Wilburys’ “End of the Line.” (Director: Willy Smax.) Roy Orbison, who died in December, is but one of the lead singers of this life-affirming ditty, along with George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty. When the Lonely One’s verse comes along, the director cuts to a shot of a chair with Orbison’s guitar, rocking all by itself. Simple, but as effective as possible given the circumstances. 67
Roy Orbison’s “You Got It.” (Director: Leslie Libman.) Orbison had sung this current hit during a European TV appearance filmed before a live audience. Rather than use a straightforward rendering of that film, the director chose to capitalize on Orbison’s mysterious, almost ghostly image by projecting the footage onto billowing curtains. 65
Gamma Ray Rot:
U2’s “Angel of Harlem.” (Director: Richard Lowenstein.) If U2 is the band of the ‘80s, then why hasn’t the group made a single good video? This disastrous visual mishmash, which accompanies a terrific single, is no exception. On the one hand, it’s a souvenir travelogue capturing the Irish quartet attending the many premieres of its recent film, “Rattle and Hum,” replete with flashbulbs and adoring fans. On the other hand, it’s a tribute to the song’s subject, the late Billie Holiday, replete with shots of poor black folks. Is U2 trying to ironically contrast its incredible success with Holiday’s tragic fate, or do the four lads just like shots of themselves getting out of limousines? Either way, this is truly asinine. 30
House of Lords’ “I Wanna Be Loved.” (Director: Jim Shay.) “I just wanna be loved by a girl like you,” sings hairy frontman James Christian, even though the abundance of scantily-clad members of the shapelier sex ought to force a plural reading of girl . Among the countless lasses by whom our hero wants to be loved are a blonde and brunette glimpsed during a kinky party scene sharing a riding crop--an instrument that would be put to much better use by these silly soft-metal boys’ mamas on their sonnys’ behinds. 0
Sheena Easton’s “The Lover in Me.” (Director: Dominic Sena.) Ever since Prince got hold of her, Sheena has been suffering from an acute bout of Olivia Newton-John Syndrome--that tragic disease that causes harmless easy-listening queens to turn into disco divas who wield sex as a weapon. But Olivia never sank this low. In this clip, Sheena is once again the lady in red, on stage in a nightclub where other barely dressed young ladies lie on the bar and allow male patrons to splash buckets of water over their nubile bodies, “Flashdance"-style. (Places like that are just a dime a dozen in L.A., aren’t they?) On stage, Easton pruriently pouts, teases and entices until, finally, one understandably red-blooded fellow rushes the stage--only to be carted off by bouncers as Sheena looks shocked. You can look--look a lot, please , insists Sheena--but you better not touch, or even come within nine yards. What a role model this gal is. 0