Turntable Talk – Did Video Kill The Radio Star?

This blog is my entry for Dave over at A Sound Day’s “Turntable Talk.” Kudo’s to Dave for picking some fantastic topics, and at the same time letting us participants “run” with it. The following are the instructions we were given:

We were told we ” …don’t have to write literally about the question, but we’re looking for your thoughts on all things music video – how much did MTV change the music of the ’80s? Since there were already British acts making videos regularly in the 70s, do you think it would have taken off in a big way even without the American MTV influence?  Did it kill careers… or make careers that shouldn’t have happened? Do you have favorite ones you still like to watch?  Do you miss the days when MTV (or Much Music in Canada, or European equivalents) ran music videos instead of reality TV and old reruns?   Really, approach it how you like, but I’m curious to get thoughts on the Video Revolution.

My Conundrum

There have been many people who truly believe that video killed the radio star. As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, I lived through the beginnings of MTV. When I think about music videos, there are so many that I will forever associate with the songs. For example:

  • Take On Me – a-ha
  • Sledgehammer – Peter Gabriel
  • Rhythm Nation – Janet Jackson
  • Bad, Billie Jean, Beat It, Black or White, and of course, Thriller – Michael Jackson
  • Vogue – Madonna
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
  • Buddy Holly – Weezer
  • Weapon of Choice – Fatboy Slim
  • Dire Straits – Money For Nothing
  • Legs – ZZ Top
  • Land of Confusion – Genesis
  • Hot For Teacher – Van Halen
  • Simply Irresistible – Robert Palmer
  • Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper
  • Run DMC and Aerosmith – Walk This Way
  • California Girls – David Lee Roth
  • Got My Mind Set on You – George Harrison
  • Stuck With You – Huey Lewis and the News
  • Faith – George Michael
  • White Wedding – Billy Idol
  • Opposites Attract – Paula Abdul

The list could go on and on! Those are just the ones that I pulled off the top of my head (and I am probably forgetting some big ones)!

The more I thought about it, I kept coming back to “Video killed the radio star.” Perhaps that is the case (as some proclaim), but I can think of one artist who made videos and it got him mainstream attention.

MTV Welcomes Weird Al Yankovic

According to Wikipedia, the discography of Mr. Yankovic consists of fourteen studio albums, nine compilation albums, eleven videos albums, two extended plays, two box sets, forty-six singles and fifty-four music videos. 

Those fifty-four music videos helped to take Weird Al Yankovic to the mainstream world. Let’s face it, the only place you could hear him on the radio was on the Dr. Demento Show, which was often aired in the worst possible time slot because of the crazy content. When Al ventured into the video realm, more and more viewers wanted to see – and hear – more of him!

Parody songs have been around forever, and very rarely ever got radio play. Novelty records were big in the 50’s and 60’s, and there were a few here and there in the 70’s. When Al comes on the scene in 1983, he took it to a whole new level, using videos.

1983’s “Ricky” is credited as being his first video. It was a parody of Toni Basil’s “Micky.” It was a parody base on the TV show I Love Lucy. The video was shot in black and white and still looks great today.

From there, Al continued to use video to gain exposure on MTV. His next single was “I Love Rocky Road” which parodies Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll.” Instead of a greaser bar, it is set in … an ice cream parlor.

Al’s next video is really the one that really stands out as the one that moved him to a whole new level. Yes, he is a parody singer, but with the video for “Eat It” (a parody of Michael Jackson’s Beat It), not only is the song parodied, but so is the video. Al’s video is literally a shot for shot remake of Jackson’s. Throughout the video, instead of switchblades there are rubber chickens and kitchen utensils, and gags for almost everything in the Beat It video.

I can’t say whether or not the video is responsible for this, but the song won Al a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording in 1984. The video won for Best Male Performance at the 1984 American Video Awards!

From that point on, Al continued to make music videos for his singles. Art Fleming appeared in the “I Lost on Jeopardy” video, non-stop visual gags were plentiful in the “Like a Surgeon” video, and the James Brown “screams and shrieks” in “Living With a Hernia” were all more painful than soulful.

In 1988, Al once again parodied Michael Jackson. If I had to pick a “perfect” Weird Al parody video, it this would be one of two. Al won another Grammy Award for Best Concept Music Video for “Fat.” He even got permission from MJ to use the same set as the original video. Al’s makeup took three hours to apply every day and his fat suit weighed 40 pounds. Every time I hear the line, “Ding Dong, Yo!” I still crack up.

I mentioned that “Fat” is one of two “perfect” videos. The other would have to be the fantastic video for “Smells Like Nirvana” (a parody of Smells Like Teen Spirit). Al famously got permission for this parody from Kurt Cobain himself when he was performing on Saturday Night Live. In this Grammy-nominated video, Al satirizes Nirvana and the grunge movement, shooting on the same set as the original video and using the same actor who played the janitor (Rudy Larosa). Dick Van Patten has a cameo, which for whatever reason is extremely funny to me. Why Dick Van Patten??!! Someone said that Tony Hawk makes an appearance in the video, too. I’m not sure I know where.

Weird Al has certainly used music videos to his advantage. It takes a lot of creativity to write a good parody (I mean, come on, there are a lot of crap ones out there – just look on YouTube), but to take an already funny song and create a video that brings about even more humor, just enhances the song. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, Weird Al is a musical genius.

There have been many other great videos that have followed. To name a few: Amish Paradise (featuring Florence Henderson), Headline News (featuring The People’s Court’s Doug Llewelyn), Gump (featuring Ruth Buzzi and Pat Boone), The Saga Begins (the fantastic Star Wars tribute), White and Nerdy (featuring Donny Osmond and Seth Green), and so many more.

Yes, video may have killed the radio star, but it certainly helped boost the career of Weird Al Yankovic.

It’s National Kazoo Day!!

Every year on January 28th, the country celebrates National Kazoo Day! What kid didn’t have a kazoo growing up? I know I had quite a few.

Why are kazoos so fun? It’s the musical instrument for those who can’t “play” a musical instrument! All you need to be able to do is hum, and you are playing the kazoo. According to Wikipedia: Players can produce different sounds by singing specific syllables such as doo, ‘’too’’, whorrrrr or brrr into the kazoo.

This made me think about hit songs that featured a kazoo. I came up with a few:

  • Joanie Sommers’ 1962 hit “Johnny Get Angry” features an instrumental break with an ensemble of kazoos.
  • Also in 1962, Jessie Fuller’s “San Francisco Bay Blues” has a kazoo solo. Eric Clapton’s version of the song for his 1992 “Unplugged” special also featured a kazoo.
  • In 1968, Pink Floyd featured a kazoo on “Jugband Blues.”

I also discovered that in 1978, a group calling themselves “The Temple City Kazoo Orchestra” put out an album entitled, “Some Kazoos,” which featured versions of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” The Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive,” and The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You.”

What #1 song featured a kazoo (or at least something that sounds like a kazoo)? Ringo Starr’s 1973 cover of the Johnny Burnette song, “You’re Sixteen.”

According to songfacts.com: Ringo got a lot of help on his solo efforts, and on this track, Harry Nilsson sang backup and Paul McCartney made the noise that sounds like a kazoo (producer Richard Perry said he was singing; the album credits him for “vocal sax solo”).

Wikipedia also questions the “kazoo”: Although McCartney is credited on the liner notes of the album Ringo as having played the solo on a kazoo, reviewer Michael Verity has quoted the song’s producer Richard Perry as revealing that it wasn’t actually a kazoo: “In fact, the solo on ‘You’re Sixteen,’ which sounds like a kazoo or something, was Paul singing very spontaneously as we played that track back, so he’s singing the solo on that.” Starr’s version remains one of the few No. 1 singles to feature a ‘kazoo-sound’ solo.

Here it is. You decide if it is a kazoo….

The 1973 music video for the song featured Carrie Fisher!! Here’s it is:

The other song that stands out with a kazoo solo belongs to Weird Al Yankovic in his amazing parody of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The video is yet another example of Al’s ability to not only parody the song, but the video for the song. Listen for the kazoo in “Smells Like Nirvana”…

What other songs can you think of that feature the kazoo?

Happy National Kazoo Day!