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.

Tune Tuesday: That’s a Rap … A Funny Rap

I hadn’t planned on a Tune Tuesday Blog, however, I stumbled on an article online that was about Comedy Rap songs. Back in March of this year, I did a quick blurb about white rappers before Eminem. Some of these will be repeats, as they would fall into the “comedy” rap category.

Here are some forgotten “comedy” rap songs – some good … some bad:

Rappin’ Duke

Shawn Brown is one who was mentioned in the March Blog. “So you think you’re bad, with your rap? Well, I’ll tell ya, Pilgrim, I started the crap…” I had the 12 inch single of this one. It got Top 40 airplay (which was uncommon for rap songs) when it came out. Still a favorite for me. Duh- Haw, Duh – Haw…..

Wipe Out

The Safari’s had a big hit with the instrumental, Wipe Out. The Fat Boys came along and rapped along with the Beach Boys on this one. Believe it or not – it worked. I remember hearing this song first as a video on MTV. Eventually, it got airplay on the radio, too. I’m sure it was meant to be more of a serious song, but it really falls into the novelty category for me.

Rappin’ Rodney

Rodney Dangerfield got a lot of respect with this top 40 hit. Basically the song is bits from his stand up act with a musical chorus. What helped it get airplay is probably the video for it which featured 80’s singer Pat Benatar and comedian Father Guido Sarducci!

Wet Dream

Comedian Kip Addotta knocks it out of the park with his underwater Pun-fest! This was a song I used to hear often on the Dr. Demento Show. To call this a rap song is pushing it a bit, but the article I saw mentioned it, and I laughed as I recalled the puns throughout it, so I include it here.

Honeymooner’s Rap

Here is one I totally forgot about! Back in the day, Joe Piscopo would do spot on impressions of David Letterman, David Hartman, Frank Sinatra and so many more! He recruited his fellow cast member Eddie Murphy and together they relived some of the great moments from the Honeymooners TV show. Joe is Ralph and Ed is Norton in this comedy rap. I remember running out and buying the 45 of this one.

Do The Bartman

The Simpsons TV show has produced loads of musical gems! Many of those have made their way onto collections like Songs In the Key of Springfield. A song that was a radio hit (and I got requests for it at weddings and parties, too) was Do the Bartman. The song featured Nancy Cartwright as Bart, and also features the King of Pop, Michael Jackson!

White and Nerdy

The list HAD to have Weird Al Yankovic on it! The Weird Al song that made the article I read was Amish Paradise, which is indeed a great parody. However, I think White and Nerdy tops that one. Al’s Parody of Chamillionaire’s Ridin’ (and the hilarious video) was all over radio and TV, not to mention social media and the internet.

Addams Groove

Lord help us! MC Hammer offered up this stinker as a movie tie in to one of the Addams Family movies. It was one of those songs that I hated hearing on the radio. The only thing it is really good for now, is Halloween parties!

City of Crime

In 1987, Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks appeared in a movie based on Jack Webb’s TV show, Dragnet. As yet another movie tie in, Dan and Tom (as their characters from the film) rap together in this one. Yes, there was a video for it and it included choreography by none other than Paula Abdul! It’s something you need to see … even if it leaves you wondering “What the hell was that?!”

The Contra Rap

Here is another I had forgotten about that got lots of airplay on the Dr. Demento show. The Iran-Contra Affair was all over the news from 1985-1987. Impressionist Rich Little had an album out entitled Ronald Reagan Slept Here. It includes some very funny bits with him as Ronald Reagan. One of the cuts on the album was The Contra Rap. It features Rich Little as Oliver North, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter. The Capitol Steps also recorded this, but Rich’s is the best.

Feel free to let me know if I missed any. In the meantime, I am sure you can find all of these on Youtube!