Thursday, July 02, 2015

If only you could un-see 80s videos like Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire"

"At night I woke up with the sheets soaking wet/And a freight train running through the middle of my head."
I was thinking of that line yesterday, on the hottest July day in London since records began.

It came into my mind the way lots of pop lyrics do. Detached from the song, Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire", which came out thirty years ago this year, ready to mean whatever I wanted it to mean, which is the way I like it.

Keen to hear it, I looked on You Tube and found myself watching the promo video in which Springsteen plays a mechanic flirting with a dame with an expensive car. Like almost all videos, it's kitsch and absurd, demeaning the song by making everything explicit. 

I interviewed him around this time. In those days videos were still novel and you always asked artists about them. I rememember he said that he struggled with them because you either had to illustrate the story of the lyrics, which seemed a bit obvious, or impose an entirely different narrative on that song, which seemed unsatisfactory.

Of course, nobody really minded because they were a way you could reach audiences. They were adverts. Thirty years later I wonder if that's the reason why so much music from the 80s gets no respect. Once you see these videos again, even after a gap of thirty years, you can't un-see them.

Old pop music gains something over time. Old videos just sit there and look ridiculous.

If you must, it's here.


  1. Strangely enough, I remember your interview with Springsteen more than I remember the 'I'm On Fire' video....which probably means something, although I don't know what.

    I saw the video for the Thompson Twins 'You Take Me Up' just the other day and it fulfilled all the 80s criteria that you mentioned in your blog. However, it did remind me what a terrific song it was, and for that we should be grateful for music videos and the whole MTV generation.

  2. I don't remember the video at all.His Tunnel of Love stuff looms larger for me.

    How many TV programmes could any of it have been seen on in the UK in 1986? I do, however, remember seeing the the fabled MTV while on a visit to Canada in 1984. I was ever so slightly impressed that I could watch music videos 24/7. One hour bundles on rotation, if memory serves but all I can remember* is Duran Duran and Culture Club.

    *That's to say all that I think I remember.

  3. For a real horror moment watch Tom Robinson's War Baby video. It's a wonderful song but the video...

  4. I remember the one where he "coaxed" an audience member onto stage for some reason or other. They sort of danced. I can't recall which song it was, though; probably "Dancing In The Dark".

    The "volunteer" lady from the audience was a pretty young thing. I wonder what happened to her.

    1. That pretty young thing, Courtney Cox, went on to become one of the biggest TV stars of the 1990s, playing Monica in Friends.

  5. Too right! But didn't he redeem himself with a black and white ( slighly slow motion?) drive through a suburb with little going on, perfect emtional projection screen as you point out re better lyrics

  6. I'm a huge Springsteen fan, and that video always makes me cringe. Why musicians are expected to be able to act escapes me - as if all forms of performance are essentially the same.

    I seem to remember there was even talk of him being offered film roles at the time, but thankfully he was sensible enough not to go down that route.

  7. There are other 80s videos that stand the test, and almost define the song - and not in a bad way. I'm thinking of 'Take on Me' and 'Every Breath You Take'. You're right in that there's no 'acting' in the good ones, just performance.

  8. My favourite music video of the 1980's is 'The Perfect Kiss' by New Order. The first time I saw it was shortly after it was released in the Cornerhouse in Manchester. It was a support film to the main film and I had no idea it was coming on. It's good and it pure performance.

  9. Don't remember the video for it but what a song - having watched it now it makes me feel a bit better about the line "Hey little girl is your daddy home?". Knowing it's about a sugar daddy is a relief - plus you don't get to see the trophy wife so there's at least a touch of mystery. Unlike the video for Dire Straits' Romeo and Juliet - now there's a spelled-out-by-the-numbers 80s video for the literalati...