Saturday, December 19, 2009

Best of 2009: Music video

Lenny Kravitz

Director: Keith Schofield
I just discovered the catalog of Schofield oddball videos this year. His "Heaven Can Wait" vid is definitely screwy, but this one is sleek. I am amazed no one has done this before (maybe they have): make a music video just like the end credits of a movie, but keep it a part of the film.

Empire of the Sun
Director: Josh Logue
Sometimes three props are all you need. But it must be a cool chair with a bull and a raptor statue. One other necessity, however: look like Bowie.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Best music videos of the decade (Honorable mentions)

"Video Phone" (Extended Mix) (2009) 
Beyonce with Lady Gaga
Director: Hype Williams
It was a tad too late in the year to put them up against the Chosen 15, but I had to give these ladies a shout-out. Beyonce has become a video minimalist while Gaga has gone the other way--Hype Williams melds the two the only way he can: awesomely. Hype even left some of the bluescreen hoods in the video! Chicks, guns and chewing gum; please don't leave us in 2010!

 "3's and 7's" (2007)
Queens of the Stone Age
Director: Paul Minor
QotSA definitely understand the importance of 21st century video making. There is one particular shot near the end of this one--it only lasts a second--but it's a view from a shotgun, blasting a fleeing victim. It may sound morbid that I like it, but it perfectly captures what grindhouse/exploitation films were all about. Really authentic.

BEST OF THE DECADE INDEX [ Intro .:. Hon. Mentions .:. 15-11 .:. 10-6 .:. 5-1 ]

Friday, December 11, 2009

Best music videos of the decade (5 - 1)

The Darkness
Director: Alex Smith
Best use of a sausage as a microphone in history.... Just watch it and enjoy the spaceship tomfoolery.

"Dashboard" (2006)
Modest Mouse
Directors: Mathew Cullen and Grady Hall
All of Modest Mouse's videos are worth watching. "Dashboard"'s video is the least surreal (subjectively) and most story-driven, but what a great ride. A fisherman tells a dive bar about a hyperbolic fish tale, all with some great elektro-fantasy CGI and island shots [that totally remind me of Tim Burton's Chocolate Factory remake]. It's a bit Moby-Dick and a bit that Daggermouth episode of Family Guy. The moral: always watch out for the old fisherman that gives you the wink.

BEST OF THE DECADE INDEX [ Intro .:. Hon. Mentions .:. 15-11 .:. 10-6 .:. 5-1 ]

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Best music videos of the decade (10 - 6)

"Whale Song" (2009)
Modest Mouse
Director: Nando Costa
If I had to pick a hall-of-famer from America for their video achievements in 2000s, it would be Modest Mouse. This one is about drawing no less, and this contraption thingy lets Isaac Brock go on a mind trip, extrapolating visions from the paper. Neither gravity nor snails prevent the band from rocking in this waking dream. And, when used right, projectile intestines and ejected organs are a perfect touch.

"Invincible" (2007)
Director: Jonnie Ross
Oftentimes great videos have stale follow-ups (usually because the previous had an overblown budget). The previous wow factor isn't there most of the time, but Muse nearly equals "Knights of Cydonia". The It's A Small World After All ride may be a tad cliche here, but the CGI-laden climax is really cool. I don't know what the message here is, but time travelers are definitely good alien killers.

The White Stripes
Director: Michel Gondry
There's a sizable chance you've never heard of this song or video. In the are-they-siblings-or-lovers era, nothing can come close to fitting the Jack and Meg White public personae. It's amazingly simple and yet something only seen regularly in Disney World's Haunted Mansion... I don't know why this projector effect isn't used more. This is just one of the few Michel Gondry musings that made the White Stripes a household name.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Best music videos of the decade (15 - 11)

Missy Elliott with Ciara and Fatman Scoop
Director: Dave Meyers
We start off with Missy's 2005 contribution to the video pantheon. If anything defines a good R&B video, it's dance moves, weird cameos and other sillyness. "Lose Control" is just perfect for a high school pep squad... kinda like Gwen Stefani tracks but with a little less cheerleading and a fat guy... and Tommy Lee.

Director: Phil Harder
Mix up some September 11th airport paranoia with crayon-y special effects, and you've got Prince's most political track ever. Yes, that is the Whale Rider girl; and no, I don't know what the "5:5" means on Prince's forehead. Undoubtedly the best Prince video in the last 10 years. But, it barely beat out "Black Sweat"...

Directors: Sean Gilligan and Sarah-Jane Woulahan
Silverchair quietly made some spectacular vids in the last decade. At least 3 are in the Top 50 for me, and "Across the Night" is their best. In a time where the band was on an indefinite touring hiatus and the future was dim, this managed to keep the band alive through airwaves. I didn't even realize it was in grayscale until a second viewing. It took me about 20 views to realize that was Guy Pearce, too.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Best music videos of the decade (2000-2009)

A decade ends. Ten years of joy (blogging), grief (politics), and mostly apathy (YouTube). To commemorate the death of the 2Ks, I am covering the best fifteen music videos to grace the planet since December 31, 1999. Narrowing it down to 15 was hard--a test of will. There are no Kanye or Weezer videos; no "Trapped in the Closet". This is serious time. This is a top 15 list... Get inspired, learn and enjoy!


Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Estranged" -- a music video retrospective

I have been listening to Chinese Democracy's "Street of Dreams" for about two weeks straight, every day. I cannot figure out if the opening lyrics are actually Axl Rose's voice or a pitch corrector, auto-tuning his pipes to those lows and highs. The first time I heard it, I assumed the latter. A decade's worth of fine-tuning CD would make anyone believe Rose was perfecting every syllable from his throat. Concerts were cancelled because of laryngitis/illness in the past, and it always seemed that Axl was straining to sound immaculate (especially on old songs). But now, I am not so convinced. He could be that good after the first or the millionth take...

There is no other rock star I can think of that defined a generation better than Axl Rose. When I look back at grade school, every boy envied the man. Rose set such a high bar: he beat his wife, incited riots, idolized Charles Manson and looked good in a kilt. He feuded with Kurt Cobain and Vince Neil. Nothing could touch him, except maybe supermodels. The only thing that could hurt W. Axl Rose was himself. And, that's exactly what rings true today on "Estranged".

I just completed Chuck Klosterman's Fargo Rock City. It is a retelling of 80s "metal" and touches on some great moments in video history. I guess I had forgotten that GNR had a video trilogy back in the early 90s to promote Use Your Illusion I & II. I figured they were separate entities (especially the "November Rain" clip, as it was based on a short story). And, like "November Rain", in "Estranged" (the final act) there is a lot of water here. A lot...

This video is a chronological mess, but it is all magical. It can be best summed up by:
  1. cops invading Axl's home (flashback?)
  2. a live concert
  3. post-concert Axl showering and walking along Sunset Strip (out-of-body experience?)
  4. people vacating a home
  5. roadies loading up equipment
  6. Axl on an oil tanker
  7. GNR attempting to rescue a drowning Axl
  8. rescue (both spiritual and Coast Guard)
There is too much to discuss here! First, bottlenose dolphins... Remember that dolphin craze (or was that just me)? If you are a dolphin fan, then this is your Mecca. Porpoises are on televisions, coming out of billboards, swimming in CGI rivers, in cargo planes and even on hood ornaments. The only thing preventing this notion from being overkill is 9 minutes of other good stuff.

There is also concert footage interspersed with old "Don't Cry" stuff interspersed with backstage roadie shots. When people remember one of the three videos, they often get the scenes confused.

Slash's second solo is the best guitar part expressed through video ever. Slash rises from the sea, only to shred a Les Paul while walking on water. The color of the guitar and sunset even match.

The rest of the video is hard to describe, and the screen captures hardly do it justice. Tons of "money shots" all throughout: Axl-esque poses throughout, slow-motion Slash, hot chicks... what else is there to want?

Oh, and the budget... One must remember the Waterworld Rule: any film with water scenes has an insane price tag. However, here is where the internet fails. I have searched and searched to find how much this video cost. No satisfaction!

"Estranged" is one of those videos that is overshadowed by an even bigger one, and pre-web days just really blow my chances of ever finding a cost without sifting through microfilm.

I distinctly remember (via an MTV special back in the day) the oil tanker costing $1 million for a day's rental. Combine that with dolphins, Coast Guard and water CGI, and logic dictates it's above the $3 million mark.

Video stats
Length: 9:41
Director: Andy Morahan
Date: December 1993
Est. Cost: $3 million*

The GNR legacy, to me, lies in videos. As soon as I heard Welcome to the Videos existed, I plunked down $15.00. Almost every video shows concert footage, and captures the band at its zenith.
There is still rumored to be a "Better" video, which will be the first visual in over a decade from the "band". But, it will never capture the post-80s turmoil and bombast of Slash, Izzy, Sorum and all the other fired members.

There is much more to write... Stephanie Seymour, etc... but I'm tired.

To submit ideas for Retrospective articles, or to just chat about the obscure and esoteric, contact me here.

[All images are © their respective owners.]
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Thursday, November 5, 2009

"What's My Name?" -- a music video retrospective

Of all the West Coast rappers, Snoop Doggy Dogg always seemed to be most preoccupied with the opposite sex. Sure, he liked money and mayhem, but romantic involvement pervades the catalog... more so than Dre ("Bitches Ain't Shit"), Ice Cube ("Get Off My Dick and Tell Yo Bitch to Come Here") and the others. Inexplicably for a rap artist, Snoop was monogamous for the brunt of his fame (in fact, he married his high school sweetheart). Snoop tried to give up marijuana, but never once did he swear off sexual seduction.

Snoop Dogg has had a very long-lasting career (maybe because he was a lover and not a fighter?). But in 1993, he was just another dog. Literally. "Who Am I (What's My Name)?" has quite a poignant video.

I, like most people, enjoy anthropomorphism. I think it's a little abusive, but it definitely isn't cats boxing to the death. Rottweilers with sunglasses and Dobermans throwing dice are adorable. This may be the cutest gangsta rap video ever.

The only storyline here is the "Doggs" avoid capture by Animal Control. (Notice the dog catchers' hats are on sideways, denoting their incompetence.) They break up picnics and just run around. And, when the dog catchers come into the bar, they morph back into humans to avoid kennel time.

There is a definite shout-out to Dogs Playing Poker going on here (the artwork is even in the background a few times). And, the video doesn't explain if the people are actually dogs-in-disguise, or humans-in-disguise. They were rolling dice and dancing as dogs, so they must have been really comfortable as canines. These are the things I dissect.

TV Funhouse was one of the funniest Comedy Central shows, and you have to wonder if Triumph was inspired a little bit by this video. No shapeshifting going on there, though.

Video facts
Length: 4:28
Director: Fab 5 Freddy
Date: circa November 1993
Est. Cost: Unknown

And now... an obligatory animated GIF.


To submit ideas for Retrospective articles, or to just chat about the obscure and esoteric, contact me here.

[All images are © their respective owners.]

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted" -- a music video retrospective

I felt something was missing when I covered the "Victory" music video experience. The Puff Daddy/Biggie complex is incomplete until the whole "Rap Wars" saga is touched upon. Even if it ended up on the East Coast, it first began (and peaked) on the Westside.

If you thought Biggie's death and Puffy's rise was the rap story of the 90s, try again. Three words: Death Row Records. The rap from that label did just as much for music as grunge did for white-boy rock 'n roll. The major players and their rise to power is almost Shakespearean. Characters like Suge Knight are just stranger than fiction. Let's face it: West Coast rap is just more interesting.

There are a lot of rap videos from the early- and mid-1990s. But when it came to video making, Death Row  was untouchable. "Nuthin But A 'G' Thang" (even the censored version) is probably the most iconic from that era, but there were so many more. Like Dr. Dre, Snoop and 2Pac always understood the importance of quality videos. For that, their legacy will be sustained.

The video for "2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted", the second single from the double album masterpiece All Eyez on Me, is a blueprint for all future rap videos: police harassment, champagne, fine food, fast cars and briefcases full of money.

The uncut version starts with a reference to the November 1994 incident, and lampoons the East Coast in a very incendiary way. One thing you can say about Tupac Shakur is that he had some balls. To me, the rest of the video is somewhat soporific after seeing the prologue, which is hilarious.

Concept: some kind of loose story about 2Pac and Snoop on the run from the LAPD. There's a crime scene and the cops collect some evidence or something. They drive through a police blockade in his convertible. And, for some reason a fax machine sends a detective a promo shot of Tupac, which means he is guilty... Maybe I am taking this video too literally.

There are direct references to 2Pac's jail sentence and Snoop's murder case, but they're both kinda laughing it all off, which is good advice for anyone in legal trouble: make a video about not giving a shit. Could you ever see Puffy making a video like this? No way.

Rapping in a courtroom. I can just imagine a young Ludacris seeing this and getting ideas.

Tupac and his cohorts were so hot in '96. But almost right after the murder, there was a schism in the fellowship. Dr. Dre and Snoop parted and recorded separately, and the rest of the crew just were shattered. Death Row Records without 2Pac, Dre or Snoop was neutered. To this day, Death Row is still milking their 90s revolution with compilations and half-assed DVDs.

Video facts
Length: 5:34
Director: Gobi Rahimi
Date: early to mid-1996
Est. Cost: Unknown


By the way, Tupac: Resurrection is a really epic documentary. I haven't seen the other documentaries about the whole ordeal (Netflix has at least 20 movies about this same thing), but I can guarantee that Resurrection is one of the best.

Prepare to see more Retrospectives on 2Pac, Death Row, NWA, Hype Williams, etc... Maybe I'll set a goal of publishing it before Detox comes out!

To submit ideas for Retrospective articles, or to just chat about the obscure and esoteric, contact me here.

[All images are © their respective owners.]

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Friday, September 11, 2009

"Victory" -- a music video retrospective

I think what gives Puff Daddy's credibility guise away is his constant need for a new stage name. Endlessly searching for "the cool", he never realizes that the first nickname was what he should have stuck with all along (Sean "Puffy" Combs). What's more, many people don't grasp that most of Diddy's best songs are actually Notorious BIG hits featuring him (and probably also featuring Mase). So, his after-Biggie life has been all about emerging as a separate entity.

Have you seen Bad Boys II? Diddy was trying to sell "Shake Ya Tailfeather" so hard that, as "Executive Music Producer", he played it every possible time he could in the flick. My friends and I based a drinking game on this sobering display of triteness.

OK, to the music video:

With lyrics like "get your math on", "hot for a long time/burning like a candle"; and bragging about going platinum, you know that "Victory" is pop-rap. It's like the Cristal that Puffy is so fond of--bubbly, expensive and not really filling.

It's a basic "Most Dangerous Game"/Running Man take-off. Lots of helicopters, fireballs, rain machines, searchlights, rollerblading cops and supermodels and are employed. It somewhat resembles the directing style of David Fincher. Let's look at a few video stills:

Wait a minute... Year 3002 A.D., and he has a pager? His top speed 320 km PER SECOND??? That's roughly 715 mph... Obviously, the producers were not that worried about the details and the metric system. If they invested more in the little things, and less on Danny DeVito and Dennis Hopper, who knows.

The late Notorious BIG fills in the creative gaps, dominating PD's rhymes posthumously (for the nth time). Even Busta Rhymes makes Puffy sound lazy. When the NWO President (Dennis Hopper) says "delete" (maybe that's how they say it in the year 3002?), I think that just sums up the quality of the video's script.

The lamest part of the video is the apparent suicide of "Contestant #5". The animation of him jumping off the building is just laughable. It reminds me of the Joker's death in Tim Burton's Batman... the same CGI used 10 years later. Why not spend another $30k on some better effects; make it an even 3 million dollar budget?

Video facts
Length: 7:50
Director: Anonymous (Marcus Nispel)
Date: March, 1998
Est. Cost: $2.7 million

When this video debuted, there was no (living) black artist as high profile as Puff Daddy. With Biggie's death, he catapulted into the mainstream, with the help of MTV. The video for "Victory" is Puff Daddy's parallel of "Estranged" by Guns N' Roses: it marks the pinnacle of overindulgence and the waning of popularity. Maybe Diddy's next album will be analogous to Chinese Democracy. "Estranged" is a classic... is "Victory"?


To submit ideas for Retrospective articles, or to just chat about the obscure and esoteric, contact me here.

[All images are © their respective owners.]

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"She Drives Me Crazy" -- a music video retrospective

[Update: the animated GIF files are not working, so they are accessible within the text links now.]

Researching music videos is rough. I have to glean what information from memory I can, and usually rely on un-cited, obsolete websites to help reinforce those nuggets. If there was a textbook about terrible music videos, I would buy it without a second thought. So, allow me to elucidate on a bit of history...

With an album title like the Raw and the Cooked, you've got to just know that some record executive controlled everything from the get-go. It must have taken 5 guys in a room about 10 minutes to pick out that album title. And, I bet there was at least one convertible blasting this music in the IRS Records parking lot. Just look at the guitarists... would they have anything to do with Roland Gift if not for money?

From what I can gather, "She Drives Me Crazy" had two videos for the two target markets (America and everyone else). They have the same director, just edited differently and missing some respective shots. It's really a mish-mash, non-concept video with dance-offs. Two dancers (one black, one white... yellow) are competing against each other, in a race war of sorts. Another dancer looks like a gypsy with pillows strapped to her. I need to also mention the guitarists dance, too. Watching them makes me look like Chris Brown's protege!

The American one is missing a great image that really make the video a tad more enjoyable. I don't know what's un-American about the scene, but anyway. A glass bottle is smashed on the lead singer's head in fast-motion, between verses. The speed-up, slow-down thing is pretty much the best of the special effects. The international version of the video cuts a clip as well: a waiter with platter full of glassware, keeping balance while falling over.

Maybe the most famous scene is the TV Man. The igniting guitar is also eye-catching.

Surprisingly, neither of the videos are available via MTV, AOL or Yahoo. Look them up on YouTube, because as far as I can tell, there is no DVD flaunting the mystique of FYC.

Video facts
Director (both videos): Pedro Romhanyi
Length (both videos): 3:36
Date: 1989
Est. Cost: Unknown

In closing... Fine Young Cannibals. Wow. Two hit wonders ("Good Thing")? Eurotrash? #1 Billboard genius? Inspirations for UB40? We will never know.


To submit ideas for Retrospective articles, or to just chat about the obscure and esoteric, contact me here.

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