Monday, January 12, 2009

Great (and Lame) Moments in Music Video; Some Thoughts on Duran Duran

Thank you, VH1 Classic — and you, too, TiVo, for the time-shifting — for serving up All-Time Top Ten's Duran Duran episode two nights ago. This is the province of the 35-year-old father of two: he's home on a Saturday night in front of the TV, and if he's lucky, he's found some nostalgia channel through which he might relive his youth. Shoot — VH1 has even arranged for the release of Original Six Veejay Mark Goodman from his climate-controlled storage facility to host the show.

And so, Duran Duran. My sister and I talked on the phone while I watched this — she was supporting "Hungry like the Wolf" for the #1 spot, whereas I favored "Rio." "Rio" won, but I'm not one for point-scoring. VH1 served up some terrific Double Duran nostalgia on the way up the ladder to The Song I Picked and My Sister Didn't. Some highlights:
*Though it never occurred to me at the time, the video for "Wild Boys" was obviously a Road Warrior ripoff — they even dressed Simon LeBon up as Mad Max. That said, this one was clearly a costly, complicated undertaking, and I think the bit where Simon LeBon is strapped to the windmill that periodically turns him underwater, then past an open flame, has to qualify as a Great Music Video Moment.

*Likewise in "Hungry like the Wolf," when LeBon stands up in the café and throws the table over. "They show it twice," My HLTW-loving sister recalled to me over the phone, without the benefit of the programming in front of her. "It's so good they show it twice." Another Moment, surely. I remember a Saturday morning in Columbus, just before a Buckeyes game, when a friend of mine ended a heated game of euchre by throwing the kitchen table over. This might have started a fight, had he not rationalized away his rash action by declaring it was something he'd always wanted to do, since he saw it in "Hungry like the Wolf." This was an acceptable excuse. Some of us even admired the guy for it.

But the winner here is "Rio," and so it's the one we'll embed in the post.

"Rio" probably best captures what is so "on one hand/on the other" maddening about Duran Duran. Consider the head-on shot of the band on the yacht at 1:04. Few segments of music video are as simple and iconic. A shame, then, that this footage had to follow on the heels of that godawful bit where a crab clamps its claw down on one Duraner's toe.

In the end, I don't know what to make of Duran Duran. So many of these once-laughingstock early 80s bands have been rehabilitated in recent years. Indeed, some — like Bow Wow Wow — I will fight to the death to defend. Others simply retained their cool, perhaps because they weren't 100% made and destroyed by music video — they had street cred, and they only used MTV to take that last, awkward step into living rooms in the Midwest. Not so Duran Duran: video didn't supplement the band's career — it was an integral part of it. And maybe this is why I haven't made a priority of listening to them, even as I've gone through Adam Ant phases and Psych Furs phases and God knows what else: just listening to Duran Duran doesn't give you the complete picture.

It doesn't help that MTV itself has gone into the shitter over the past fifteen years. If you're going to put Duran Duran into the category of bands that flourished principally because of video, it's hard not to condemn them for the sins of the network, years later. It's hard not to see them as more Britney than Bow Wow Wow. It's not a fair knock, this guilt by MTV-association. But it's a knock that sticks.

Watch the videos. See if they don't deserve more credit than they get — and then see if you don't flinch at the prospect of personally extending them that credit. That's about where I am on Duran Duran.

I have Duran^2 Rio on vinyl. That's right, English major, "Duran Duran" is not "Double Duran", it's "Duran Squared". Didn't they teach you any math in public school?

But to the point. Without the video, "Hungry Like the Wolf" is hands down the superior song. It's no contest at all. The moaning at the end is priceless.

And VH1 is internally inconsistent on the matter. On their 100 Greatest Videos list, Hungry Like the Wolf comes in at #31; Rio at #60. So score a point for Big Sister.

Gotta love these guys, though. From the Hungry Like the Wolf Wikipedia article:

According to the band, the Burger King company has repeatedly asked to use the song in its advertising since the year it came out, but Duran Duran has consistently refused.

Yes — I'd like to see VH1 pull itself together and show some consistency here. Their All-Time Top Ten "80s videos" episode included Hungry like the Wolf, which came in at #3 in the Duran Duran-only episode an hour earlier. By rights there should have been two other Duran Duran videos in the Top Ten. They need someone like Deloitte & Touche to certify these rankings.

I always thought Pizza Hut should have paid off Depeche Mode for the rights to lay down a "Your own . . . personal . . . pizza" vocal over "Personal Jesus." Never happened, though — and I can't imagine it was a question of "selling out." Think of all the heroin David Gahan could have bought with that money.

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