In 1985, when “Take on Me,” the New Wave hit performed by a trio of glacially beautiful Norwegians with cheekbones like Viking blades, started getting heavy radio play in my hometown of Spokane, I was a potato-shaped eleven-year-old with a cropped haircut that, on good days, could look a tiiiiiiny bit New Wave-ish, but mostly made me look like someone’s mother. I was arrogant and uncool; I was an unrepentant smartypants who cried a lot. I wore handmade clothes, sewn by my mom out of whatever fabric she had on hand, which was often brown corduroy. I never stopped telling people how smart I was.
In 1985, my parents, whom I loved and still love beyond the ability of language to describe, were alive.
When MTV debuted on August 1, 1981, it staked out its territory in epic style with a stylized rocket launch, a moon landing, and a flag emblazoned with the network logo thrust by an astronaut into the lunar surface. The first music video to air on the shiny new network was “Video Killed the Radio Star,” a hit single from the English new wave duo The Buggles off their 1979 album The Age of Plastic.
In the liner notes to their 1984 debut album Welcome to the Pleasuredome, Frankie Goes to Hollywood bassist Mark O’Toole writes of the band’s hit “Relax,” “[W]hen it first came out we used to pretend it was about motivation, and really it was about shagging.”
Yes, Mark. We know.
Duran Duran’s rendition of “Femme Fatale,” originally recorded in 1966 by the Velvet Underground, appears on their 1993 self-titled album, which, in an attempt to avoid confusion with their 1981 self-titled debut album, is more commonly known as The Wedding Album. The black-and-white video was shot in New York by photographer/filmmaker Ellen von Unwerth, who would later direct the band in “Electric Barbarella.” Of the two, “Electric Barbarella” is the more interesting video; it’s cheerful and tawdry and contains some downright sordid and unsettling undertones, whereas “Femme Fatale” is languid and lazily glamorous in a noncommittal way, with the dreamy, gauzy gloss of a commercial for a high-end perfume. I like high-end perfume commercials, though, so let’s take a look at “Femme Fatale.”
“And we sway in the moon, the way we did when we were younger...”
The video for Duran Duran’s “All You Need Is Now,” the title track and first single off their 2011 album, was directed by Nick Egan, who’d previously worked with the band on the videos for “Come Undone,” “Ordinary World,” and “Too Much Information”; more recently, he directed the videos for “Pressure Off” and, in combination with the Snorri Brothers, “Last Night in the City,” both off of the Paper Gods album. Egan does consistently nice work, though he gravitates toward videos consisting mostly or entirely of performance footage, whereas I will always prefer even Duran’s cheesiest narrative-driven video—hello there, “Careless Memories,” I was just talking about you!—to videos without a plot. So while I feel a bit lukewarm overall on the content of “All You Need Is Now,” I think it’s a lovely song, and the video has some beautiful images.
If you’re in the mood for an über-trashy eighties teen film, look no further than Tuff Turf. This film, which was directed by Children of the Corn’s Fritz Kiersch and released in 1985 to general antipathy, is the best kind of trash, populated by attractive and game young actors, two of whom—James Spader and Robert Downey, Jr.—would go on to become titans of the entertainment industry. It boasts a comes-out-of-nowhere great soundtrack with tracks from Jim Carroll, Marianne Faithfull, and Lene Lovich under the direction of composer Jonathan Elias, who produced albums for Duran Duran and Grace Jones and co-wrote MTV’s iconic Moon Landing theme.The film has a rip-roaring plot involving a showdown between a rebellious preppy transplanted from Connecticut (played by Spader at his coldest and sleekest) and a rough-and-tumble Los Angeles street gang in half shirts and leather pants (played by a bunch of agreeable dudes you’ve never heard of). Perhaps best of all, it features a slew of gorgeously trashy fashions (I repeat: half shirts and leather pants). For aficionados of so-terrible-they’re-wonderful eighties teen fashions, this film is an embarrassment of riches. Here’s an overview of some of the film’s greatest fashion trends:
I’ll only watch you leave me further behind…
While “The Chauffeur,” a track off of Duran Duran’s Rio album, was never released as a single, it’s beloved by critics, die-hard Duranies, and dabblers alike, thanks to its sleekly melancholy tune and its enigmatic lyrics, which were reportedly written by Simon Le Bon while on a kibbutz in Israel in his pre-Duran days. “The Chauffeur” is Simon at his most enigmatic and Lewis Carrollesque; surely “Out on the tar plains, the glides are moving/All looking for a new place to drive” is 1982’s response to “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.” The video was directed by Birmingham artist/filmmaker Ian Emes, who’d already achieved a degree of fame for his animated videos for Pink Floyd. Much as “The Chauffeur” is a beloved song, the video is equally beloved, for a few obvious reasons:
- It’s beautifully shot
- It’s stylish as hell
- It has boobs in it.
When I find myself in times of trouble, I regress into the comfort of nostalgia. Hence, today I’m looking at “One Jem Too Many,” an episode of Jem and the Holograms from 1987.
Jem and the Holograms, more commonly known as Jem, aired in syndication on US television from 1985 to 1988. It was created by Christy Marx, a writer for the contemporaneous G.I. Joe cartoon, and the two shows share much of the same DNA: Both were based on Hasbro toys, both feature a wide array of surprisingly detailed characters, and both are completely, utterly, unabashedly bonkers. Jem centers around Jerrica Benton, no-nonsense CEO of the record label Starlight Music and managing director of a foster home for girls, who, with the help of iconoclastic hologram technology controlled by her earrings, can semi-magically transform into a pink-haired new wave superstar named Jem. Jem and her bandmates, the Holograms—Aja, Shana, Raya, and Jerrica’s kid sister Kimber—are locked in perpetual battle with rival girl group the Misfits (no relation), who constantly scheme to sabotage and/or outright murder Jem. That description does not do justice to the berserk lunacy of the average episode of Jem.
My love for Duran Duran’s anime-inspired “Careless Memories” video, the one that was projected above the stage during the Astronaut tour, is deep, abiding, and well documented. So it was with a great sense of joy that I became aware of the existence of a second, more obscure Duranime video, this one for “Nice,” a track off of the 2004 Astronaut album. As with “Careless Memories,” the “Nice” Duranime is the brainchild of artistic designer Gary Oldknow, a frequent Duran Duran collaborator, with artwork from Japanese-British illustrator Fumio Obata and artist/designer Ai Hasegawa.
Why do I love the Duranime videos so much? Simply put, they combine two of my great passions: the ridiculously outsized glamour of Duran Duran and the dedicated evil-fighting teamwork of old-school anime series like Voltron or Yoroiden Samurai Troopers. The combination is nothing short of magical.
“Perfect Day,” Duran Duran’s immaculate version of the 1972 Lou Reed classic, appeared on Thank You, their 1995 album of covers. While Thank You was critically savaged upon release (Rolling Stone called it “stunningly wrongheaded”; the Irish Times dubbed it “the single worst album in the history of recorded music”), “Perfect Day” escaped the carnage relatively unscathed: Metro Weekly called it “far and away the best thing on the album,” while Reed himself referred to it as “the best cover version ever completed of one of my songs.” Duran Duran pulled off a beautiful, bittersweet rendition of a beautiful, bittersweet song.