Interlude: The Worst Rock Video of All Time

IF, LIKE ME, YOU ARE OLD ENOUGH to lived through the nascent days of MTV and VH1 in the early 1980s, you remember just how awful a rock video could be.

In those early times, though, the songs themselves were usually pretty awful too. I mean, Thomspson Twins? Kajagoogoo? Kim Wilde? Spandau Ballet? It’s only fitting that cheesy be accompanied by an equally cheesy video. The bigger shame was to take a really terrific song and ruin it with silly visuals.

With that in mind, I present my vote for the worst rock video of all time.  This one!

This some is from album that came out in the autumn of 1985. That was a long time ago, but learning curve for videos had been steep, and by that point even indie label bands were putting out spots with decent production values. So what was the problem? I realize that SST Records didn’t have a whole lot of money hanging around for promotional efforts, but still. What a weird, incoherent mish-mash. There’s that phrase: What were they thinking?

There are several laugh out loud moments.  There’s Greg Norton nodding and dancing like a girl, and I love the part (see time 1:03) where you can see Bob eying the camera, the look on his face as if to ask an unseen director, “Am I doing this right?” And wait a minute, are those home movies, spliced together into that bizarre pastiche? I don’t mean footage intended to look like home movies, in some useful and artful way, I mean actual, goofball home movies.

And near the end, the woman with the drink in her hand. is that… Grant’s mom?  Seriously, is that Grant’s mom?  And whoever it is, why is she there?  

Everything is so absurdly out of synch with what is otherwise a pretty powerful song. It’s embarrassing to watch.

And for the simple sake of pride, please, please, do not allow your browser continue to play beyond time 2:25, when the video segues into the old SST promo for “Love is All Around,” the theme to the old “Mary Tyler Moore Show.”  No, it’s not meant to be taken seriously as a video, but that doesn’t make it any less painful to behold.

I know, you went and watched it anyway.  Yeah, the hats and the penguins and all that — a true hand-to-the-mouth moment.

You’ll really need to clear out your head after that one. And the best way of doing that, I think, is to watch this.

Now that’s much, much better. “It’s Not Funny Anymore” is one of the greatest indie rock songs of all time – certainly of the 1980s – and the footage is vintage and kickass. Hang in there Grant!

The credits tell us that live shot was filmed on December 16th, 1983, in Philadelphia.  It was two days later, on the 18th, in Boston, when I saw HD play live for the very first time, at a place called The Channel down near South Station.  Bob was wearing that same shirt. Opening act was the Minutemen. (Both bands were promoting their soon-to-be-released double LPs — “Double Nickels on the Dime” for the Minutemen, and Husker Du’s masterpiece, “Zen Arcade”).

I almost became paralyzed at that show. People were slam-dancing and jumping from the stage. I fell of somebody’s shoulders and, unable to move my body in time, landed square on the back of my neck. Somebody hauled me up, and I remember it was several seconds before I could move or feel my arms again. For several days afterwards I had trouble walking.

Husker Du were never the tightest band live. In fact they were routinely awful. Grant’s songs were usually a little tighter than Bob’s, but neither sounded right. Everything was sloppy and sped-up, sometimes to the point of incoherence. A Husker Du live album was released posthumously some years ago. It’s called “The Living End.” It’s a strange album, and perhaps for the better it’s a terrible representation of how the band actually sounded on stage.

Bob would always do this cool thing, though, between the main set and the encore: He’d lean his Ibanez flying-V against his amplifier as he walked off stage, the volume still cranked. The result was a pulsing storm of feedback that washed over the crowd until the band came back out. This wasn’t your typical feedback whine. It was a condensed, high-energy version of a very specific and peculiar noise that only Bob’s guitar could make — a sort of 180-decibel squeal-hum, very fuzzy at the edges. I used to call this the “Husker Buzz.”

You can hear the same noise in many of the band’s songs. The “New Day Rising” album is basically one long version of it. But I love it best here, in this little snippet from “First of the Last Calls,” the fourth song from the old “Metal Circus” album. It’s the final eight seconds or so that you’re listening for — that harmonic, vaguely orchestral hum and whine. And right at the very end, that nuclear honk. That is the sound of Husker Du. That’s the tell-tale “Husker Buzz” of Mould’s Ibanez. Play loud…

First of the Last Calls

 

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8 Responses to “Interlude: The Worst Rock Video of All Time”
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  1. Jane says:

    Let me add that the Philadelphia “It’s Not Funny Anymore” clip is really terrific, somehow it doesn’t come up in YouTube searches like it should…I’ve played it half a dozen times today. Very thankful that we have real performance clips of artists and not just MTV videos.Thank you for this one, Patrick!

  2. Jane says:

    And yet this is just about the most-viewed Husker Du video on YouTube, along with the Joan Rivers Late Night one.818,000 plus views, 2200+ likes.
    Aw come on Patrick, it’s not as bad as all that!They wanted to give us a travelogue of their favorite Twin Cities sights, show us they love their Mom, and be like the Monkees.And I think they always wanted to appeal to the moms & dads as well as the kids, which may have been a heresy.
    Looking back at the MTV era, it must have been an adjustment for the musical artists; once, it was enough to write songs, perform them, and let the audience figure out the song meanings without added visuals;now, they were forced into supporting subsidiary crafts like special effects people ,storyline writers, film directors,editors, etc…quite an adjustment. Kind of the same way we can’t go to a psychologist or counselor to talk about a few transitory mood or life problems without having half a dozen expensive & dangerous SSRI’s shoved down our throats when a few cups of herbal tea could calm us or help us get to sleep for comparatively pennies…as for SST and its budgets, I can’t say how much of this they put up money for versus how much was put together from “found” footage but Black Flag’s “TV Party” video is not exactly a magnum opus of grand production values either, though it is Stupid Fun, which is just about all we should expect any music video to be instead of expecting fuckin’ Eisenstein…

  3. I’m pretty sure they were intentionally making fun of the conventions of MTV-style music videos.

  4. DV Henkel-Wallace says:

    The Channel — I was at that show too!

  5. cisko says:

    If you haven’t, you should really read _I Want My MTV_ by Rob Tannenbaum. Great history of the rise and fall of MTV and music videos. It’s clear that even in 1985, nobody had any idea what they were doing. Great read.

    One of my favorite YouTube finds is a complete Husker Du show from Indianapolis in 1985. Video is just OK but the sound is pretty good as these things go. I was still about 18 months away from discovering them, and maybe 2-3 years away from seeing them live. Wish I had a time machine for this one…