Aug 162007

Of all the inherently cool bands with enough label support and public interest to reasonably be expected to capitalize on the video age, have any artists failed as miserably as The Rolling Stones and The Clash?

Granted, the Stones were already old when videos became a major marketing tool, but compared with their peers, have they even come up with something as “anti-clever” as George Harrison’s “I’ve Got My Mind Set On You” video? That one in which the sepia-toned Stones try to act cool while towering over New York City strives to be cool, but it’s quickly ruined its invasion of tired Victoria’s Secret models. Yeah, we know the ladies love you and you’ve collectively sired 107 illegitimate children to prove it.

Here’s what may be the most ambitious Stones video.

It plays like an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger. While the producer hired every sweaty Hispanic extra available on short notice and willing to work for meal money, he or she couldn’t have found a better fake moustache and glue than the bargain-basement stuff Oliver Stone likes to use on his period pieces? Did Stone have something to do with the making of this video? Jagger, like any actor in a film by Oliver Stone whose character requires facial hair, must answer one question: You don’t have a desk job with a dress code, the Principal and your Mom’s not going to give you a hard time, your mate is understanding of the demands put on your career…can’t you take a couple of weeks out of your schedule to grow a real moustache?

All that said, I can write off the failed opportunities of The Stones in the video age to the fact that they’d already conquered the genre, the world, the underage models of Brazil. The Clash is another matter, and I have determined exactly what held them back.

Although The Clash did not enter their video marketing stage during any highpoint of the video age, there were plenty of great, cheap videos in their time. Did they have some beef with Julian Temple or some other go-to guy of the punk video scene? Who did the videos for The Clash? I’ll tell you who: it was their buddy, Don Letts. He must have had some primo weed to share. Has Don Letts ever shot an effective frame of video or film? Whoever directed Rude BoyRay Gange, no? – knew how to capture The Power and Glory Rock as done by The Clash. Check this simple, effective, attractive live footage out, as directed by Ray Gange!

Letts, on the other hand, makes everything look like amateur video not worth watching on YouTube. Here’s a Letts film – posted on YouTube – of Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers playing “Chinese Rocks” in 1976. This should be exciting, important footage. Instead, it’s crap! You’ll likely have trouble making it through to the end.

I don’t have to waste your time with the video for “Rock the Casbah”, do I? If ever an overdue bad hit song by a band I loved needed a great video to make me feel more enthusiastic it was “Rock the Casbah”. Instead…more G.I. Joe nonsense. What is it with The Stones and The Clash needing to play soldier and gangster in their videos? How friggin’ tough do they need to be? Couldn’t they have had fun with it and made a video like the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”? Don’t tell me that’s the point of “Undercover of the Night”. You know Mick’s auditioning for that big film role opposite Michael Douglas, and Keef hasn’t looked so dedicated to a part since the sessions for Exile on Main Street.

I’m confident in proclaiming that Letts had no idea where to point a camera. Yeah, he got to hang out with cool musicians during an important time in rock history. His weed was outstanding. He was great company. However, his video documents of this important age suck! You know, his The Punk Rock Movie is the only punk rock film I walked out on during my formative years. Absolutely terrible. Letts single-handedly ruined a key claim to The Clash’s legacy.


  30 Responses to “Inherently Cool Artists That Failed to Capitalize on the Video Age”

  1. I’m not a big Don Letts fan at all, but I think the Heartbreakers video is pretty good. Not for the filming per say, but the concept is pretty ahead of its time. I don’t think they had the multi-scene, “life of a rocker”, type videos in 1976. This has become a staple, but back then it was new.

    I always hated the Clash videos from “Combat Rock” but they were effective in getting them in with the MTV crowd and led to their “Us festival” and Who gigs.

  2. saturnismine

    the “video killed the radio star” thread!

    first, regarding the two bands mentioned:

    the stones “video” of jumpin jack flash (the makeup version we were discussing here this past spring) may not be a part of the mtv video era, but it’s a trail blazing piece of imagery for 1968.

    i always thought the clash’s “radio clash” video was friggin’ AWESOME.

    but i still agree that they didn’t really capitalize…

    now, on to the question at hand:

    hmmm….the sex pistols were unbelievably cool guys who, for obvious reasons, didn’t capitalize on the video age.

    alice cooper was cool, too. no good videos. same with iggy.

    how do people feel about the jam’s videos? are they a counter example to the clash? or are their videos just as bad? i happen to like them….but i’m probably the most biased flag waving jam fan on this list, and would defer to more detached opinions (haters stay away).

  3. Mr. Moderator

    When I think “Jam videos” I think Rick Buckler running down the street in “Absolute Beginners”. Then I start to laugh and pick up the phone to call E. Pluribus, who shares my sense of humor over this image.

    Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop couldn’t buy a hit song worth dumping $100,000 into for a video by the early ’80s and beyond, so they don’t count. Also, we’ll discount pre-video “promotional films.” Some of them, like that Stones one you cite, are great, but they are not part of the “Video Age.”

    Don Letts did the video for The Pretenders’ “Back on the Chain Gang”. That’s pretty lame too. Don Letts is terrible.

  4. saturnismine

    yeah, don letts blows.

    i have the jam boxed set, and yeah, buckler run’s like a girl. but there’s nothing more awkward than watching weller waddle down the street in woking. you call that running? quack quack.

    other videos, however, are QUITE good: art school? when you’re young? start? these are full blown concept videos that set a rather high bar for a video network that, remarkably, hadn’t even been conceived let alone begun broadcasting yet.

    with music and videos i’m not exactly sure where the cart is in relation to the horse in the late 70s / early 80s, but i have a feeling it wasn’t as simple as you suggest, mod: videos didn’t get made if a song was a hit. videos were helping songs to become hits.

    there was a transition period when bands were making concept videos but mtv didn’t exist yet.

    and i think there was a prejudice against established acts and their potential to use video. the assumption in that period was that established acts couldn’t use video as effectively as others.

    alice cooper is a good case study example: “clones (we’re all)” was a minor hit in the gary numan / bleak-orwellian- future mode that receives good video support:

    but as i say, it was a minor hit. a tree that feel in the woods.

    people, i urge you to watch this video. it’s quite a hoot. and it has inspired me to have the photon band cover this song (maybe not saturday night, but probably on monday in d.c. as part of the solo show).

  5. saturnismine

    ermmm…a tree that FELL in the woods.

  6. saturnismine

    oh crap. i wasn’t finished making my point, i was so blown away by that alice cooper video.

    but anyway, mod, you ask for cool acts who “fail to capitalize on the video age”. and there’s alice cooper, resident cool guy, trying his damndest to capitalize on the video age, to push his single up the charts with a promo video, and failing, for whatever reason.

    so i don’t think that bands had to have a hit first, and then decide to pump 100g’s into making a video, as you suggest where you write that “Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop couldn’t buy a hit song worth dumping $100,000 into for a video by the early ’80s and beyond, so they don’t count.”.

    It’s just not that simple.

    the video money was already being budgeted for whatever single a label was going to release. videos were already being made speculatively in most cases.

    okay, i’m done now.

  7. I love the Waiting on a Friend video.
    Harlem Shuffle and One Hit to the Body
    are fucking pathetic.

    The Clash should have done a high quality NYC street video.

  8. Mr. Moderator

    “Waiting on a Friend” is by far the best Stones video; it’s pretty good, but it mainly succeeds by cutting out almost everyone but the Glimmer Twins, no?

  9. hrrundivbakshi

    I’ve always been partial to the “It’s Only Rock and Roll” vuh-deo — you know, the one where the tent the Stones are playing in gets filled up with foam? Also, watching Bill Wyman comedy gold (as well as that woman’s huge cannons) in the “She Was Hot” video.

  10. Mr. Moderator

    So what I’m hearing from some of you is that the Stones did capitalize on the video age? Mmm….

    Anyone but Andyr willing to step up to the plate for the works of Don Letts? Townsman Berlyant, you’ve been known to suprise me.

  11. hrrundivbakshi

    Mod, I’d be curious to get your thoughts. Charlie Watts tries to steal the show with some choice slapstick/schtickola, but, as always, Wyman rules the frames.

  12. mockcarr

    Monday night, I will chant Clones (We’re all) until you perform this song. Nevermind how I will communicate parenthesis! I can see the poignancy now, a solitary figure singing “I’m all alone, so are we all” in the persona of a clone. I feel a real sympathy for Six in this song, such a dumpy and ungainly number on it’s on it’s own but with the help of a nine perhaps he could be sexy, or with two more clones he could summon the power of the beast.

    Some band should collect songs such as this and call themselves the Stem Cells.

    I particularly like the continuous traffic on the overpass going on behind them.

  13. mockcarr

    Man, in that Stones video everything goes flaccid except the cheesy guy losing his trouser buttons in the wicker chair. Are the stones implying they’ve been rendered impotenet by Anita Morris? Even the virile image Charlie’s sticks are thrown prematurely.

    Of course, I know why Fritz likes it, flames are coming out of her butt.

  14. alexmagic

    Bowie seems like the most wasted sure-thing potential for the video age. He had “Ashes to Ashes” and maybe the Screaming Lord Nelson parts of “Blue Jean” and then…what, nothing worthwhile until he’s trying to kill Trent Reznor in Manhattan? “Let’s Dance” might be the worst and most muddled story video for any major artist.

    I’m in total agreement that “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll” is a great video, what with the bubbles, the inexplicable sailor suits, Mick’s half-hearted mugging, Wyman not even being able to work himself into a sway and Charlie almost dying. Being suffocated by foam while wearing a sailor’s hat and rolling his eyes at the indignity of it all somehow seems like the perfect way for Charlie to die. The decision to shoot “Emotional Rescue” in Predator-vision was certainly interesting. The “Waiting On a Friend” video is better when you realize how similar it is to a certain TV institution, but I don’t want to steal someone’s line before he gets a chance to use it.

    All their videos from Steel Wheels on have been horrible, though. Mick’s workout outfit in the “Mixed Emotions” video is an externalized badge of Stones shame writ large in yellow and blue.

  15. saturnismine

    charlie, i’m glad you like the “clones” video! thanks for watching!

    yeah, the traffic in the background is GREAT. it made me think that at any second, a junkyard dog would come flying in from off screen and start chewing on the guys in the back while alice kept doing his weird, skinny robot dealio.

    i’m kind of bummed that this discussion has quickly become about mostly the stones. they were amusing and awkward as a video entitty, but hardly the most interesting video purveyors of rock video during the medium’s vital years, even within the parameters of mr. mod’s question. blah.

    the vital years of rock videos (late 70s, early 80s) have a much richer field of material and questions than that!…so much more to offer!

    one of the subtexts here is “cool” versus “nerdy”. devo and the talking heads predate the mtv era, but their visual aspect was highly developed, and they DID make the transition. they were also far from “cool”.

    but here’s the ultimate example of a “cool” band may or may not have failed to capitalize on the early rush to promo their band with video / film imagery:

    the ramones.

    they had a fun movie, surely a part of the phenomenon, but did the “capitalize” on the early video age? ‘dunno.

  16. BigSteve

    I like the It’s Only Rock & Roll video too. Mick Taylor looks as usual like he’d rather be anywhere else.

    I haven’t seen/listened to it in a long time. Isn’t it true that the audio for the song in that video is not the same version of the song that appears on the album?

  17. Mr. Moderator

    Hrrundi asked:

    Mod, I’d be curious to get your thoughts.

    Is it a coincidence that Ron Wood’s guitar neck is flaccid?

    Jagger and Richards look like dualing matriarchs from Falcon Crest.

    The brief rockabilly/jukebox scene was promising if only for seeing, albeit briefly, them with their first half-decent Look of the ’80s.

    Where’s 2000 Man on an important day like this? Hopefully having some summer fun.

  18. saturnismine

    charlie, i meant to say as well: if you show up and chant “clones (we’re all)” throuought my solo set, you will have made me very happy indeed! you may even heckle! it pleases me more than people talking amongst themselves while i play.

  19. BigSteve

    I don’t know if it’s by Don Letts or not, but the original London Calling video — where they’re playing in the rain on a barge on the river — is pretty cool.

  20. Mr. Moderator

    Bowie and The Ramones are two more GREAT examples of bands who failed to capitalize on the video age when, by all rights, they should have dominated. Bowie studied mime, for crying out loud! And can you imagine The Ramones set in some Flaming Carrot comic book setting? I can.

    Speaking of The Ramones, I was watching that ESPN mini-series, The Bronx Is Burning, last night, and I kept getting bugged by the constant use of Ramones songs for the soundtrack. The 60,000 people attending Yankees games were not actually listening to The Ramones, were they? I know their music actually has come to represent that place and time, but in romanticizing that era, are we excusing all those who were listening to ’70s AOR crap during that period? “Normal” people should be forced to re-live their sins, not imagine a time when they were imagined to have been hip and vital.

  21. Mr. Moderator

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on that “London Calling” video, BigSteve. I always found it as ponderous as the song itself.

  22. The “Waiting On a Friend” video is better when you realize how similar it is to a certain TV institution, but I don’t want to steal someone’s line before he gets a chance to use it.

    This is my cue. This video always look to me like “The Stones visit Sesame Street.”

    As for Bowie, the “Boys Keep Swinging” video absolves all other missteps he made in this arena. I’m neither here nor there regarding the scenes of him in drag, but his suit, haircut and dance moves when he’s playing himself sum up all that makes him effortlessly cool in my book.

  23. One more thing: I think Don Letts’ reputation would be slightly better if one could find the original copies of videos like “London Calling” and “This is Radio Clash.” Every version I’ve ever seen looks like a 10th-generation VHS copy of a copy. This goes double for Julian Temple’s vid for The Kinks’ “Come Dancing.”

  24. Mr. Moderator

    Oats, nice crack about “Waiting on a Friend”!

    I saw “London Calling” when it was first broadcast, just like I saw The Punk Rock Movie the weekend it came out. Letts is the least-accomplished director, possibly, in history. Snuff films probably have better production values.

  25. One more thing: I think Don Letts’ reputation would be slightly better if one could find the original copies of videos like “London Calling” and “This is Radio Clash.” Every version I’ve ever seen looks like a 10th-generation VHS copy of a copy. This goes double for Julian Temple’s vid for The Kinks’ “Come Dancing.”

    I wasn’t aware that Don Letts is a candidate for a critical upgrade, but while I’m on the topic, I should point out a few other facts about him aside from his association with The Clash:
    1) He directed The Punk Rock Movie.
    2) He basically single-handedly introduced most of the London punk scene to reggae and dub by spinning those records in punk clubs.
    3) The first Big Audio Dynamite album, which Letts was a part of, is actually very good. I can’t say that for most of the rest of their catalog, but I think that album could really use a critical upgrade. I’m on it!

  26. meanstom

    You’re telling me Letts directed The Punk Rock Movie? I did not know that after Mr. Mod brought it up in a bunch of earlier posts:P Just messing with you berlyant.

    Maybe one reason the Clash and the Stones (and others mentioned) haven’t been able to capitalize on video opportunities is that they’re simply too strong of presences to be corralled in by all that nonsense.

  27. Am I the only one who thinks the “Rock the Casbah” video is — intentionally — quite funny?

  28. Mr. Moderator

    I would agree that it wants to be funny; I think it’s only mildly successful in being so.

  29. It pains me to weigh in with a Critical Downgrade for the “Waiting on a Friend” video. All I remembered of it was the iconic image of Keith walking down the street and he and Mick walking off in comradely fashion. I had forgotten what a tiny portion of the video that is.

    It’s said that one of the tests of a good actor is how he or she stands there doing nothing. At the beginning of this video, Mick fails miserably. “I’m just standin’ in a doorway”? Please.

    The barroom stuff is embarrassing. Charlie is the only one in the band who looks like he’s actually been in a neighborhood bar in 20 years.

  30. I think Letts was going for a more cinema verite approach, de-emphasizing the “star” of the band (which is what happens in the Rude Boy clip: Strummer gets all the exposure, Jones, a bit, others, none) and showing us the actual environment in which the band uis performing.

    Which is why I like The Punk Rock Movie. It shows the day to day life of punk musicians. Basically young kids, who are traveling low-budget, playing in run-down theatres, with the constant threat of violence in the air.

    You may not like the overall slopiness, but you have to admit that it captures the moment quite well.

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