I WAS just six years old but I can still remember the first time I knowingly watched a music video.
It was 1984 and BBC Two was dedicating a solid 15 hours broadcasting to a show called Rock Around the Clock. My dad, being the sort of bloke who would record every minute of Live Aid on VHS the following year, was determined to sit through the whole thing and encouraged me to do the same.
As the early evening approached, the presenter, who I think was the Old Grey Whistle Test’s David Hepworth, began trumpeting the fact that they’d be screening the full length version of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
My young heart leapt: since its late night premiere on Channel 4’s The Tube the year before, The King of Pop’s X-rated video had been the talk of the playground. A few brazen souls claimed they’d stayed up to watch (I just checked and it was shown at 11pm), others said their older brothers had it “on pirate”. All agreed it was the scariest thing they’d ever seen and that it would blow your tiny little mind if you caught a glimpse of Jacko actually turning into a wolf.
With this in mind I began a campaign to make my dad let me watch it. To his credit he wasn’t sure: “you’ll have nightmares and your mum will be angry with me” were the two reasons given, but after stamping my feet I got my way.
Thirty minutes later I was a gibbering wreck as the sight of Rick Baker’s still incredible looking make-up transformed Jackson into a monstrous freak (something he sadly managed to do to himself in later years just as effectively). Dad had to help me upstairs where the light was kept on all night – so traumatised was I that it took until the release of Bad for me to be able to listen to Jacko again.
As a child of the 80s and a teenager in the 90s, I was well placed to fully enjoy the video revolution that swept through the music business with the advent of MTV. For a time, videos seemed just as important as the song and as a brilliant new exhibition at Liverpool’s FACT shows, that era produced some absolute classics.
The Art of Pop Video, which runs until May 26, made me think fondly about some of the videos I’ve loved over the years. Saturday lunchtimes were dominated by sore knees as I crouched in front of the video recorder watching ITV’s Chart Show. Back then I’d usually be taping the indie charts, waiting for the uniform clip of a load of bored looking blokes playing guitars and wearing black with a white backdrop.
Thankfully, there was far more creativity going on elsewhere – and here are a few of my own personal highlights from an age when pop videos weren’t just something on in the background when you go to the gym.
Sexiest video: Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game sees Chris and Helena Christensen rolling and frolicking around on a beach in Hawaii in black and white. Simple, effective, devastating.
Funniest video: Plenty of contenders but the Beastie Boys’ epic Sabotage – a perfect blend of dumb-ass riffs and ‘70s cop cliches – is still hilarious. The makers of Anchorman owe it a lot.
Most moving video: Watching an almost visibly aging Johnny Cash play out his last rites in the video Hurt felt almost voyeuristic but there was a dignity and strength about his and wife June’s performances that was heartbreaking in its intensity. Both were dead within the year.
Video that almost got me beaten up: Watching the video for The Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony while drunk in a city centre bar in 1997 gave me a misplaced sense of confidence I now regret.