REVIEWS -- JUNE 26, 2000


                        NOTE: I was, once again, despairing the lack of new and interesting videos on MTV and VH1 when BET stepped up to bat with its “N-2:B” countdown. It stands for something like “Notarized 2: Black in the Day,” but what it boils down to is that channel’s ranking of the top 100 old-school jams of all-time. So there’s a lot of primitive crap, video-wise, here, and a lot of already-covered territory. (Um, yeah, “Thriller” is #1.) For this barren music-video week, though, 12 highlights from that countdown will do just fine.

DeBarge – Rhythm of the Night (1984)
 (*)  The Great GheriCurl Shortage of 1984 can be traced directly back to this video from DeBarge. So can the behavior of the Carlton character on “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” If not for the pussified honky antics of DeBarge, Carlton would have grown up to be quite a G, indeed. You know, it truly astounds me that, every time BET tries to compile the best black videos ever, this one always pops up. I mean, really, these guys are a half-step away from being Menudo. It’s the wardrobe (think mismatched selections from the Six Flags “MakeYour Own Video” costume rack) and the hair that bother me more than anything else, but the choreographed dance scene at the gas station doesn’t help matters much, either. And don’t tell me it’s just loving homage to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.” –Andrew Hicks

Michael Jackson – Smooth Criminal (1988)
Michael Jackson - Smooth Criminal
     (**½)  Okay, BET has the right idea by showing the full 10-minute version of this video from Moonwalker and not the bullshit, four-minute version MTV always used to show. No, this is a fairly badass video – as badass as any Michael Jackson video can rightfully be expected to be – and it has some decent choreographed dancing and a beginning, middle and end. “Smooth Criminal” takes place in a smoky, ‘30s-style warehouse nightclub, where Michael breezes in wearing his tailored white suit, seduces a group of flappers and pisses off the resident gangsters. They chase him upstairs, he kicks their asses and actually shoots one through a body-outline hole in the wall. (It’s better seen and laughed-at than described here by the likes of me.) The best sequence, as always, is the primal-scream breakdown, where the music stops and everyone gathers around Michael, who then proceeds to lead them in choreographed dance. Hey, it worked on the zombies, why wouldn’t it placate some old-school gangsters? –AH
Michael Jackson - Smooth Criminal

Chaka Khan – I’m Every Woman (1979)
     (zero)  I’m trying my hardest to keep in mind that this is from 1979, and that it’s motivated an entire generation of battered housewives and closeted Studio 54 patrons. The fact remains, though, this is one godawful video. Never mind that the entire thing is shot on a single undecorated black soundstage – my beef is that the only concept anyone involved in the video could come up with was to literally have Chaka portray “every woman.” That includes the woman in the black jumpsuit, the woman in the Cyndi Lauper prom dress, the woman in the spangled coconut bra, the woman in the pastel casual-wear and the woman in the strapless aqua nightclub dress. It’s an entire gender of tackiness, all contained in three minutes’ time, and BET mercifully saw fit to cut it off before its conclusion. For once, I’m not complaining about a music video channel’s cutting for time. –AH

L.L. Cool J – I Need Love (1987)
     (*½)  One way you could tell an old-school rapper wasn’t remotely hardcore was the standard love ballad, and I think L.L.’s “I Need Love” is one of the lamest. Okay, so it’s a tossup between this and M.C. Hammer’s “Have You Seen Her,” but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more unintentionally funny rap video from a late-‘80s superstar. SAMPLE LYRIC: “I searched the whole world for a special girl / When I finally find you I’ll let my love unfurl.” That’s just one cheesy couplet in a song full of them (although it wins Grand Prize for using the word “unfurl”), as L.L. takes time out of his manic tour to be introspective and let his Adidas sag. He turns turn offers to party from his posse and sex-starved female fans, and there’s some kind of running plotline about an exiled girlfriend whose father tears down a poster of L.L. (“What’d I tell you about these rap guys!”) But L.L. catches up to her, takes her in the limo and shows her the world while making dozens of idly rapped promises. I can see the marketing value of showing your sensitive side and all – I’m sure the big-haired teenage girls of 1987 ate this shit up – but to me, “I Need Love” only says one thing. What a pussy. –AH

Mary Jane Girls – In My House (1985)
     (**½)  The Mary Jane Girls were Rick James’ answer to Prince-assembled girl groups like Vanity 6 and Appollonia 6, neither of which were any good aside from a couple of half-hearted Prince-machine singles. I can’t really vouch for Mary Jane 6, though, except to say I like this song and am damn sure Rick kept them in line. Oh, and their white girl isn’t nearly as skanky as the one from Vanity 6. That said, these girls can’t dance worth a shit, and the lead singer is dolled up in so many hair beads that she looks like a female version of Rick James himself. (Or maybe Rick formed the group to cater to his Dirty Secret; I don’t know.) The director took the song’s title to heart, at least – the entire video takes place in and outside a brothel-looking dwelling. And, yeah, there’s a shot of the female Rick James in the bathtub, blowing seductive suds off her hand in slow motion. Kind of creepy, Rick-girl, but this isn’t half-bad. –AH

Prince and The Revolution – When Doves Cry (1984)
     (**)  I’ve had a lot of people ask why, if I’m such a Prince fan, I haven’t reviewed his staple 1984 hit, “When Doves Cry,” in nearly two years of weekly postings. The answer should be obvious – I wince at The Prince Formerly Known As The Artist’s fruitiness and pretentiousness, and I don’t like videos that are assembled primarily from movie clips. So, for me, “When Doves Cry” is at times the worst of both worlds and, as one of the classic Prince tunes even the outside world can get into, it deserves a much better video than it got. The video begins with a nude Prince (shot from the waist up, thank Christ) climbing out of a bathtub and crawling methodically across the floor to his purple fedora. Then, some Purple Rain clips. Then, Prince lip synching into the mirror at his makeup table. Then, like two minutes of Purple Rain clips. Finally, the video settles into a single sparse set with a staircase and Prince’s band, The Revolution, dressed in the clothes Prince no doubt forced them to wear. And, for all this nonsense, the only cool part of the video is the stuff BET just faded out, where Prince writhes and screams during a cheap but trippy mirror-image effect. It deserves better, but BET just stripped “When Doves Cry” of all its value, and that’s not cool. –AH

Public Enemy – Fight the Power (1989)
     (***½)  The last time BET had one of these Top 100 countdowns, it showed a version of “Fight the Power” that consisted entirely of clips from Do the Right Thing. This time, we get the Spike Lee-directed video in all its glory, including the newsreel intro with clips of a 1963 march on D.C. Lee cuts to Public Enemy frontman Chuck D, who immediately dismisses the clip, announcing, “We ain’t goin’ out like that ’63 nonsense.” No, the only way to effect change in this day and age (or, in 1989, anyway) is to organize a Brooklyn mob and wear a shitload of wall clocks around your neck. (The message? It’s “time” to kill whitey.) “Fight the Power” is one of the great ‘80s rap videos, with Lee’s constantly roving camera highlighting the contrast in the crowd, from regular citizens and Black Panthers to war veterans and uncomfortable-looking Nation of Islam members. Among the protest signs are people declaring their love for Flavor Flav, who is too crack-addled and weighed down in wall clocks to do anything about it. You have to wonder if Chuck D ever wished that crazy little bastard would just go away for awhile so he could preach to his people in peace. –AH

Sade – Is It a Crime? (1985)
     (***)  I used to consider the Sade greatest hits album a black sheep in my collection – it was one of those dastardly “featured selections” from Columbia House, and I didn’t send the card in on time. But, with age and one of its natural byproducts (a condition I refer to as “VH1 ears), I’ve gained an affinity for the silky, adult-contemporary jazz of Sade. Still, I was surprised to see this pop up in the Top 15 of BET’s old-school countdown. It’s one of the whitest videos I’ve ever seen, a subdued, noir-ish epic that focuses mostly on an abusive Mafioso boyfriend riding in the back of a limo, fingers curled around his face, which reads regret. He’s lost his sweet Sade, who spends the duration of the video singing from inside a loft, first with her band and later alone while staring out a foggy window, upon which someone has fingered in the word “temor,” Spanish for “fear.” Yeah, this is some pretentious shit, but it’s also highly classy and a lot more involved than most videos from 1985. Lest you forget, Phil Collins had like six #1 hits that year. –AH

Salt-N-Pepa – Push It (1986)
     (***)  I guess I never realized that Salt-N-Pepa had disappeared. I vaguely remember a comeback attempt from about three years ago, but have those girls done anything since? I guess, in the anything-goes days of Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown, Salt-N-Pepa is best off just throwing in the proverbial towel. But I think the group filled a certain niche no other female rappers can duplicate, if just for their continued quality “Hot 5 at 9” novelty material. From “Shoop” to “Let’s Talk About Sex,” Salt-N-Pepa always threw carnal-pop jams our way, and it all started with “Push It.” This 1986 dance track is a simple, DJ-driven song with at least four or five lyrical hooks and playful lyrics. The video, made in the days when SNP couldn’t exactly command a huge budget, is simple lip-synch performance footage filmed on a concert stage, but Salt, Pepa and their DJ, Spinderella, are all young and vibrant. “Push It” is just fun to watch, and those custom-made jackets would have been huge if they’d gone into wide release. –AH

Vanity 6 – Nasty Girl (1982)
     (*½)  For die-hard Prince collectors, a copy of the Vanity 6 album can run a lot of money. It’s rare and way out of print, but I found mine in the stacks of a used-CD store a couple years ago for $5.99. And I still don’t quite consider it a bargain – aside from “Nasty Girl,” a stripper staple and valuable ‘80s-funk novelty song, the album is horrible. And the video isn’t much of an improvement. It’s of early-‘80s-porn quality and in fact looks like a prelude to a bad lesbian sex scene. The girls “come to life” while inside glass cases (actually, I think they’re just standing behind some Plexiglas) on a dark set and proceed to writhe and lip synch. They disappear behind some doors and reappear a second later, via a bad edit job, decked out in elaborate, ugly lingerie. Prince may have loved every second of this, but I could definitely do without. –AH

Jody Watley – Looking For a New Love (1987)
     (**½)  Oh, the grass was greener on the other side of Shalamar for Jody Watley, who parlayed her adult-contemporary funk into a fairly successful ‘80s career. Or, I should say, her writers, producers and A+R people did. I review “Looking For a New Love” mainly for contrast to earlier gems of tackiness like “I’m Every Woman” and “Rhythm of the Night.” This is just as fluffy, but the video director at least knew he needed to muster up some sex appeal, some set changes and fairly engaging images. To wit, we see Jody writhing in front of showers of sparks, Jody’s legs protruding from a pair of silk sheets and Jody tossed into some house-of-mirrors effects. Amid all these set and costume changes, the director also creates a unifying element – Jody’s enormous hoop earrings. I mean, those things are as big as lawnmower tires. –AH

Stevie Wonder – Part-Time Lover (1985)
     (**)  You know it really wouldn’t be that hard to cheat on Stevie Wonder. You’d just have to be very, very quiet. In “Part-Time Lover,” though, it’s Stevie who does the cheating – this is an ode to ‘80s promiscuity that has Stevie working out an elaborate series of signals to his “part-time lover” to keep the tenured lover from finding out. “If she’s at home, I’ll blink the lights…” he sings wryly… Okay, so it’s not that elaborate a system, but the video is none too elaborate itself. It involves a lot of shadows, trench coats and drawn neon blinds with silhouettes dancing behind them. Oh, and since this is from the In Square Circle album, it shows Stevie performing from within a lot of square and circle shapes. It’s really not the quality of music video that a legend like Stevie deserves, but then again, his output in the ‘80s wasn’t usually of much quality either. An exception, also from In Square Circle, is the beautiful “Overjoyed,” but I guess I should be glad Stevie didn’t decide to make a video of that one. –AH


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