Greetings, my folkie/roots friends. Allow me once again to guide you through the impacted bowels of popular culture, a place where attention to craft and creativity and ability becomes yet one more example of an Increasingly Endangered Species.
If you’re under 30, you may have been brought up to believe that music videos were dreamt up and created by the geniuses at MTV, with more than a little help from Michael Jackson (who was the King of Pop in more ways than one. You see, he really loved playing “Pop” to a revolving set of… oh, we’ll leave that for another time). When you hear a particular Huey Lewis song, you’re likely to envision his singing, smirking face sticking out of the sand on a beach, and that “so c—” image will never, ever leave its room in your mind’s eye.
You’re not only wrong, you’re branded. But there is hope; it’s not the end of the world. Just your own, but for my intercession. This might be a valuable, educational lesson for some of you, and will allow me to play teacher while I’m dressed up like a little schoolgirl.
As soon as sound and film first experienced intercourse, music and image have been inexhaustible in their exhibitionistic rutting. Films of Big Bands in performance enthralled moviegoers between features, causing them to rush out and buy that band’s latest releases… and future releases too, if they had staying power and that something that signifies greatness.
The modern “pop” era probably began with “rock and roll” in the early fifties of the last century. An artist’s career careened on his vocal ability and physical appeal being in superb balance with the various songs he sang, which were composed by songwriters or teams or committees, very few of whom were talented enough to perform themselves. Once a chart hit was achieved, a 12-song album would follow, featuring that hit and a majority of filler songs from the factory, some of which might eventually prove themselves mighty good, too, enhancing the careers of the singer and the songwriters, greasing the path for another song, another hit, another album… and frequently a short film of the performer singing the song. Mostly, these short films were actually on film, but on occasion they’d be shot on real cheesy-looking videotape. In those ancient times, my children, MTV hadn’t even developed as a dormant sperm cell in the undescended huevos of little Baby-Pop.
Upon knocking the United States for a loop and pretty much the rest of civilization shortly thereafter, four young Englishmen modestly began changing the world. February 9, 1964, was the date these cats grabbed the culture by the short hairs (well before we seemed to have evolved past them) and dragged us along their masterful path.
They called themselves the Osmond Brothers.
That was just to see if you were paying attention. Of course, even the youngest of you know whom I’m referring to as a group, and you can probably name the four members as well. But what you’d benefit from understanding (if you don’t already) is exactly where they placed the bar during their ensuing six-year existence.
Think high. Real high. So high that nobody’s been able to touch it yet. Until my next album comes out, nobody will (I love dreaming).
These guys not only performed, they wrote most of their songs themselves. Their latest album would certainly contain their recent smash hit, but the other songs on the album were more than just perky filler — they were conceived and performed by themselves, and they were mostly incredibly good, greater than anything else being done by anyone else in the same language.
Why hadn’t this been done before? “Cause no one else had that much talent. They might write, but lacked as performers. Or vice versa. But this group had it all, and they deluded far too many others into thinking that they had that ability, too. Other groups started popping up like the anxious hairs on a neglected chin, and just as persistently grew in our collective conscience. They’d have a hit and an album would follow, and if they too were writing most of their own stuff, they’d get special attention, and we’d convince ourselves that they too were prodigies.
In doing so we unknowingly began lowering our standards. What was essentially banal was considered brilliant. Listen, I’ve spoken to God about this and He says I’m right, so there. Anyway, the real popular groups would create a short film or video where they lip-synced to their latest hit, and these were used for local and national promotions on television shows.
What set our Genius group apart here too was their creation of what came to be thought of as the “concept video,” even if there wasn’t really a “concept.” For the first time, you weren’t watching the group singing the song; you’d be watching them walking around or riding horses or running backwards and flying up a tree…
It was riveting. It was freaky. It was haunting. It was genius. It was nearly 25 years before MTV.
In the interim, nearly every other group (wrongly) convinced of its own genius made videos and continued to write their own songs, which were mostly mediocre but which the public readily digested, being without much true nourishment after the death of the Geniuses.
We elevate the mediocre. Quick cuts have come to signify excitement, but are mostly a director’s lazy way around action he hasn’t the talent to stage. Speaking to a beat is now considered not only true artistry but actual music. The mechanical, robotic jerking of a wind-machine-blown, lip-glossed female in some sort of insatiable estrus is commonly accepted as state-of-the-art Dance. Air guitar has become a new art form and air sex is chomping at tomorrow’s bit, in a world of air talent. With all that movement, those cosmetically enhanced faces and those electronically altered vocals, each video’s very essence is what will immediately pop up in our minds whenever we hear that song for the rest of our lives.
When you begin starving for the Osmonds, you’ll know where I’m at now.
May God be merciful to you and your want. And without actually hurting the fellow, could He please have the tide come in and cover Huey’s yapping head?
I prefer my art to be artful. May yours be so as well through a happy Christmas and imposing year ahead. And watch that tongue on New Year’s eve — its taste is