Video killed my evening plans

You’ve seen it on hundreds of blogs — a list of 100 great books or 100 great movies, with the blogger commenting on the ones he or she has or has not seen or read.

I don’t have that kind of attention span, so I’m going to do the same thing with Stylus’ list of 100 music videos. And with the exception of Fake Plastic Trees, I’m not going to watch the ones I haven’t seen yet — at least, not now. Sorry, but there’s only so much procrastinating I can do here.

Besides, this’ll be a good comment on the videos of my generation and slightly beyond. Remember — I’m old.

98. Cure, Lovesong — It’s OK, but I don’t see anything that special about it.

96. Robert Palmer, Addicted to Love — Memorable image, but that doesn’t make it good. I’m sorry, but I don’t find pasty-faced expressionless women attractive. And then Palmer kept repeating it in other videos.

95. Billy Joel, Pressure — Great song, despite Stylus’ protests, but the video is kind of silly.

94. David Bowie and Bing Crosby, Little Drummer Boy — Yes, I’d love to know the backstory on this. It actually sounds pretty good, but the awkward video just makes you scream “WTF?”

88. Nine Inch Nails, Closer — Yawn. Brings back memories of all the kids on Prodigy’s message boards saying this was a great make-out song because he says “I wanna f— you like an animal.” Our generation really needed a Barry White.

87. Duran Duran, Hungry Like the Wolf — I actually kind of preferred Rio, but this one is unforgettable.

83. Peter Gabriel, Shock the Monkey — One of the first videos I ever saw. At least, one of the first videos I *remember* seeing, just before I got MTV. I’ve always interpreted it as a man whose moral dilemma spirals into a fantasy fueled by paranoia and incomplete notions of spirituality. No?

81. Radiohead, Fake Plastic Trees — Addressed here, and for all the great Radiohead videos on this list, they forgot High and Dry. The image of the woman in the diner with a resigned look on her face singing along to “screaming out” is one of those wonderful multilayered expressions artists often claim to be doing and are not.

77. Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit — Made you watch long enough to realize how brilliant the song was. So started a brief but powerful career.

71. Lisa Loeb, Stay (I Missed You) — We get it. Lisa Loeb wears glasses, but that makes her cool. It didn’t work for me in high school, and I don’t buy the double-standard.

62. Duran Duran, Girls on Film — This video wouldn’t load for me, which is too bad — you rarely see the uncensored version. It’s the sort of voyeurism that so strange and creepy that kids can’t help but look, even if it means they’re turned off from actual sex for another couple of years. So perhaps this video should be seen as some sort of public service in the fight against teen pregnancy and STDs.

61. Michael Jackson, Billie Jean — I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but you don’t see this kind of storytelling in videos any more.

59. Judas Priest, Breaking the Law — Considering how over-the-top metal videos would get later in the decade, this one is kind of refreshing.

57. Bjork, Human Behavior — This one’s brilliant, both in concept and in all the details. Bjork turns in one of the best acting performances you’ll ever see in a video, running through subtle facial expressions to convey empathy and frustration. She can be frustrating because her artistic ambitions can lead her down some bizarre paths. But when it works, it works. And you have to love a song that uses tympani for the bass line. (Yes, I played tympani in college. My senior recital tape is not yet available on eBay.)

56. Chris Isaak, Wicked Game — Yeah, yeah, Herb Ritts does black-and-white photography on the beach, and this is intense foreplay, blah blah blah. It’s all a little too affected for me.

55. Talking Heads, Wild Wild Life — Of this list of 100, this may be the best video I’d forgotten. John Goodman is indeed a trip, and it’s a wonderful idea to run a bunch of characters through the lead role. (Also seen in Jeff Beck’s video for Ambitious, in which a bunch of singers trade off the vocals.) The song itself isn’t bad, propelled by a typically inventive Tina Weymouth bass line.

53. Jamiroquai, Virtual Insanity — Agree wholeheartedly with the review. If the effect is that cool, just run with it.

49. Nada Surf, Popular — I have a couple of issues with the lyrics. I don’t get the joke about washing hair every two weeks. How many quarterbacks also write for the school paper? The video itself is a just a literal reading of the song. Maybe that’s nit-picking. It’s a good song that takes a distinctive approach that happens to work. Worth noting — Nada Surf has more than one good song.

48. Nirvava, Heart-Shaped Box — One of Cobain’s best songs. The video overreaches and is hard to decipher, but it’s worth checking out.

47. Fatboy Slim, Weapon of Choice — Bill Bryson has a good take on appreciating moments of inspiration, saying he could stand on a beach for eternity and it would never occur to him to turn the stuff on which he’s standing into glass. I know how he feels. I could brainstorm my whole life, and I would never think to ask Christopher Walken to dance and fly around an empty hotel lobby to escape from his character’s humdrum life. That’s why Spike Jonze gets the big bucks.

45. White Stripes, Fell in Love With a Girl — Perfect song to unleash the Legos. I don’t know why, either. It just works.

42. Radiohead, Karma Police — It’s difficult to do a video that matches a methodically paced song without boring viewers, but this one does the trick.

41. Guns n’ Roses, November Rain — And sometimes, artistic overreach does NOT work. Music critics who slag Rush and Yes for their nine-minute epics but drool uncontrollably over this piffle are hypocrites.

40. Smashing Pumpkins, Tonight Tonight — It’s different, sure, and it’s a good song. Wouldn’t make my top 10 list, but I wouldn’t turn it off.

31. Human League, Don’t You want Me — Have to give them credit for digging up this one. Several ’80s bands figured out that acting ability was just as essential as musical talent. Human League had both, to be honest. The storytelling in both song and video is impeccable.

29. Weezer, Buddy Holly — This to me was always the song on the album that makes you think, “Yeah, that’s OK.” And then you’re stunned to hear it played 3,987,284 times on the radio in the next month. As far as shout-outs to Happy Days go, Family Guy is doing it better.

27. Michael Jackson, Thriller — Lots of money, not many ideas.

24. Madonna, Like a Prayer — Nah. I don’t buy it.

22. Foo Fighters, Everlong — The song is one of my all-time favorites. You just don’t get many sentimental love songs that (A) have original expressions and (B) rock! Making a video for such a song is challenging, and this is a creative solution — make it funny, yet also sweet.

20. Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime — One of the early pace-setters for video creativity. Still one of the pace-setters. Makes me wish video directors would go low-budget every once in a while to come up with something novel rather than something expensive.

17. R.E.M., Losing My Religion — A little affected at times, but it generally works in matching — and enhancing — the song’s tone of frustration in difficult surroundings. The intro — Mills, Buck and Berry walking in various states of urgency — sets the stage for the ominous chords that follow. Even after Weird Al’s great commentary (“the roof is collapsing!”), it stands up.

15. Peter Gabriel, Sledgehammer — I can never get past the fact that the song is a blatant rip of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, one of the most important songs ever recorded.

14. Beastie Boys, Sabotage — Take a song with ’70s bass effects and set it underneath a ’70s cop show. Can’t beat that.

13. Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues — One of those ideas that doesn’t really make any sense but just sticks in your head until it becomes part of the pop culture canon.

11. Fiona Apple, Criminal — The review is right. It’s provocative, and you don’t really want it to be. I’m not sure what women think of this song, but the male reaction is “Ewwww, I don’t find her attractive. Do I?”

5. Radiohead, Just — Won’t argue with this placement at all. A classic study of people trying to comprehend one man’s bizarre behavior. And what IF all the crazy people are actually sane?

4. A-Ha, Take on Me — Can’t argue with this one, either. You may find the song a little flimsy — it is — but as the backdrop for a story of a fantasy coming to life, it’s terrific.

Off the top of my head, the most disappointing omissions are the entire Men at Work catalog (those funny Aussies) and Ice Cube’s It Was a Good Day. Seriously, they have tons of hip-hop videos in here, and they leave out the one that actually says something AND is entertaining to boot?

(By the way — is there a special insulting word yet for these asshats who take a video from MTV or Comedy Central and superimpose their own “corporate” logo on it? Oh yeah, what a great business plan — steal copyrighted material and slap “LaffRiotPromotion.com” on it as if WE are the only ones who had the brilliant idea in the first place. Well, I guess it worked for hip-hop.)


Give me tabs or give me … well, something reasonable

I’m not part of that geeky strain of libertarian who thinks the record industry should say, “Sure, download and copy everything for free!” I work in a content-generating business, and I know it always ticks ME off when I see that someone has just copied my stuff in a way that brings no revenue to the folks who pay my salary. (Yes, it has happened.) So I tend not to get all bent out of shape about things like copy protection.

And I definitely don’t buy the argument that we shouldn’t have any sympathy for the record industry because all they produce is crap. You’re not exactly helping the argument that the industry should be kinder to Guster by copying a bunch of Guster songs so that no one — including Guster — profits from the 30 Guster songs you have on the iPod.

But every once in a while, the record industry does something so outlandishly stupid that it’s difficult to muster up that grain of sympathy for them.

In this case, they’re going after guitar tab-sharing. For those of you who aren’t guitar players, “tabs” are a style of notating music to show you fingerings and effects and so forth. Basically, people pick out songs by ear, type up the results and submit them to a mailing list or Web site. (Of course, they’re often wrong. Of the eight versions of Purple Haze at one site, only this one gets the first four notes right — you HAVE to hit those notes on the A string — and it introduces some unusual fingerings and vague instructions. Buyer beware, but it’s free, so …)

The record industry, for some reason, doesn’t like this. One popular site that also featured some really neat drum tabs saw a looming threat and shut down. Another saw that threat beyond the “looming” stage and complied, but the proprietor left us with one of the best-reasoned rebuttals you’ll ever read.

His best points:

1. Suppose a guitar teacher teaches you how to play the riff from Purple Haze. Is that copyright infringement?

2. If companies that produce those horrendously overpriced sheet music books are worried about losing money, why not move aggressively online yourselves? (Mxtabs points out that its site generated thousands of dollars in sheet music sales.)

3. If I figure out a song on my own, I’m not violating copyright, but if I don’t have a great ear and turn to a tab-sharing site, I am?

There’s clearly a market for this sort of thing, and if music publishers would get with the program, they could make some money here. These tab-sharing sites are fun, but they’re far from authoritative.

So the record industry proves the geek-chic crowd right. And we all know how annoying that is.


Caddyshack: Pros and cons

Caddyshack is one of those films everyone has seen multiple times because it has such classic moments. Everyone can quote half of Bill Murray’s lines, and Chevy Chase puts in his best performance.

But the more you watch, the more flaws you notice.

– Maggie’s supposedly Irish accent drifts in and out like a distant radio signal.

– Several subplots and characterizations get such scant screen time and shoddy editing that we have no idea what they’re supposed to be. What’s the deal with Brian Doyle-Murray’s character? Why does Ty have a bunch of checks for $70,000 lying around?

– Bless his heart and rest in peace, but Rodney Dangerfield’s character gets grating on repeated viewing. We’re supposed to sympathize with him, but really, Ted Baxter has a point. I wouldn’t want him in my country club, were I ever to join one. (Which I don’t think I could do. I kind of wonder if country clubs will die out in our generation — I went to a school regarded as snobby and elitist, and I didn’t meet a bunch of country club prospects.)

On the other hand, some scenes get better. Cindy Morgan’s work (she’s Lacey, the stunning blonde) is underrated. (Did you know she’s legally blind without glasses? Neither did I.) The massage scene with Chevy Chase is brilliant, as is the little look she gives Michael O’Keefe when Ted Baxter is trying to impale him with a 3-iron.

Baxter is over the top in the final scenes, but you have to love his frustration as he starts deliver a stern lecture to O’Keefe, only to find a desk lamp spoiling the effect. That’s a subtle, clever touch.

Perhaps it just needed better editing. We really didn’t need the Maggie subplot — O’Keefe has enough on his plate. Tell me why the heck Ty has checks for $70K, or just lose the reference.

It doesn’t really need a plot — it’s one of those films that manages to pull off the loose collection of vignettes and character studies. But I wonder if Ramis would ever consider going back to the tape and trying to re-cut it.


Complex songs, simple videos

Fake Plastic Trees is Radiohead’s masterpiece. They seem to have lost their heads trying to determine where to go from there, and it’s understandable. There’s really nothing they — or any other band — can do in the same territory that won’t suffer by comparison.

I hadn’t seen the video for it until I stumbled into a Top 100 compiled by Stylus. I watched it for the first time this evening and … was not impressed.

I’m not sure a good video could be made for this one. Stylus claims the supermarket setting perfectly captures the alienation and dull conformity expressed in the song. But the song is about so much more than that. It’s not just some whiny Marxist or Billy Corgan rant about how boring life is because the suburbs are sterile.

Is alienation even the main theme of the song? I’d say no. It’s about the struggle to keep up appearances, to build facades to cover up those parts of ourselves we don’t like. Perhaps they’re keeping up appearances to meet some dull conformist standard, but not necessarily. And even so, what does any of it have to do with Thom Yorke scowling on a shopping cart?


If the ’60s had been snarky …

A hypothetical record review page if Blender or Pitchfork or whatever those VH1 guys write for existed in the ’60s:

JIMI HENDRIX, Are You Experienced?

For some reason, all these guitarists these days are just getting weird. Take Jimi Hendrix, who isn’t even playing notes. The titletrack has a bunch of woop-woop sounds. What’s that supposed to be? And then check out the lyrics on Purple Haze — “Excuse me while I kiss the sky?” Um, OK, what sort of social engagement were you having at which you’d need to say “excuse me” before kissing the sky. And is it really such a good idea to kiss the sky? I mean, the sky has been with everyone on Earth. Ewww. That makes Janis Joplin look like a nun.

Apparently, in concert, Hendrix plays the guitar with his teeth. Maybe he should do ads for dentists.

THE BEATLES, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Yeah, we know, these guys have been a campy diversion for a couple of years now. Tomorrow Never Knows was so completely over-the-top psychedelic that you just had to laugh. And Paul McCartney got so overwrought on Michelle that he actually lapsed into French.

But you won’t believe what the Liverpudlians have done on this one. First of all, they forgot to put breaks between the songs! You’re listening to some marginally enjoyable song, and all of a sudden you’re in the next one? How are you even supposed to know which song you’re listening to?

Yet that’s not even the record for laziness on this record. At the end of A Day in the Life, just after a horrendously out-of-tune orchestra blares for a bit, they just leave the mike on a piano chord. It just sits there, for what seems like eternity. Nice going, guys. Maybe next time, you can just play one guitar chord for 10 minutes and crash a cymbal at the end.

And what sort of band is led by a sergeant? They couldn’t at least get an officer?


Watch OLN tonight

If you haven’t seen today’s Tour de France already or read about it in detail, watch OLN tonight from 8 to 11. Yes, I know that’s the whole evening, but it’ll be worth it.

When you’re done, come back here, and I’ll explain why the race you just saw may well be the most amazing athletic accomplishment you’ll see in your lifetime.

UPDATE: OK, did you watch? Great. If not, here’s what happened — Floyd Landis had given up the lead in the Tour de France the day before (Wednesday). He had done more than give it up. He hit the wall with a thud. He “bonked.” He ran out of gas. The last climb was a nightmare to watch, as contenders flew away from him and the wanna-bes raced past him, perhaps a little puzzled to be passing the guy in the yellow jersey. When it was done, he was 8 minutes, 8 seconds back with just four stages remaining — and only two that offer any opportunity to shake things up.

What I asked you to watch on OLN was the last serious mountain stage, which happened to be Thursday.

And so one day after his epic collapse, Landis did something that just isn’t done in the Tour. He took off early, on the first of several killer climbs. Sure, you may sometimes see a breakaway from some mountain-climbing specialist like Michael Rasmussen who isn’t going to finish above 10th overall. But if you’re an established contender, the pack won’t let you go.

Someone who has a chance of winning will just send his team to the front of the peloton, and they’ll burn themselves out while the rest of the riders draft along, conserving energy for a final burst to blow past the breakaway man. Most breakaways in the Tour are reeled in, even if the people breaking away don’t matter in the grand scheme of things (by this time, guys who break away are often one hour or so down in the overall standings).

Riding in the pack, especially on the flat parts and to an extent on the downhills, is so much easier than riding alone. So if the pack wants to hunt you down, they generally can.

Well, Floyd broke away. And he won the stage. And he won by a large enough margin that he’s now only 30 seconds behind the leader. And Floyd’s a much better time-trial guy than the two guys ahead of him. (The time trial is Saturday. Then comes the largely ceremonial ride into Paris, where any breakaway will be quickly dealt with by the teams who want to spring a sprinter for one last moment of glory in Paris.)

There’s really nothing that compares with what Floyd Landis did on that stage. You could look up famous comebacks — baseball teams coming back from 12 games down, the Red Sox back from 3-0 down against the Yankees, Frank Reich‘s improbable comebacks with Maryland and Buffalo, etc. You could invoke Kirk Gibson at the plate on two bad legs, hitting a home run that would be replayed for the next 15 years.

But with all due respect to those things, what Landis did was more stunning, more unlikely, more impressive. Gibson needed one swing; Landis had to break away and stay away over a couple of mountains and several hard hours of racing, one day after going BONK on another slope. Football and baseball comebacks are powered by momentum. One day after bonking, with a bunch of emboldened cyclists and their powerhouse teams (Floyd’s team — NOT a powerhouse) chasing after you — that’s the opposite of momentum.

Let’s add this note — did Lance Armstrong ever do anything like this? No. Lance obliterated everyone in time trials, then rode conservatively, protected by a team that worked in perfect harmony to launch him up the final climb, where he would usually put a minute or two between himself and Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso or whoever else was chasing him that year.

Take off by yourself, overhaul the folks who broke away earlier (none contending in the overall), and gain so much time that you force another contender (Carlos Sastre) to break away from the panicked peloton and chase on his own? That just doesn’t happen.

And yet it did.

This is why we watch sports.