The early days of music video in Australia bore some shoddy, shoddy home-produced efforts. Essentially labours of love from minimal means designed to get the message across. The big budget video clip was not the domain of the average Australian band, so being resourceful and imaginative was the way to overcome. The 80’s were a fertile ground for the pop video and there are just so many iconic and memorable clips out there languishing in the depths of YouTube that need to see light of day once more.
This selection is largely indebted to that period of time (give or take a clip or two that managed to sneak in), chosen from those that still remain ingrained in my consciousness over the years. Each one fills their own sub-genre niche from the chaotic and twisted to the cut and scripted, with nearly everything fitting in-between. There was a brief moment of soliciting suggestions for this, but “Bop Girl” by Pat Wilson (solely for the presence of a young Nicole Kidman) by Webcuts voice of the airwaves, Chris Berkley, quickly put an end to that. Look it up if you dare.
Note: A few of my initial selections were denied due to copyright or had been taken down. Boo.
1. THE BIRTHDAY PARTY – NICK THE STRIPPER (1981)
This video has grown in legend over the years, if only for the image of Nick Cave cavorting around in a nappy with “porca dio” inscribed on his chest. It’s the result of too many drugs, art students with 16mm cameras and an invitation to all local Melbourne lunatics to partake in the festivities. The band perform in a circus tent, Nick Cave the pole swinging ringleader to the carnival of fire-breathers and sideshow freaks assembled outside. You can catch random glimpses of the band in complete bemusement at the chaos around them with Cave seemingly in his element.
2. INXS – NEED YOU TONIGHT (1987)
INXS’ “Need You Tonight” tries the hard sell and succeeds in spades. Sharply edited with a slick mix of overlapping colour and black and white studio setups feature the band at their worldwide peak. Their stylist should be commended as everybody looks super cool in an late 80’s cropped leather jacket and ripped 501’s way. Even the geeky looking sax player makes it through this one relatively unscathed. And what a song. Michael Hutchence was no lyrical genius but he was a smooth talker who knew how to get his point across, be it “Just Keep Walking”, “Don’t Change” or “Need You Tonight”, he was persuasive to a fault. You need me tonight, Michael? I’ll be right over.
3. ESKIMO JOE – LIAR (2001)
It occasionally pains me to write about a band I have no interest in discussing, and if it weren’t for this masterful treatment for the song, Eskimo Joe could happily go and do what they do, whatever it is, as far as away from me as possible and they can take that high-pitched whine with them. The song is ok, I’ll grant Eskimo Joe that, but the clip is real Heart of Darkness stuff with a killer payoff. Sometimes a music video doesn’t require musical instruments in view to remind you what’s being sold here. If only all clips engaged the viewer from the start like this one, I’d have never left the couch.
4. MODELS – GOD BLESS AMERICA (1983)
This clip was spoken about in more detail here, but essentially it’s a simple case of art fags in army fatigues. Was this the first music video to be filmed in 3D? I think that was the hype at the time. I still dig it. This and the INXS video remind of a time when being in a band was both cool and full of adventure. It’s definitely one way to endear yourself to Americans and get your records released there when you hand them this sneering diatribe against the then-President Ronald Reagan and American politics. A small note, as we progress you’ll notice a definite trend of video clips either being filmed at the beach or the local tip. Australia – a country of scenic locations.
5. MONDO ROCK – COOL WORLD (1981)
You want a clichéd new wave 80’s clip? You got it. Strong backlighting, swimming pools, white sports jackets and oddly positioned Greek statues? – look no further. Mondo Rock were channelling The Cars something dreadful with this tune, from the muted guitar intro right through to the keyboard driven chorus. The song itself is a gem, written by vocalist Ross Wilson (husband of “Bop Girl” Pat Wilson, no less) but for some reason I believed it to be penned by bespectacled guitarist Eric McCusker (he who levitates in water) as a jealous dig at Wilson, which would’ve definitely made for a better story.
6. HUNTERS AND COLLECTORS – TALKING TO A STRANGER (1982)
I know you’re gonna ask, and the answer is “souvent, pour s’amuser, les hommes d’equipage” which means “often, to amuse themselves, the men of the crew”, as stolen from Charles Baudelaire’s poem “The Albatross”. If this doesn’t convince you the Hunters played the pretentious art school card in the early days, I don’t know what will. Tribal sounding and obtuse, their influences ran against the grain of the post-punk/new wave crowd. “Talking to a Stranger” is the key track of that period and this long form clip is as enduring as it is mysterious. Filmed by Australian director Richard Lowenstein, it has that dusty, post-apocalyptic Mad Max feel about it, and that’s what Hunters and Collectors sounded like back then, before they became the archetypal pub rock band fondly remembered for the saccharine ballad “Throw Your Arms Around Me”.
7. MAGIC DIRT – CITY TRASH (2000)
You can just picture the treatment – ‘You wake up and go about your day and we film you’. Simple but effective. The song is no great shakes, but it’s an potent antidote to the “look at me! look at me!” music video, and suggests that on any given day a musician is most likely to be found arseing about at home watching television rather than actually doing anything useful. I love the fact that the first thing that vocalist/guitarist Adalita Srsen does when she gets out of bed is pull on a pair of jeans. Not track pants, rugby shorts, or worn out pyjama bottoms but dirty jeans straight off the floor from the night before. Now there goes someone who speaks my language.
8. MENTAL AS ANYTHING – IF YOU LEAVE ME, CAN I COME TOO? (1981)
Mental as Anything always reminded me of an Australian version of Madness due to the general oddball nature of their video clips and Greedy Smith’s passing resemblance to Madness’ Suggs. The Mentals had the better songs though and I will brook no further argument. This clip still makes me smile. Worthy of inclusion for the hilarious footage of guitarist Reg Mombassa solo-ing on a rock ledge. It’s a clichéd music video set-up, but in the Mentals’ hands it becomes more Benny Hill than Bon Jovi. There’s so much to love about this clip, Martin Plaza’s lyrics, the fake lovers tiff, Plaza’s Elvis warble on “it’s enough to make me cry” and the band playing on a beach promenade (the beach again, I told you!) to a bunch of irritating kids.
9. COLD CHISEL – SATURDAY NIGHT (1984)
Not one of Cold Chisel’s more memorable tunes, but the video clip is priceless for its snapshot of inner city nightlife in the 80s. Filmed around Kings Cross and Darlinghurst in Sydney, “Saturday Night” documents an average night in the Cross, when walking down the main drag was akin to taking your life in your hands, but somehow half-way through vocalist Jimmy Barnes takes a wrong turn and walks straight into the middle of the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras… whoops! Once the favoured home of crime syndicates, junkies, bikers, prostitutes and the homeless, Kings Cross has long since been sanitised and remodelled but the allure still remains. Cold Chisel unknowingly reminds us of how it once used to be.
10. SPY VS SPY – ONE OF A KIND (1984)
My favourite ‘what the fuck is going on here?’ clip. The twitching guys in tie-dyed jumpsuits wearing gas masks weirded me out a little, but the rolling guitar/bass riff and dub reggae drift was reminiscent of a starker version of The Police without the grating voice of Sting. One of the great socio-political bands of the time (songs ranged from condemning credit cards to the murder of police informant Sallie-Anne Huckstepp) the Spies never really got the same recognition as say, Midnight Oil, who were pushing the same envelope, but where the Oils were railing against uranium mining and land rights, the Spies covered everything else. It’s a broad generalisation I know, but I’m tired and I’ve had enough….