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The Late Movies: 9 Low-Budget “Classic Alternative” Music Videos

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I grew up watching 120 Minutes, an MTV show that aired starting at midnight on Sunday night. This made waking up for school on Monday morning hard, but at least I got to catch the newest “alternative” videos (The Cure, The Replacements, The Breeders, that sort of thing) which rarely aired in the normal MTV rotation. Well, as the years have passed, what I grew up with as “alternative” is now called “classic alternative” (referring to roughly 1990 and earlier). When I noticed this the other day, it made me feel old. So now I’m blogging about it.

Here are some of my favorite “low budget” classic alternative videos. In many cases these look like they were done with one camera, on one or two sets, but they’re still a lot of fun — proving that you don’t need special effects, fancy sets, heck, you don’t even need actors or the band itself in some cases. Enjoy.

The Replacements – “Bastards of Young” (1986)

The ultimate non-video video, this is a single shot depicting a speaker thumping, with a young punk occasional partially visible in the frame. According to Wikipedia, “Similar videos were also made for ‘Hold My Life’ (in color) and ‘Left of the Dial.’”

(Quick warning: this video isn’t available on YouTube, so you have to sit through a brief ad to see it via MTV.)

The Dead Milkmen – “Punk Rock Girl” (1988)

Full of mistakes (the singer clearly messing up) and general goofing-off, this is just a boatload of fun.

The Sugarcubes – “Birthday” (1987)

This was back when Björk was just “that singer from The Sugarcubes.”

The Breeders – “Divine Hammer” (1993)

Okay, maybe a few years late to be officially “classic alternative,” but the Super-8 video makes it classic in my opinion. Best Breeders song ever.

R.E.M. – “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” (1984)

Fun facts from Wikipedia:

The video, directed by Howard Libov and first aired in June 1984, featured the members of the band playing their instruments behind white screens in an otherwise empty room, with Michael Stipe singing in the foreground. Stipe refused to lip sync to the song. Guitarist Peter Buck said, “We played a recording of the track, and the rest of us faked it, but Michael insisted on singing a new vocal to make it more real for him.

Violent Femmes – “Gone Daddy Gone” (1983)

Again, a ten-second ad precedes the video. But it’s worth it to see Gordon Gano and the crew staring directly at the camera and rocking out.

The Cure – “Boys Don’t Cry” (1979)

So here’s the deal, guys. We’ll get some kids to dress up like the band and pretend to play the song. But behind the kids, there’s this see-through scrim where the REAL band is playing, but the real band has creepy weird glowing eyes. Now…ACTION!

Elvis Costello and the Attractions, “Oliver’s Army” (1979)

You know how that Buggles video (”Video Killed the Radio Star”) was the first video shown on MTV? Well, this video was also shown that first day — August 1, 1981. Another tidbit from Wikipedia:

During the recording of Armed Forces at Eden Studios in West London, the incomplete “Oliver’s Army” was nearly dropped from the album, but was eventually kept after keyboardist Steve Nieve created the piano part for the song, inspired, perhaps ironically, by ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.”

Bob Dylan, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (1967)

Although many people have seen this iconic video, most don’t know that it’s the opening shot of Don’t Look Back, D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary on Dylan (which is well worth a look — keep an eye out for a scene in which Donovan performs a song in a hotel room). Here’s how Wikipedia explains it:

In addition to the song’s influence on music, the song was used in what became one of the first “modern” promotional film clips, the forerunner of what later became known as the music video. Although Rolling Stone ranked it 7th in the magazine’s October 1993 list of “100 Top Music Videos”, the original clip was actually the opening segment of D. A. Pennebaker’s film, Dont Look Back, a documentary on Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of England. In the film, Dylan, who came up with the idea, holds up cue cards for the audience, with selected words and phrases from the lyrics. The cue cards were written by Donovan, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Neuwirth and Dylan himself. While staring at the camera, he flips the cards as the song plays. There are intentional misspellings and puns throughout the clip: for instance, when the song’s lyrics say “eleven dollar bills” the poster says “20 dollar bills”. The clip was shot in an alley behind the Savoy Hotel in London where Ginsberg and Neuwirth make a cameo in the background. For use as a trailer, the following text was superimposed at the end of the clip while Dylan and Ginsberg are exiting the frame: “Surfacing Here Soon | Bob Dylan in | Don’t Look Back by D. A. Pennebaker.”

What Did I Miss?

Please leave your favorite alternative (or otherwise) videos in the comments!

See also: A Brief History of Music Television, 120 Minutes Archive, and Another Immense Time-Waster: MTV Music Posts Tons of Videos.


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