I love it when music stops me in my tracks.
I was shopping at a local discount store (Burlington Coat Factory, if you must know) on Sunday, mindlessly sifting through racks, when a bright burst of piano came over the sound system and I immediately envisioned a perfectly coiffed Peter Cetera standing in front of an Asian panel. Tonight it's very clear began the song, one of my favorites from the 80s, called "Glory of Love" and from that moment I was paralyzed with nostalgia.
I began freely singing along (despite the fact there were other shoppers, workers, etc. nearby), challenging myself to remember every word (I did) and managing my visions, which were random bits and pieces of a video I must have watched at least a thousand times in 1986.
It was all about Karate Kid II. I remembered Mr Miyagi looking proudly on as the Karate Kid fought for his life. I remembered the beautiful Asian girl he was sweet on, appearing from behind a fan to entice him. I also remembered the way the doors of the panel would burst open as Peter led up to the chorus (standing alone, as he sang).
And then I thought to myself: that video was so much better than the movie.
And then it occurred to me that there were dozens of 80s videos that were far superior to the movie of the soundtrack on which they appeared.
Immediately I was flooded with memories of beloved songs that positively carried the films they promoted.
Exhibit A: "Against All Odds" by Phil Collins
Again, we have a lone man who semi-recently had left a successful band (Cetera had abandoned Chicago; Collins had taken leave from Genesis), standing on a stage that doesn't pretend to be part of the film set, but dares its singer to conjure up the emotion of what's going on in the film (in this case, adultery). We see the "happy" couple dancing around, sharing cocktails, getting close. We see an ancient pyramid and a scary little head that sometimes takes the place of Phil's. Then we see The Evil Other Guy (James Woods), who happens to be light years sexier than the alleged husband, and well, all hell breaks loose. All the while Phil is singing a heartbreaking, beautiful song about his real-life wife—who was the only one who really knew him at all—breaking his heart with an unexpected divorce. The song lives on. I doubt anyone has seen the mediocre film since the summer the song was selling it on MTV.
Exhibit B: "St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)" by Jack Parr
Keeping up with the pattern, we have an older single man doing the singing, happening upon a group of recent graduates that are getting themselves into all sorts of trouble. Throughout the video he acts as somewhat of a stalker, witnessing all of the cool scenes from their movie. They flirt their way through a bar; we see meaningful close-ups of each cast member (Judd Nelson! Rob Lowe! Mare Winningham!); we see a fire scene correspond to the "burning up" part of the lyrics. And then the bridge comes: it's a montage of the coolest of cool things these cats do. Andrew McCarthy laying on his back as he dances on the bed, Emilio Estevez bravely kissing Andie MacDowell. Then that thing happens where the singer becomes "part of the gang" and Jack Parr is all of a sudden having a jukebox conversation with Demi Moore. The song rocks. And the film is a teenage classic—but not because it's good.
Exhibit C: "Live to Tell" by Madonna
Note to all young persons who may be reading this: Madonna was in her prime in these years. This was pre-Madge, pre-Guy, pre-Malawi babies, etc. and the sister could sing. She had snagged Sean Penn and had yet to produce a book called "Sex."
Anyway, the video starts with our Lone (Fe)male sitting vs. standing in a dramatic, dark room. We can only see her perfectly coiffed blonde hair, the top of her floral dress and her face, which features her mouthing the words somewhat softly (despite the perfect lipstick). We soon cut to slices of the film At Close Range, which stars Christopher Walken and her first husband. They appear to be "shooting" buddies and we see them doing buddy things until the song takes a creepy turn (really, it is somewhat creepy—she could actually WRITE MUSIC back then) and we see Sean (who unfortunately looks 13) with a terrifying, evil look on his face, holding a gun to Christopher's head. Yikes. I can't remember exactly how the movie turns out (it was long ago that I saw it), but I know it didn't create as much tension as that brilliant 80s video did.
The moral of the story: it's a shame these videos (or at least the songs for them) outlasted the actual films they sought to promote. But it's more of a shame in the music video world that they just don't make 'em like they used to.