Video Killed the Radio Star

Previously I listed my essential songs of the 1970’s. I talked about the Stage tour that paved the way for the 1980’s synth bands. I went into detail on the unusual methods pioneered to blend ambient, funk and rock. This postscript to my three part series is actually also a preview of the ’80’s.

Although not officially recognized as part of the collaborative Triptych, Robert Fripp’s blistering solos appear prominently on the Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) L.P.

Video in the ’70’s was an afterthought. Beginning in 1980, it became increasingly more important than the music itself. If you’ve never seen Ashes to Ashes you should view it at least once. Its choir-like textures were created by (then current Lou Reed guitarist and creator of Guitarchitecture) Chuck Hammer with four multi-tracked guitar synthesizers, each playing opposing chord inversions. Hammer was accorded pioneer status by Rolling Stone magazine, alongside an eclectic and select group, including Robert Fripp and Allan Holdsworth, having been attributed with leading a new era of development in the global guitar community, influencing instrument capabilities, form and functions in music.

Wikipedia sums it up nicely “The music video for “Ashes to Ashes” (co-directed by David Mallet) was one of the most iconic of the 1980s. Costing £250,000, it was at the time the most expensive music video ever made. It incorporated scenes both in solarised colour and in stark black-and-white, featuring Bowie in the gaudy Pierrot costume that became the dominant visual representation of his Scary Monsters phase. Also appearing were Steve Strange and other members of the London Blitz scene, including Judith Franklin and Darla Jane Gilroy, forerunners of (later participants in) the New Romantic movement that was heavily influenced by Bowie’s music and image.

Bowie described the shot of himself and the Blitz Kids marching towards the camera in front of a bulldozer as symbolizing “oncoming violence”. Although it appears that two of the Blitz Kids bow at intervals, they were actually trying to pull their gowns away from the bulldozer in an effort to avoid them getting caught…Contrary to received opinion, the elderly woman lecturing Bowie at the end of the clip was not his real mother.

Record Mirror readers voted “Ashes to Ashes” and Bowie’s next single, “Fashion”, the best music videos of 1980.” Sadly, they were his last real “contributions” until the ’90’s.

For me, Bowie and Reed ruled the ’70’s. The ’80’s were a whole different ball of wax.


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