Sunday, January 11, 2009

Why can't I find a video like that?

From the things-I-really-should-stop-trying-to-write-about department:

Starting just before New Year's Day (or, rather, on Old Year's Day), VH1 Classic started showing what it considers to be "classic" music videos in alphabetical order by song title. Apparently they intended to show 2,009 of them, as the series was called "2009 for 2009."

Although that number of videos took a week, I admit I only flipped by from time to time, not really watching full videos, but pausing for at least part of the song. And from that pattern of viewing I discerned "classic" appeared to comprise the proto-videos from the early '80s through the full-fledged productions from at least the mid-to-late '90s (and possibly later).

Being arranged by title rather than by genre or by year, it made for some interesting transitions. One I saw that caught my attention was Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" (you'll need to follow this link to see it; it appears they don't want this video embedded)...

...followed by Rick Springfield's biggest hit, "Jessie's Girl":

The songs came out roughly a decade apart—"Jeremy" in 1991, from Pearl Jam's debut album, Ten (although the video didn't come out until 1992); "Jessie's Girl" from Rick's Working Class Dog in 1981—but they seemed to be from different centuries. Obviously, the art form developed quite a bit between those years, and the technology and production values advanced significantly during that time period, but that wasn't quite it.

I was in my early teens in 1981, and I remember hearing Rick Springfield on the radio a lot, but didn't see the video for a few years (when visiting someone who had MTV). By 1991 I was to my mid-20s, and by that time I had cable, and saw the video when it was new and still far from "classic." And on top of that, I purchased Pearl Jam's CD. But the difference didn't seem to be merely that "Jessie" was associated with my teen years and "Jeremy" with adulthood, or what I remembered from those ages.

I didn't think it was that Rick Springfield could be more easily dismissed due to making it big as a soap star and having his musical popularity peak and wane before Pearl Jam's even started (while Eddie Vedder and company seemed to take the rock & roll integrity path). It wasn't that the subjects differed so greatly (one song being about lusting after a friend's girlfriend and the other about a school shooting).

For a moment it seemed to be that early '80s production was inferior, but even that didn't quite pan out; later during the weekend, when the channel had gotten to the M's, I saw The Knack's magnum opus, "My Sharona."

That actually came out in 1979 originally, and I'm old enough to remember it from pop radio at that time as well. While that song did get a resurgence in 1995 with its inclusion in Reality Bites, and the video shown was the version featuring footage of that movie (and yes, the footage of the band from its original days does look dated), there was something about the song itself that stood up despite being now 30 years old. Presumably it had roughly the same sort of production that Springfield got for his song, but it didn't seem anywhere near as old as "Jessie" (even though it was a few years older).

After ruminating on it for a while another distinction hit me. "Jeremy" was now about 16 years old, but it didn't seem that dated; when "Jessie" had been around 16 years (1997 or so) it already seemed old. And the reason was simple: It just wasn't as much of a quality song.

Oh sure, "Jessie's Girl" was reasonably catchy. I'm not suggesting it was a bad song. I'm not saying I don't have it in my music library (I do). It just wasn't as good from a musical quality standpoint. "Jeremy" stood up better because it was a better song, regardless of how it was produced. It's not that "Jessie" was a more of a trite pop song; it was just an average pop song. And not that "Jeremy" was Pearl Jam's best, or the best song of its year, (although it had that excellent intro and outro), but it had... that intangible element of "higher" art which holds up over time.

Now, let's be clear: It's not that I don't like "Jessie's Girl"--because I do--but well, it is what it is (or was what it was). And to be honest, I'd probably rather listen to "Jessie" than "Jeremy" if I was looking for something to hear. (But of the three songs mentioned above, I'd pick the somewhat lascivious "My Sharona" and its killer guitar hook and thumping beat.) "Jeremy" almost certainly would get better treatment from music critics, but frankly, it is something I need to be in the proper mood for.

And that is probably the best way I can describe the distinction between the "higher" art that seems more timeless than the "pop" art that gets indelibly linked with the time in which it gets created.

But that's merely what conclusion I drew about it so I could sleep. Please feel free draw your own. You need your sleep, too.


One last thought, to be fair: Although Pearl Jam may have written a better song, I doubt they would have been as even half as good as Rick on General Hospital (had they tried their hands as midday thespians).

It all balances out in the end.


  1. Back when MTV was The New Big Thing (i.e., it actually played music videos) I remember a member of a rock band was complaining that the video producers wanted her to change the song to fit the action in the video. Of course, she resisted. (Sorry, I can't remember her name or the band's name.) In this case function was supposed to follow form.


  2. Back when MTV reigned supreme - it was the Big New Thing (and it actually showed music videos most of the time) - a member of a rock group complained that a video producer wanted her to change her song to fit the action of the video. In this case function was supposed to follow form. (Sorry, can't remember which band or her name.)



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