Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Jets - Crush on You (1986)

* (of four)

I was the child of a single working parent, so I spent all my elementary school summers at a Christian day camp. We'd climb into that non-airconditioned yellow bus every afternoon and head out to the park or zoo or bowling alley or skating rink. The last location is where I first (and second and third and fourth, etc.) heard "Crush on You" by The Jets. It was in heavy rink rotation at the time, along with "Bad Boy" and "What Have You Done For Me Lately," and I remember Donna, the little girl with Down Syndrome, singing it straight to my brother. With feeling.

Appropriately enough, this is one retarded-ass song and video, and it hasn't aged well. The Jets were a teenage Samoan family act - I've given up counting, but there are at least eight of them. The boys all sport the DeBarge geri-curl look, while the girls have color-coordinated sweaters, leotards and sport coats purchased from the wardrobe closet after the sitcom "Square Pegs" was canceled. (Sarah Jessica Parker superfans will know what I'm talking about.) One of them is wearing a bolo. Another sports a pair of purple Converse.

"Crush on You" is one of those videos where, if you've seen the first 30 seconds, you've seen the whole thing. (Shit, the backing track of the song never changes either, so if you've heard 30 seconds, you've heard the whole thing.) It's filmed on one vast but sparse soundstage with a black backdrop, haphazardly placed scaffolding and a few lopsided red flourescent light bumbs. Occasionally, the bass player tries to look tough while lip synching the chorus into the camera. It doesn't work out too well for him.

2Pac - I Get Around (1993)

***1/2 (of four)

2Pac came up in the Digital Underground posse, but Shock "Humpty Hump" G and the boys barely gave him any mic time. Instead, Shock gave 2Pac the best beat of his career for "I Get Around," a super-smooth, organ and bass-heavy loop that practically shouts "summer jam." A baker's dozen years later, the song and video both hold up as quintessential party hip-hop with two guest verses that ensure that Shock G and Money B will be remembered for more than just the songs on Sex Packets. And, of course, "Kiss U Back." That ass-dumb song.

Well, shit, what do we have here anyway? The camera roams a pool party out back of someone's mansion. 2Pac - who I honestly think wears nothing but boxers and golds the entire time - and the D.U. guys are surrounded by hotties in various stages of undress. There's barecue, chips and booze. A few people jump in the pool, but Pac is more concerned with showing off his six-pound cordless phone and running from the pair of big nasties that chase him through the entire video without ever huffing and puffing. No small feat.

Small budget? Yeah. Unoriginal concept? Yeah. Hell of a lot of fun? Oh yeah. And I'll love this song until the day I die.

Makaveli - Hail Mary (1997)

**1/2 (of four)

"Hail Mary" was made just after the death of 2Pac, and unlike every other posthumous Pac video that's packed full of the same video clips and stills, this one actually attempts to tell a story of its own. A horror story with a gangsta twist. A young black man who can't act is in his prison cell, talking to his older, wiser cellmate. "I was set up, O.G.!" claims the YBMWCA. "Revenge has a funny, funny way of settling the score," responds the OWC.

Cue shots of a cemetery where - you guessed it - the recently deceased Makaveli is buried. You know he and the YBMWCA were friends because they're seen in a picture together. Cue a bolt of lightning, straight through Makaveli's tombstone. Cue a simultaneous bolt of lightning straight through the picture of Makaveli and the YBMWCA.

What follows is three minutes of a Final Destination-esque pursuit of the Real Killers by fate itself, or perhaps just the unseen ghost of Makaveli. Three gang members are playing video games on a big screen TV in a mansion. They get split up. One gets run over by an unmanned car. The other gets a chandelier dropped on him. The third ends up in the pool with an electrically charged cable headed straight to the water. Revenge has been served.

"Hail Mary" has a spooky beat and a haunting chorus, but the lyrics are mostly about going crazy in the ghetto and killing people. Revenge and the penitentiary are mentioned like once, but director Frank Sacramento (who cut his teeth on a couple of Hootie videos just prior), with his dark, blue-tint visuals, took the concept and ran with it. It's half-cheeseball, half-appealing and, paired up with a song this good, the video's pretty easy to get through.

Field Mob featuring Ciara - So What (2006)

** (of four)

I was going to hold off reviewing "So What" until I got a solid feel for it, but while idly writing and cruising MySpace tonight, the MTV Jams channel aired this Field Mob video four times. It's the Jam of the Week, you understand. "So What" even appeared in the middle of a block of 2Pac videos, just long enough for the late Mr. Shakur to spiritually bitch slap all three members of the group from beyond the grave.

"So What" is some softball, back-and-forth, "he said / she said," pop fluff that would suit the Black Eyed Peas well. It also kind of reminds me of the City High, "I'm a stripper, it's the only way I can make money / Shame on you for being a stripper, there's other ways to make money," song "What Would You Do" from 2001. Long story short, it's catchy but completely lightweight and - if you hear it four times in as many hours - pretty fucking annoying in the end.

Ciara, first seen gossiping on the front porch with three friends, has heard some things about her man. Who shows up to refute the shit in the front yard. He's not a ho, for one. The happy couple can't even go out clothes-shopping without female strangers getting their gossip on. They're just jealous, claims the Field Mob rapper. Then they go to an outdoor basketball game at night, he gets her a puppy, and the video repeats again in an hour.

Cee-Lo featuring Timbaland - I'll Be Around (2004)

*** (of four)

I love Cee-Lo and have since the "Closet Freak" video. Yeah, see, I'm not that down - I didn't know he was in Goodie Mob, didn't know who Goodie Mob even was until after I'd already bought Cee-Lo's first album. But, shit, I'm down enough to have seen Cee-Lo in concert in 2002 at the Gargoyle, which is basically a tiny room in the basement of the Washington University student lounge. Maybe 150 people in the crowd, singing and rapping along to "Gettin' Grown" and Cee-Lo's verses on "Git Up, Git Out" and "In Da Wind."*

Anyway, "I'll Be Around" is from Cee-Lo Green Is The Soul Machine, his second album. Which renders that last paragraph completely moot. Of course. With Soul Machine, Cee-Lo had the budget to bring in big-budget producers of the moment - here, Timbaland is at the helm. Shit, with all the special effects in the Missy videos, I never noticed how goofy and uncomfortable Tim looks on camera.

Cee-Lo, meanwhile, is the epitome of ironic smooveness. He rides to a party held at his own "Love Shack" (which completely looks the part from the outside) in a Rolls or Bentley or something that has a sexy lady as chauffeur, a guy playing trumpet in the front passenger seat and a dog with a blonde weave in the back seat with Lo. By "dog," I don't mean "ugly bitch," I mean "panting canine," "licker of own genitals," "etc."

Most of the video takes place in the shack itself, where the party spills from the main room back to the kitchen, where a trombone player does his shit amidst the dirty dishes. Timbaland roams the party, while hot girls dance and little kids stare in from the outside. The vibe, as always, is one of comfort, fun and positivity. There's even graffiti on the wall that says "Be Nice or Leave." The whole thing reminds me of the scene in the Wash U student lounge basement back in 2002. Good old Cee-Lo.

* = Oh, and I have a white friend named Brian who's like 5'2" and bottom-heavy who looks just like this dude. That has to count for something.

Richard Marx - Satisfied (1989)

*1/2 (of four)

Watch enough VH1 Classic late at night, and you'll be able to chart the Flood Stages Of The Richard Marx Mullet. Catch the early videos, like "Should've Known Better" and "Hold Onto the Nights," and you'll see the low-tide Marx Mullet, which stopped just above his shoulders. Check out "Right Here Waiting" or "Satisfied," and you're smack in the middle of high water. This Marx Mullet calls for a full evacuation and rescue effort. It's some Category Five shit.

But the "Satisfied" video is funny to watch for more reasons than just the Marx Mullet. You see, while Marx only charted #1 when he was singing tender ballads, it's rock songs like this that contain his unbridled adult-contemporary energy. "Satisfied" is all about determination - so, while we watch Marx make love to the camera from the empty factory set, we get to watch people from all walks of life say Fuck the status quo and reach for their dreams.

The dishwasher hurls a dinner plate like a Frisbee and jettisons the apron that's been holding him back. The temp secretary removes her glasses, opens the window and watches all the Important Papers fly away, while cracking a smile.* The underdog kid challenges the local pool shark to a match and actually beats him! The amateur boxer is so fired up his trainer has to pull him back from the punching bag, lest it explode from the force of his furious fists. Powerful stuff, you understand.

* = Then she goes up to the roof and frees all the pigeons, which I think is a little over the top even for this fucking video.

Suzanne Vega - Luka (1987)

**1/2 (of four)

As far as '80s Top 40 hits about child abuse go, "Luka" is one of the better ones. (Barely missing the cutoff - Arnold Schwarzenegger's classic dance groove, "You Hit De Kid [I Hit You]" from the Kindergarten Cop soundtrack.) You remember Luka - she lives on the second floor, she has bruises all over her face because she's clumsy, she tries not to talk too loud, and she tells everyone she just walked into the door. She's ashamed to admit her daddy beats her with the iron cord, but we know the truth. And so does Suzanne Vega.

The video, if you ignore the perky animated closeups of the acoustic guitar and the abused kid's legs walking down the street, is actually fairly poignant and not too dated after two decades. Most of the video is subdued blue-and-white shots of Vega looking forlorn and fragile, walking down the streets of San Francisco. The abused child shows up every now and then, and you can barely see the bruises on his face. See, Daddy knows what's up. You have to leave the bruises where no one will see them. The "Luka" video is entertaining AND educational.

Rob Zombie - Foxy, Foxy (2006)

**1/2 (of four)

The name of Rob Zombie's new album title, Educated Horses, is all up in the chorus to "Foxy, Foxy." Listen closely - Rob is singing about horses and relationships. That's right, in six short years, he's abandoned his old pal Satan and become domestic. No goth makeup, no pentagrams, just snips, snails and puppy dog tails. This is some soft-ass, generic shit, and my soft ass actually kind of likes it. Then again, I never took the whole White Zombie thing seriously in the first place. And neither did Rob.

The video opens with slo-mo shots of horses running wild and free through their barb wire-fenced territory. Just outside the corral or whatever, a jean-jacketed Zombie and his band play for an audience of no one. Oh, just wait, though. A blue Camaro with red and yellow flames pulls up, a girl with a "Foxy, Foxy" t-shirt gets out and summons cars and vans full of hotties to the show. Rob has cowgirls watching him and everything. This shit's probably playing on VH1 right now, and all of Rob's old fans will have no choice but to buy the new Avenged Sevenfold album. Tragic.

"Weird Al" Yankovic - Like a Surgeon (1985)

*** (of four)

I like the Weird Al video for "Like a Surgeon" for the same reason I like the Airplane! and Naked Gun movies - I'm a big fucking dork. And a part of me really goes for cheeseball sight gags. There's one about every two-and-a-half seconds in the "Surgeon" video, and the song itself gets points for not being about food or television, Weird Al's two most beaten dead horses.

It's even kinda morbid subject matter for such a wholesome parody singer, this song about a tragically inept physician. The first shot has Doctor Al walking into a flatlining patient's room, hitting the EKG machine a couple times and, when that doesn't work, beating the dead man's chest. His pulse kicks right up, to the exact tempo of the song's beat. From there, gags involve fingers being cut off, chainsaws being used for surgery, an orderly slipping on a still-beating heart that fell on the floor and Al pulling a bunny out of a man's chest cavity. Shit, a guy's eyeball even pops out of his head and gets screwed back in by one of Al's band members.

That's not even the really funny part of the video. The best comes in the second half, when Weird Al manages to rip off every pseudo-sexualized Madonna dance move from the "Like a Virgin," "Burning Up" and "Lucky Star" videos, while sporting hairy midriff and all. There have been some definite lowlights in Weird Al's career (he's got a parody to "Hot in Herre" about doing his laundry, for pete's sake), but when he's on, he's on. And I'm a big fucking dork for enjoying it.