What does that song mean?

Forgotten Weird Music Videos of the Ancient 80s | vol 1

Posted Apr 19th, 19:55 by Penguin Pete

The thing to know about the launch of MTV in 1981, was that music videos were only just barely a thing at that point. True, MTV did not invent the music video any more than Facebook invented the social network or Microsoft invent the operating system. But by golly were they ever in the right place at the right time! Anyway, I’ve mentioned before venues where music videos as we know them played before MTV’s launch.

But they were still less than prolific. In the early 1980s, maybe 5-10% of bands had even bothered recording a video. As soon as MTV caught on, everybodyt scrambled to make videos, any homemade way they could, which led to an explosion in experimental art. That was great for 80s cultural development, but along the way, they managed to air some very, very weird videos. I’ve done a “weird videos” post before, but that was the more famous examples.

This time, we’re going to hunt down the truly obscure and forgotten videos. These are the wackiest moments you can possibly find in early MTV history. A few of them have cult followings here and there, but most of these are just losing ground to history.

Shouting into the Void: Claw though I will through archive and bookshelf, I have failed to locate a solid listing of every band / song to have a video on MTV. Indeed, I’ve heard many a “vj” in interviews say that MTV barely kept records at all. The useless “MTVArchives” fandom-dot-com wiki is an ad-click trap that barely has anything but empty date lists. There are extensive videos preserved on Internet Archive, but I’m actually just looking for a simple spreadsheet. If anybody knows of such a record, slip us a tip and earn your place in rock ‘n’ roll heaven.

So… Here’s a bumper crop of lesser-known freaks of a music video persuasion.


Captain Sensible “There’s More Snakes Than Ladders”

Right away, I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into. See, there’s the punk rock band The Damned, you know the ones with the hit “New Rose” which Guns ‘n’ Roses also covered… long story. Well, Captain Sensible is the stage name of Raymond Ian Burns, co-founder of The Damned. And here we find he made his own little video for a solo act – well, what kinda hard rocking are we in for? Oh. A board game. And a song that sounds like Ringo Starr wrote it and certainly evokes more Liverpool sugar pop than, you know, punk rock.


Gorky Park “Bang”

While I don’t intend this to be a list of one-hit-wonders, some of them are just so stupidly gratuitous in their dorkery that we have to list them. This insanity was birthed from the 80s-90s perestroika attitude, a huge put-on show of false sentiment and manufactured emotion dumped into studio costumes and taught to stomp their feet and sort of yell in unison. This prefab band was trotted out at the Moscow Music Peace Festival, with their song “Bang.” Despite the fact that it never charted, and everybody hated it, confused Djs from MTV to every hard rock radio station of the time played this song EVERY TEN MINUTES (I am not exaggerating). If Gorky Park shared a stage with Ozzy, Scorpions, Skid Row, and the usual suspects, that must mean stomping Russian minstrel shows accompanied by an iron anvil must be the big thing, right? Gorky Park lasted about as long as Gorbachev’s term in office, then vanished like a KGB snoop on a foggy night.


Was (Not Was) "Hello Dad, I'm in Jail"

You remember the band with the search-engine-jamming name, Was (Not Was)? They were the ones with this hit, sweetly memed on the modern Internet sufficient to cement its well-deserved place in rock history, “Walk the Dinosaur”:

Well, Was (Not Was) didn’t spend all their time in the Flintstones’ era. Here they are, also in the 80s, with the ridiculously avant-garde “Hello Dad, I’m In Jail”:

With the edgy synths, off-key notes, and grimy beats serving as perfect backing for the raving, screamed vocals, this short song is in-your-face weird already. Adding to it, the colorful animations are urban and grungy, the rumbling saxophone anchors us in the realm of jazz-fusion, and the little punchlines in the lyrics become more hilarious as it builds momentum until the crack-up. Beautiful! Was (Not Was) is (was?) still as weird a little arty band as you could find as of the mid-2000s, but we have to move on for now.


UB40 “Rat in Mi Kitchen”

Long before there was Ratatouille, UB40 made “Rat In Mi Kitchen.” You might expect this to be a roots-cover of a traditional Jamaican folk song or something, but this is UB40’s own original song. And it’s kinda OK, a bit hokey, but enjoyable enough. The second surprise comes when you find out that’s Herb Alpert on the trumpet – of Tijuana Brass fame, the band that supplied soundtracks for loony 60s and 70s comedies and at one point out-sold The Beatles. How this came together is anybody’s guess.

Incidentally, “Red Red Wine” was not original with UB40; it was written and released by Neil Diamond in 1968. Yes, that Neil Diamond. No, really, listen for yourself.


Join us again…

There’s lots more coming up in this series, as we explore the forgotten catacombs of rock history here with your Generation X slacker guide to ancient 80s MTV!




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