Sunday, September 2, 2012

What Songs Look Like: Sledgehammer

[purchase CD]

As a reader here, I’m sure you have noticed that the volume of posts has been way down lately. That is because the recording industry recently cracked down on file hosting services, and now many of the posters here, including myself, are without file hosts. We would be happy to hear from anyone who can offer suggestions or help. Feel free to respond either in the comments or by a private message to the e-mail address on the sidebar, and thank you. Meanwhile, this week’s theme offers a temporary solution.

This week, Star Maker Machine invites you the reader to watch some videos with us, and read our thoughts. Music and visuals have been connected since the rise of MTV, but the connection goes back much further than that. The history of opera takes us back more than 300 years, but again, the connection is still older, probably going back to ancient times. Dances and rituals both combined music and visuals, and they are two of mankind’s oldest activities. We need as a species to express ourselves musically, and we also seem to need to know what those songs look like. When properly wedded, both the song and the visual become something greater than either one by itself.

Having said all of that, I would like to start our exploration in the 1980s. The art of the music video flowered in the 80s because of MTV. Nowadays, it’s hard to remember that those letters originally stood for Music Television. MTV hit the airwaves in 1981, and almost immediately began to change the sound of popular music. The programmers there could be musically adventurous as long as a video was visually striking, and that made it possible for new wave to gain broad acceptance. Thomas Dolby is one example of an artist whose music most people would probably never have heard otherwise.

The first video ever played on MTV was Video Killed the Radio Star by the Buggles. But I didn’t get my MTV until around 1985 or so. I don’t remember the first video I saw, but the first to make a big impression on me was Sledgehammer, in 1986. Today, a video like this would use digital effects, and the motions would be smooth. But digital technology wasn’t an option back then, so the video relied on an ingenious mixture of live action footage and animation. Everything moves in a jerky fashion, but Peter Gabriel and his crew use this to their advantage. The song is a plea for love, but the video reveals a layer of nervousness that really adds to the overall effect. The images are imaginative and memorable. The ice head and fruitface are the two that I see in my head whenever I think of this song.

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