By The Landlord
"Music and pictures can marry in a beautiful way, and the reverse." – David Lynch
This week, something a little different. Music is often also for the eyes. From 1920s talkies and Bessie Smith's two-reel short film called St. Louis Blues (1929), to the 1940s and Louis Jordan's music films, and many film musicals; to the 1950s when Tony Bennett sang Stranger In Paradise, walking along the Serpentine in Hyde Park; or later that decade in France, with the invention of the Scopitone, a visual jukebox, featuring artists such as Serge Gainsbourg, Jacques Dutronc, and Jacques Brel who made short films to accompany their songs; to the 60s with Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising, or the 1964 promo for Go Now by the Moody Blues producer Alex Murray; to the Beatles in '66 with Help!, Paperback Writer, Rain and later the woozily reversing Strawberry Fields Forever film; to Bohemian Rhapsody in 1975; to the explosion of the form on MTV in the 80s and then onwards all the way YouTube, so much music has co-existed with moving film and video work.
Music videos began, and many continue to be merely a promotional marketing tool. And aside from this, for many great artists of a certain generation they have never been of great interest or importance. "We didn't have music videos. You weren't an overnight sensation. You had to work at it and learn your craft: how to take care of your voice, how to pace your concerts, all that trial and error," said Aretha Franklin. Yet by contrast, perhaps as much as by the generation and time they are in, other artists have produced a series of fantastic videos and are highly created visual and presentation skills, as could certainly be musically talented, but without such material, arguably their songs are weaker, less impressive on their own. Lady Gaga, perhaps?
But this week where does song and video sit alongside each other in perfect harmony? Beyond the promo aspect, many ‘promo’ videos have really become a higher artform, and so this week our theme is to pick out songs where the video can seem inextricable, where the visual work is complementary, symbiotic, and above all where it enhances the music. But what music and video makes a great pairing?
Some videos emphasise mood, perhaps enhance musical style, add colour, perhaps they punctuate rhythm and decorate melody. Others tell a story, and come with a twist. So this week, here are a few examples to inspire. Many of these songs have been chosen for previous topics, but not all, so don't let any of these stop you from nominating these, or others by the same artists or directors, or indeed digging many others, hopefully lesser known to share and discover.
Previously chosen for an other topic, high in on my hit list is Windowlicker by Aphex Twin, directed by Chris Cunningham who has created many other works of brilliance. The sheer, bold, shock value of it, the timing, the nightmarish humour as these two uncouth characters in the car don't know what's hit them, their value systems on gender and gangsta culture completely shellshocked. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, scroll to 3.50 where the real action starts.
Another, example of exquisite timing comes in Chemical Brothers' Star Guitar, directed by Michel Gondry, train, landscape and sound in perfect sync:
Gondry's output is extraordinary. Let's now enjoy the fantasy bear world of Bjork's Human Behaviour, in which childlike imagination of the song is truly brought to life
Dance naturally features heavily in many great videos. Gondry's mesmeric, circular oddball recreation of an Escher idea for Daft Punk's Around The World is a prime of disco meeting the surreal with perfect twitchy timing.
And then there's Spike Jonze, director of many other great work in video and film, but perhaps his best is Weapon of Choice by Fatboy Slim, a song that is pretty damn catchy and features Bootsy Collins, but isn't half as good without, and truly takes off, with the surreal moves of actor Christopher Walken.
Millions of videos aim to sell their song by being sexy. This often works, but on this point, Danger! High Voltage by Electric Six is a refreshingly funny parody of eroticism used to superb effect alongside still paintings. It is produced by Tom Kuntz and Mike Maguire and stars lead singer Dick Valentine and actress Tina Kanarek, and their brightly flashing codpieces.
Aside from humour, skilful artwork is also a must in a good music video. Here are two groundbreaking classics from the 80s, the first using stop motion animation by Aardman Animations and the Brothers Quay, and directed by Stephen R. Johnson. Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel of course.
Just sketching out your ideas? Then there's always the fantasy world adventure of Take On Me by A-ha:
How about videos full of mystery that also tell a story? Here's Radiohead and Creep. You certainly want to watch and listen all the way to the end.
You can’t go too far wrong with controversy. Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino’s This Is America was the most talked about and award-winning videos of last year. Supremely clever, timed, directed and acted, is it serious statement on the nation, race and culture, or an exploitation of cartoon violence, or both?
Another powerful element to any video is a heavy dose of the strange and surreal. Both of these videos really capture the offbeat style of the music, and the oddness and eccentricity of the performers. First up, Cate Le Bon and Rock Pool .
Meanwhile here's a fabulously disturbing new one by Fat White Family, channelling some Wicker Man. I'd also recommend checking out two others from their new album.
Should artists 'perform' their song while acting in a video? FWF sometimes mime singing, but at other times they don't. There's no hard-and-fast rule, but perhaps one of the most interesting solutions to this is the duo Ibeyi, who take turns while immersed in water:
Live performance videos could certainly come in contention, but only if they truly enhance the song. And also low-budget videos should hopefully figure. Here's an example that ticks both boxes, early youthful Arctic Monkeys cheekily brilliant with playing that exuberant as well and phenomenally tight.
But what makes a music video different from a film? Or can they be the same. Here’s Koyaanisqatsi, the extraordinary 1982 film directed by Godfrey Reggio with music composed by Philip Glass and cinematography by Ron Fricke.
With that it's time to give the director's chair to this week's guru, the marvellous Marco den Ouden, keeper of the Marconium! Deadline for nominations is this coming Monday at 11pm UK time, for playlists published on Wednesday. Instruments! Camera! Action! You never know what might happen …
New to comment? It is quick and easy. You just need to login to Disqus once. All is explained in About/FAQs ...
Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address. Also please follow us social media: Song Bar Twitter, Song Bar Facebook. Song Bar YouTube. Subscribe, follow and share.