Article Thumbnail

The Video Album Existed Long Before ‘Lemonade’

Watch a few of our favorites here. But be forewarned: There’s a lot of Don Johnson singing

Lemonade ruled pretty much everything after it aired on HBO in late April. Mostly because it seemed to indicate that Jay-Z had fucked around on Beyoncé. But at least some of its appeal had to do with its format — the video album, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the late 1980s. Or better put, the likes of which hadn’t been attempted by anyone not named Beyoncé since the late 1980s; she did something similar in 2013 with her self-titled album Beyoncé.

But back in the ‘80s the video album was pretty standard. Everyone from Blondie (the first to do so in 1979) to Elton John (the most famous artist to do so) to Duran Duran (arguably the best to do so) tried their hands at turning at least one of their albums into a quasi-feature film — or at least a cohesive package of music videos from a single album — that they released via VHS, Betamax, Laserdisc and/or Videodisc (before it died). In fact, it wasn’t until Don Johnson propelled the idea of the video album high over the shark that it largely went away, only to be resurrected by Beyoncé in the last couple of years.

So as not to consign them to the dustbin of history, MEL Radio dug up five of our favorite video albums — each of which can be seen below. It’s not exactly Beyoncé airing all of her and Jay-Z’s dirty laundry, but there is naked mud wrestling.

Album: Eat To The Beat (1979)
Artist: Blondie
Director: David Mallet

Plot: It’s nonexistent. Alternating between conceptual clips and straight-ahead faux-live performances, this collection primarily showcases the timeless beauty of Deborah Harry, who manages to look alluring, mysterious and glamorous even while wearing what’s basically an orange trash bag — or later, an olive-colored trash bag.

The One Thing You’ll Never Shake: Why one guitarist (Blondie co-leader Chris Stein) looks so cool while the other one (Frank Infante) looks like he’s about to knife somebody.

Other Familiar Faces: In “Atomic,” you can spot model Gia Carangi (better known as the heroin chic model Angelina Jolie played in the HBO biopic about her life), as well as designer Anya Phillips, who made many of the outfits Harry wears throughout.

Best Moment: “The Hardest Part,” which features the band performing on a set decorated from floor-to-ceiling with graffiti art (supplied by friends Fab 5 Freddy and Jean-Michel Basquiat), as Harry (in dark wig, dark glasses and a shredded black spandex outfit) sings about pulling an armored-car heist.

Album: Visions (1982)
Artist: Elton John
Director: Russell Mulcahy

Plot: The film opens with a very “Total Eclipse of the Heart”-style sequence of a handsome, shirtless guy in a vest running through the woods, away from something ominous in the sky. Seeking refuge in a darkened mansion, he slowly ascends a stairway to nowhere. Suddenly, the wind machine kicks in, and strange glimmers of light swirl around him; when he grabs at the light, it takes physical form as a bright pink triangle with a crystal-ball like screen in the center. From that screen we see a slew of old stills from the 1970s until Elton is revealed at an all-mirrored piano surrounded by dry-ice fog in a pinkish-purplish room singing “Breaking Down Barriers.” Soon thereafter, Elton shoots lasers from his fingertips. And that’s just the opener.

The One Thing You’ll Never Shake: That for all of the Elton songs you know by heart, you won’t believe that you’ve never heard any of these before. Despite being one of his best ‘80s efforts, The Fox (Visions’ parent album) was one of Captain Fantastic’s worst-selling records.

Other Familiar Faces: Not a one.

Best Moment: In “Heels of the Wind,” Elton pops up in a farmhouse window, licking his chops over a cherry pie on the other side of the glass. It’s definitely the goofiest video he’s ever made.

Album: Duran Duran (1983)
Artist: Duran Duran
Director: Russell Mulcahy (with clips from Godley & Creme and Ian Emes)

Plot: “I don’t think videos have to make sense; they just need to be cool-looking,” Duran Duran mastermind Nick Rhodes once said. Truer words have never been spoken — especially when talking about Duran Duran’s video album from their 1983 self-titled release. The man who somehow made it all cool even when it didn’t make an iota of sense? Brilliant video pioneer Russell Mulcahy. In “Rio,” he put the band on a yacht, dressed in sparkling Antony Price suits. In “Hungry Like the Wolf,” he had them roam around Sri Lankan cafes before Simon Le Bon wrestles a painted woman in the jungle. And in “Night Boat,” he had them swarmed by zombies.

The One Thing You’ll Never Shake: Guitarist Andy Taylor models a variety of hairstyles throughout — none of which work for him.

Other Familiar Faces: No special guest stars to speak of, just a lot of exotic island locales.

Best Moment: After all these years, the “Night Version” of “Girls on Film,” which from 1981 to 1983 could only be viewed at certain nightclubs or on the Playboy Channel due to extensive nudity and sexual antics in and around a boxing ring, is still mildly shocking.

Album: Mantrap (1983)
Artist: ABC
Director: Julien Temple

Plot: ABC frontman Martin Fry is having a terrible night at the roulette wheel until a lady luck named Samantha appears at his side and guarantees a stretch of winning bets. When she disappears, however, his winning streak ends, and he’s roughed up by thugs. When Samantha reappears, however? His luck changes once again, and he’s asked to join ABC. Still, shit is far from perfect. A Russian spy doppelgänger threatens to replace Martin, who must fight to get his rightful place in the band back — because the band and its manager are ghoulish puppet masters who are fine with whichever Martin happens to be around as long as they make the gig.

The One Thing You’ll Never Shake: You’ll wish you had at least one of the wardrobe pieces Fry wears—probably the gold lamé suit.

Other Familiar Faces: Guess who plays Samantha? None other than Lisa Vanderpump, in what is certainly her finest pre-Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Vanderpump Rules role.

Best Moment: Vanderpump coaxing Fry in and out of situations with the same tenderness and love she exhibited getting Kim Richards out of the unisex bathroom Richards locked herself into at the launch of the expanded SUR Lounge in the second season of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

Album: Heartbeat (1987)
Artist: Don Johnson
Director: John Nicolella

Plot: The Miami Vice star plays an unnamed documentarian covering a battle in an unspecified Central American country who suffers a mystery injury after saving a child from an explosion. Wheeled into a surreal hospital, he flashes back through his life as a cameraman who protects the persecuted, with each song illustrating a major moment in his life. Or something. With no dialogue and a lot of action (explosions, chases, gunshots), confusion runs deep.

The One Thing You’ll Never Shake: Trying to figure out who the fuck financed this thing.

Other Familiar Faces: Paul Shaffer (as Johnson’s best friend and assistant), Lori Singer (as his love interest), David Carradine (as his smokin’, gamblin’, drinkin’ father), Dweezil Zappa (as Dweezil Zappa) and Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito (as a neighborhood guardian who is murdered by a gang leader played by Luis Guzman).

Best Moment: “Streetwise,” during which Johnson and Shaffer shoot a high-fashion spread on the wrong side of the tracks. Eventually, Johnson breaks away to rescue a vulnerable woman from a local gang who beat the piss out of him while decked out in hot-pink jackets.

More from MEL Radio: