Having previously spent some time with VH1 Classic’s Totally ’80s, it seemed only right to do the same with its sister video block, The ’90s Rocked.
The ’90s Rocked also has its own, special intro bumper. It alternates shots of a ’90s era “cook chick,” rocking out in a porkpie hat, suspenders and cropped t-shirt, with images of a “fallen cheerleader,” a grungy chick with black pompoms and a tattered babydoll dress. Because of course it does.
So, 90 minutes with The ’90s Rocked.
The ’90s Rocked: “Kiss From A Rose” by Seal
Used as a theme from one of the Batman movies, the one with Val Kilmer. Batman Forever. The clip mixes footage from the movie with shots of Seal, in a flowy, unbuttoned black shirt, standing in front of the Bat-signal. Emoting. Nicole Kidman and Jim Carrey are in the movie clips, which adds some star power. This was when Joel Schumacher started ruining the Bat-franchise, though it took another movie to torpedo it. The song is dramatic and the lyrics are kind of odd, but Seal really sells it, even if it seems an odd fit for a superhero movie. And actually, it wasn’t intended for Batman Forever originally. But when a lucrative film franchise asks for one of your songs, you say yes. Unless you hate money. All in all, shooting this video did not seem like a very hard day of work for Seal.
The ’90s Rocked: “A Girl Like You” by Edwyn Collins
Lots going on right away. Various city shots and close-ups of people playing instruments. The xylophone gets a glamour shot. Random people do random things, while Edwyn, in a blue pinstripe suit, hangs out and sings. Archly, of course. Weird paintings. Hey, Edwyn’s on a TV screen. And now is pantomiming the lyrics. This is actually a pretty awesome song. The video concept is hardly taking the lyrics literally, but still captures the decadent, sort of chaotic spirit of the tune. Animated brick women dancing. What more can you say, but that the ’90s featured a lot of drug use? Who knew that Edwyn Collins played the guitar? You learn something new every day.
The ’90s Rocked: “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You” by Sting
This starts with a pony running around an enclosure in an open field. Then there’s a close-up on Sting working in a studio, practically fellating the microphone. And we’re sticking with a close-up of Sting, it seems. Honestly, this isn’t one of my favorite of his songs, it’s a tad preachy in some ways and kind of monotonous in others. The shot pulls out a bit, to show him wearing a collarless black shirt before going back in for more Sting close-up. You can see a wooded area in the windows behind him, thus explaining the pony? No, nothing explains the pony. A few shots of the band come in now and then where they smile worshipfully at Sting, who suffers their devotion gracefully. Basically, this is Let’s Fetishize Sting. How okay you are with that will go a long way toward determining how well this clip works for you.
The ’90s Rocked: “Rusty Cage” by Soundgarden
This starts out in the woods, which I think was a mandatory video setting in the ’90s. That’s cut in with scenes of the band rocking out in some all-white cage-like space. People wander around the woods. There’s an older model car/truck roaming around at one point. This song has a lot of energy and a pretty driving beat, but it’s not the most distinctive thing that Soundgarden ever cut. People with dogs run through the woods. Those woods are seeing a lot of action. The band is sporting long, shaggy hair and carefully curated “shabby” clothes. Vests, t-shirts and thermal long-sleeved tops. “Whatever” pants. Ah, the ’90s, when so much effort was put into looking like you dressed in whatever was closest to hand when you rolled out of bed that morning. Now there’s fire. Because if you were in the woods in a ’90s video, you also had to set them on fire. Or pretend to. No one wanted Smokey the Bear getting all up in their grills.
The ’90s Rocked: “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton
A/K/A The Song Where Eric Clapton Made Everyone Cry. The video mixes shots of Clapton, sitting alone in a performance space with artful “dark clouds” behind him while he strums his guitar, with scenes from the movie Rush, which spawned the song. And there’s really a disconnect between a movie about junkies and Clapton singing a song for his son who died in a tragic accident. Clapton looks so wrecked in this clip, understandably enough. Let’s just all agree we can’t discuss this song in any kind of lighthearted manner and then go feel bad for unspecified reasons on our own.
The ’90s Rocked: “3 A.M. Eternal” by The KLF
We open in an artful future urban scene. Grime. Steam. Ominous ambient noise. All the things you need for a good dystopia. There are exploding speakers, lasers and then The KLF takes a stage somewhere while simultaneously driving through the dystopian city. Need we even mention that everyone is wearing black? Except the Gospel choir, which is in blue. You can get away with that when you’re a Gospel choir. Otherwise, dystopias require you to wear black. This was a key song back in the day, really uniting dance and alternative audiences. “Industrial Dance” I think might be a good description. It’s no frills, but it’s oddly hypnotic. The “end of the world” vibe was surprisingly common in ’90s videos, but it doesn’t detract from how cool and different this song felt at the time.
The ’90s Rocked: “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” by Janet Jackson
This starts with Janet dancing in silhouette against a bright white background. Then it moves to shots of a shirtless guy running on a beach. Other barely clothed people will show up to run, dance, do gymnastics and, I think, balance their checkbooks. We eventually see Janet in a tank top and jeans, which was relatively modest. She sported windblown hair and big smile. Janet’s vocals on this version of the song are so processed that if you were told a robot sang this song you’d believe it. Which is too bad, because the song itself is rather engaging, a light, fun pop song. The clip features lots of dancing and lots of groping. Points to Janet for being the objectifier and not the objectified. You take your feminist statements where you can get them in the world of ’90s music.
The ’90s Rocked: “Love Will Lead You Back” by Taylor Dayne
Taylor toned down her more outrageous style choices for this clip. Her hair is fairly sedate, the makeup is minimal and she’s dressed all in black. She delivers the song while sitting on a stool in a studio, her band doing its thing while she sings her broken heart out. While holding a handkerchief. This is a pretty straightforward song and could be kind of not much depending on how its delivered. Taylor really goes for it, though, and infuses some genuine pathos into her performance. It’s a nice example of how a singer can take a sketchy song and turn it into more than it is on paper. Even if it can’t quite escape its schmaltzy, power pop trappings, it still winds up oddly affecting.
The ’90s Rocked: “Vogue” by Madonna
Does anyone really need this video explained? Madonna doing her best Marilyn Monroe impression while launching a dance fad based on copping poses from Old Hollywood. And really, Madonna has perpetrated some atrocities in her day, but the beat in this song is still pretty infectious and the salute to Old Hollywood worked the “respectful” side of homage (though Madonna would slip to the “exploitative” side when it suited her). This video came up with some striking visuals and a few really good dance breakdowns. It’s iconic for very good reason. Madonna really did know what she was doing back then. As opposed to recent days…
The ’90s Rocked: “Vision of Love” by Mariah Carey
We’ve had quite a run with the divas in this stretch. When this video (her first single) came out, Mariah hadn’t yet ascended to uber-diva status. So she’s hanging out in a couple different basic black outfits, her hair curly and free, while she emotes against an artful set of a huge window overlooking a swing on a tree. The background colors change to simulate the movement of days. There are a few artful shots of Mariah draping herself on a staircase. But honestly, this clip didn’t need more than Mariah singing. No matter what you might think of her material, it’s not hard to see why this song turned her into a huge star. Her voice and range are pretty amazing here and the vocal tricks were novel. The crimes against music that her imitators have perpetrated in her name in the years since this song came out are a subject for another day.
The ’90s Rocked: “Joyride” by Roxette
This opens in some kind of desert flats area, with the duo stepping off a bus, while a red sports car zooms around them. And now they’re riding on the hood of that car down the highway. They’ve gone with the “new romantic” influence for their outfits, because they’re Swedish and don’t have to dress like actual people. Bold patterns, accents and color contrasts abound. There’s a carnival behind them at one point. More highway. Forests. Mountains. They’re determined to cram as many different kinds of topography into this as possible. I was never sure how this song became such a huge hit, because it’s honestly kind of dopey. Decent beat and a bit of energy, but the lyrics are as thin as a pancake and you can barely hear the vocals in the mix at points. I saw Roxette at a multi-artist radio station show in the early ’00s and there was a pair of girls there with Roxette tour t-shirts and a sign for them. They left after Roxette performed. Who knew Roxette had groupies?
The ’90s Rocked: “Fly Away” by Lenny Kravitz
Lenny really did do some serious rocking back in the day. He’s got the short hair and shades thing going, wearing a thrift-store vest and jeans. He made it look cool. Most of us could not have pulled that off. This song probably had more impact before it was licensed incessantly and we all began associating it with car commercials. The clip has Lenny and his band playing in some shabby underground club, with all kinds of grunge kids grooving out and getting their swerve on. The lighting is actually fairly cool, desaturating the scenes with some cool yellow and blue effects. It gives everything a dreamy sort of quality. The overall style on display was very emblematic of its time. And Lenny’s cooler than any of us could ever hope to be. That’s just the way it is.
The ’90s Rocked: “Fly” by Sugar Ray
This was a performance taken from one of those ubiquitous “beach party” specials that MTV and VH1 used to run ad nauseam. Basically mix lots of scantily clad college students at some outdoor venue where whoever had a hit the moment would sing. Mark McGrath is wearing a basic royal blue, short sleeve button down and black pants. With highlights and frosted tips, of course. Mark wouldn’t have been seen without highlights and frosted tips. The rest of the guys are dressed like your Dad on Luau Day at his office. This is another song whose popularity I always found curious. There can’t be more than two notes in the whole song. The lyrics are fairly repetitive. It’s not terrible, just kind of simplistic. The faux reggae thing must have worked for a lot of people. And Mark’s highlights and frosted tips.
The ’90s Rocked: “Under the Bridge” by The Red Hot Chili Peppers
We’ve got animated clouds and a performance in the desert, which was where you went in the ’90s when the forest was booked. Hobo chic and shirtless styles are both on display by the guys. And now some actual urban scenes, because that’s kind of what this song is all about, lyrically speaking. It’s amazing that so many years later this song still packs as strong a punch as it did when it was new. The band kills it, it’s just a perfect rock performance. The lyrics remain resonant and affecting. The band could’ve just stood on a soundstage and delivered the song and it would’ve been equally effective. The camera speed picks up when the song explodes at the bridge, giving you a bit of a visual rush. Great song, interesting video.
The ’90s Rocked: “The Other Side” by Aerosmith
I am working really hard to place this song. And I’m from Boston, so I’m practically required to be familiar with Aerosmith hits. The clip starts off in what looks like an office breakroom with balloons everywhere? But also a coffin? And maybe Aerosmith is all mannequins? And then that gets ignored for clips of a stadium performance. So just because it was the ’90s that didn’t mean that Aerosmith was sober. It’s not a bad song, but sounds like a lot of their other better known tunes. The lyrics are starting to sound a little familiar. Possibly I just never knew the name of this one. Probably because it wasn’t really worth committing to memory. Steven Tyler and the guys are dressed like they always are. Like they mugged Stevie Nicks on the way to a biker bar. If Stevie had been on this song, I’d have remembered it. And… by the ’90s, this band was too old for everyone to be ripping their shirts off at the end of a performance. Kind of embarrassing, actually.
The ’90s Rocked: “Half the World” by Rush
Well, this is an anti-climax for our final song of the morning. Half the world is comprised of people who “get” Rush. The other half is people who view them as D&D nerds who somehow became unnecessary rock stars. Guess which half of the divide I’m on.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on April 11, 2016.