Sunday, May 19, 2013

80s explained (lightly)

Some of you may remember the greatest thing ever written on this blog.

I'm going to attempt it again, hopefully successfully.

If you're reading this you're likely too young to remember, but Eddie Murphy recorded an incredible song in the mid-80s. I don't say it's incredible as in vintage Eddie Murphy hilariousness. It's incredible as in absolute Eddie Murphy earnestness. See, things weren't like today where the Lonely Island crew does hilarious stuff on Saturday Night Live and does hilarious music videos. Back then Eddie Murphy was being so freaking hilarious, that he just had to get his emotions out through serious pop music and studio sing-dancing.

I've embedded the video below, but I would actually recommend opening the video in a completely new window so you can follow along with my commentary:

Alright! Let's watch this together shall we?

0:00 -- This is a studio video supposedly showing the actual recording of the song. Notice that the studio engineers frantically attempting to get the studio ready BECAUSE THE MUSIC HAS ALREADY STARTED!

0:04 -- Yes, the song has started and Eddie hasn't even shown up yet. Here is Eddie, descending a staircase. Will he make it into the studio by the time the vocals are needed? And if he doesn't make it will he need to leave the studio and descend the staircase again for the next take?

0:04 -- I notice that the little words in the corner reveal this song is on an album called How Could It Be. A quick trip to Wikipedia reveals that an entire 80s music album from Eddie Murphy exists and apparently this was the best song.

0:06 -- Cigarette smoke. Always weird to see on video because it's like, illegal now or something.

0:08 -- The music is playing and they're STILL PLUGGING IN THE EQUIPMENT.

0:09 -- Did you catch that editing trick? They cut to two separate shots right on a quick double beat. I think editing to the beat is something missing from music videos today which are far better shot, but don't incorporate a musical rhythm to the editing. The two shots were of a digital display and a volume meter, but still...

0:18 -- Eddie! You made it! And there's small talk! The small talk is important to music videos to show that this is real and we're not just playing the audio to the song. Well, we are just playing audio to the song, but we're offsetting that by stiff, insincere dialogue getting in the way of the song.

0:20 -- See the back of crazy curly blond guy? Know who that is? It's Rick James! Yes, THAT Rick James. I've been reading that book about the history of MTV and a few people said that Rick James complained that his videos weren't shown in the early days. He's got a huge point. MTV was infamously lousy at showing videos by black artists back then. The book interviews a few people who said that the reason they didn't play "Super Freak" wasn't because of race, but because it was trashy. See for yourself. I kind of like that video. Anyway, it looks like Rick's hair got pretty peroxided after he washed the goop out from the "Super Freak" video.

0:25 -- Introductions! The audio is a bit muffled, but Rick James definitely explained to someone (either Eddie or one of the sound engineers) that the title of the song is apparently "Party All the Time."

0:35 -- Notice Eddie's pause as he went out the studio door. He's timing this thing perfectly. No way he's going to stand silent behind the microphone for one freaking second longer than necessary. Also notice the people trapped in the glass box to the right. I was going to make fun of them, but if I recall this video correctly they become very important later on.

0:39 -- Eddie is an extraordinary comedian. He's no musician though. This point is evidenced by his needing instruction from Rick James about what to do with the headphones sitting in front of him.

0:43 -- Eddie gives a glance to his fellow musician that seems to say "Wow. Have you tried these headphones out? There's music going directly to my brain from both sides!"

0:45 -- If you're watching this for the first time you surely recognize Eddie Murphy, so there's no trick there. Up to this point you're probably questioning the seriousness of it all. But right now is when he starts singing and that's when you realize that this is the most serious thing ever recorded on audio or video. There is just enough hesitation in Eddie's voice to make him vulnerable. This is not tongue-in-cheek. This is absolutely the real deal.

0:50 -- The studio is absolutely buzzing. Surely they've heard the computer-generated backing beat and synth over and over again, but somehow the Aziz Anzari-sounding voice of Eddie Murphy is putting a whole new spin on this machine-made generic sound.

0:59 -- The Eddie Murphy double-clap, you'll learn, is his "Party All the Time" signature move.

1:00 -- The keyboardist is singing too. Notice that he's not mic'ed. That means he doesn't have an obligation to do backing vocals, but he just can't help it.

1:05 -- This is my favorite shot so far. We get to see Rick James' very awesome pants with those stringy things on there that Davy Crockett and Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders have. Also notice the guy at the end of the mixing board. He's in the studio and can't contain himself. He's singing directly to the camera as if the infectious performances of this song can't be contained behind glass.

1:06 -- Double clap by Rick James. Nice. Somehow that got recorded into the audio. Well, we established earlier that the audio was recorded before the video was made, but this is a video of the recording of the song, so it's sort of a chicken and the egg thing. Also, for some reason the control booth seems to be mic'ed right where Rick James' hands are.

1:10 -- Eddie's mouth slowly curves into a smile. It looks like he may have gotten a little bit of a confidence build from some kind of antics off-camera. Just in time too, because here comes the chorus.

1:15 -- The people behind the glass box are unleashed! The man on the left seems to be the choir director. "Okay everyone, it goes 'party all the time, party all the time, party all the time.' Got it?"

1:20 -- There are two white men in the room who are the only people not having a good time. It's like they're dean and associate dean of Whitey University. Les Garland (former MTV executive vice president of programming from 1982-1987) said in the MTV book I mentioned earlier that he couldn't play "Super Freak" because it was "a booty video in a swimming pool" (Les was correct about everything but the pool). Then Rick James called him a racist and Garland confronted him about it and they apologized to each other. According to Garland: "You remember the Eddie Murphy video 'Party All the Time'? Rick wrote that song. And I'm one of the two white guys in that video." My vote's on the bald guy.

1:21 -- When I see the guy in the control room with the hat having a good time, I realize I'm making way too much fun of this song.

1:26 -- The camera pans past a grand piano, teasing us with the idea that the bridge will involve some fanciful Gershwinesque key-plunking.

1:30 -- Hey! Is that Michael Bolton?

1:35 -- Rick James' air drumming shows that he is stifled behind that studio glass. The guy needs to be making the music!

1:54 -- Where is that background voice coming from? Is it the phantom of the studio?

2:00 -- Eddie snaps his fingers dangerously close to the microphone. They must've removed that in post.

2:24 -- Interesting choice to focus on the backup singer when there are no backup vocals present.

2:26 -- Okay, seriously watch the guy on the right. He's hilarious. I think he's sort of poking fun of the video but it happened to be caught on tape.

2:48 -- Didn't say anything during the last 20 seconds because I was caught up in the chorus. Again. But notice now that Rick James seems to be feeding on the mystical energy that has enveloped the studio. It's practically writhing within him. It's sort of like in that movie The Last Dragon when Sho'nuff achieved "the glow."

3:00 -- Eddie nods to the booth. Both are validated. This sucker's hot.

3:07 -- High fives abound, but there's still a minute left! Wait, Rick! Where are you going?

3:09 -- Oh wait. There's one more white guy. Maybe that's Garland.

3:18 -- What! YES! Rick James CANNOT contain himself! He's heading right into the middle of the take, possibly wrecking the whole recording, but HE CANNOT BE STOPPED! The music is calling! HARD.

3:28 -- Rick straps on a guitar. I can't quite hear the guitar in this song, but perhaps that's my problem. We also realize where that disembodied voice came from earlier. Rick James does the background vocals, and played his pre-records earlier, but he obviously realized that he still hadn't bothered to do the vocals for the END of the song.

3:55 -- Alright, as the song ends can we really blame them for recording this song? I had a good time.

3:58 -- Man hug. Hug it out bitches! You deserve it.

4:03 -- Whoops. They forgo the final vocals, but instead give the Buckwheat "o'tay" hand symbol to the camera.

4:04 -- And the devil horns while looking evil cool.

(NOTE: I sat on this blog post for nearly a year because I was planning on writing a serious companion serious 80s piece about a different subject entirely. That may still be in the works. Maybe.)


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