1988 Countdown #86: Henry Lee Summer, “I Wish I Had a Girl”

More snark from Kevin Seal, who waves his hands insincerely to connote his great excitement with the countdown. Seal talks about Henry Lee Summer denying that he sounds like John Cougar Mellencamp: “He’s a very modest fellow, especially when it comes to the women who fall all over him in this video,” says Seal. Cut to a Summer interview, where he’s saying, “I showed up on the set and I told them I couldn’t act, I told them I couldn’t dance, and I told them I wasn’t gonna dress up.”

I had forgotten Summer ever existed; he had one other marginal hit in 1989 (“Hey Baby”) and then vanished from the pop charts. Summer looked a lot like Dan Baird of the Georgia Satellites, although the gap-tooth in his smile was not quite as prominent. Like Mellencamp, he was from Indiana; Summer had a flat Midwestern version of a southern twang. But although his career never really went anywhere, there’s one thing nobody can ever take away from him: he was king of the mullet.

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“Whoooooaow!” the song begins with a howl. It’s a generic guitar rocker, in the vein of early Mellencamp (or Seger, or maybe even Hagar). It’s got a pretty good riff, and is periodically livened by the presence of a gospel choir. Summer’s sitting outside on what looks like a college campus, playing his guitar, staring at the legs of girls passing by. A blonde in soft-focus sees him, shakes her head as if to say “that boy’s too crazy for me,” and walks away.

A boho black girl (tank top, batik skirt, oversized earrings and necklace) strolls by. Summer, resplendent in denim, walks by and tries to pick her up; she waves him off.

Next is a Terminator executive girl: a short-cropped blonde with a red power suit and oversized sunglasses. Summer trails behind her, imitating her sassy strut. She walks faster.

We now see Summer on a too-small bicycle, pedaling alongside a lit-major girl. She’s got a black hat, an unusually cut gray jacket, and a wan expression. He’s coming on to her; she exits the camera frame. Right about now is when it becomes apparent that this video is going to offer both a procession of ’80s female fashion archetypes and the raw material for a modern sexual-harassment training video. Summer keeps awkwardly pedaling the bicycle, singing into the camera. There’s a quick closeup of Soft-Focus Blonde smiling. Summer waves his arms for emphasis and almost loses control of the bike, mugging like crazy, he keeps his balance. Despite his “I couldn’t act” protestations, he’s actually a very good physical comedian.

Back to the boho black girl, who is greeted by a black man in an expensive suit. The man presses a twenty-dollar bill into Summer’s palm and walks away with her, hand in hand. Summer looks indignant. I’m not sure what the comic premise here was supposed to be: the black guy thinks Summer’s her pimp? A bum? The valet who parked his car? He’s just showing Summer that the way to impress girls is to give money to strangers who were bugging them on the street?

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Back to Terminator executive girl, who is looking really distressed by Summer’s approaches. She pushes him away. He grabs her shoulder. She takes a swing at him with her handbag. I’m sure the director was trying for “oafish but charming” with these little vignettes, and maybe the video played that way twenty years ago, but it sure doesn’t now–you wonder why nobody’s calling the police. Cut to Soft-Focus Blonde, who puts one hand over her right eye and laughs at Summer’s mishaps.

We return to, predictably, the lit-major. Summer’s got his bicycle leaned against a chain-link fence. He has one hand on the fence and the other around her shoulder. It’s unclear how she feels about this, but a female friend grabs her and runs off with her. Summer loses his balance and falls to the ground.

Black high-heel shoes lead the camera to Summer, who’s now sitting on a city curb playing his guitar. A wider angle reveals that there’s a small gospel choir standing behind him. It’s a really good visual punchline, taken directly from the Mel Brooks playbook. (It’d probably be even better if it was revealed by pulling back instead of cutting.) The choir’s members throw their arms in the air and sing, “Have mercy!”

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Summer’s found a new girl to harass: a big-haired brunette in a bright blue prom dress. He runs his hands lightly over her shoulders; she seems pleased.

Cut to the next girl: she’s rollerskating in a white spandex outfit with some black stripes. She looks like she just came off the set of Tron. The director was big on finding bits of physical business for Summer: in this case, Summer’s dribbling a basketball as he tries to pick up Tron girl; as she skates past, he lets it roll away.

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Creepiest encounter yet: Summer’s cornered an Asian girl in denim and black leggings. Although she’s frantically trying to get away, he keeps blocking her with his arms. Dude, if she says no, it’s rape. Soft-Focus Blonde just smiles. “Check it out, Leroy,” Summer sings; I wonder who Leroy was.

Back to the prom girl, who’s shaking her head at Summer. She meets her boyfriend (or maybe she’s just embracing a random stranger on the street to get away from Summer). This guy doesn’t press money on Summer, he just pats him on the cheek.

No luck with Tron girl either.

Summer tries to grab the arm of the Asian denim girl. She’s pissed. She turns around and delivers a (racially stereotypical) karate kick. Apparently, Summer’s antics have gotten local women to enlist in self-defense classes. “I wish I had a girl like that,” he says, waggling his fingers as she walks away.

Night has fallen (apparently this was another one-day video, although nothing’s on fire). Summer’s playing his guitar for two girls on the street who seem to like his busking, but then walk away. The gospel choir returns, advising him once again, “Have mercy.” Soft-Focus Blonde returns and watches, smiling, while Summer does some call-and-response with the choir. He turns around and notices Soft-Focus Blonde at last. They slowly walk towards each other and embrace. She gives his ass a hard squeeze, getting him to hit a high note.

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They run off together down the sidewalk; the camera pulls back and up. The crane shot reveals the stars on the sidewalk that tell us we’re on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, so apparently the secret message of the video is that Summer wishes he had a girl like an out-of-work model or actress.

“I Wish I Had a Girl” hit #20. You can watch the video here.

posted 29 July 2008 in 1988 and tagged , , , . 4 comments

4 Comments on 1988 Countdown #86: Henry Lee Summer, “I Wish I Had a Girl”

  1. Scraps Says:

    I had never heard of this guy!

  2. Chris M. Says:

    Wow. I seriously forgot this existed. (“This” = Summer, the song, the mullet, the entire post-Mellencamp genre, etc.)

    Nice freeze-frame at the end there.

  3. Mary Beth Says:

    Kevin Seal!

    In the late eighties, a friend and I celebrity spotted him and spent an evening stalking him around the West Village.

    Good times.

    His wikipedia entry ends with “In 2006, Seal appeared in the sexual harassment training video “Let’s Get Honest” by Media Partners as a sexual predator.”

    Oh, Kevin, I wanted to be *your* sexual predator.

  4. Mike Says:

    Does anyone know the real name of Soft-Focus Blonde?

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