1988 Countdown #82: Icehouse, “Electric Blue”

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Here’s what I remembered about “Electric Blue” twenty years later:

1. It was cowritten by John Oates of Hall and Oates, presumably in an effort to keep up with Daryl Hall’s songwriting credits; Hall had a solo hit with “Dreamtime” in 1986. (Actually, a fair number of Hall and Oates’ song catalog was written by Hall alone; his girl Sara “Smile” Allen seemed to get as many cowriting credits as Oates, which must have made for some complicated group dynamics.)

2. Icehouse were Australian. Consulting my trusty Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop, I find Icehouse filed between I Spit on Your Gravy and The Iguana. (There’s also an entry for Icecream Hands, who I actually like a lot–quick, go download their song “Picture Disc from the Benelux” right now–but that’s just a cross-reference to their previous identity at the Mad Turks from Istanbul. Wow, Australian rock bands have names even worse than Yo La Tengo albums.) Apparently, Icehouse formed in 1978. I can’t tell you too much else about them because my eyes glazed over a long entry of band evolution and members coming in and out. Apparently, they’re the Australian Status Quo. But the Encyclopedia informs me that this album, Man of Colours, hit #1 in Australia (just #43 in the States), “making Icehouse second only to John Farnham in the popularity stakes at that time.” Let’s just assume that Farnham is a national treasure of Australia rivaled only by Crocodile Dundee and move on.

The “Electric Blue” video begins with swelling synths and a closeup on a keytar. An attractive brunette girl in a sheath dress enters a sun-dappled room. More musical instruments: a red electric guitar (with somebody deploying the whammy bar) and a drum kit made up mostly of hexagonal electronic drums, with a new-wave drummer to match (red leather jacket, poofy blond hair). This all feels very 1983, but maybe the mail down to Australia is slow.

Most of this video is shot on a rooftop in front of an unfamiliar skyline that I’m going to guess is Sydney. On Lost, the first time they shot on location in Sydney, they made sure to stand the character in the harbor in front of the opera house to prove that they actually spent the money to fly down there, but I guess it’s less impressive if you already live there.

Anyway, there’s a lot of Icehouse members hanging around on this roof: six, I think. For some reason, Australian bands that cross over to the States tend to be larger: five guys in Men at Work, six guys in INXS. Why is that? Are we buying in to the image of a prison gang? Is it easier to travel if you’ve got more guys to carry the equipment? I feel like at least one member of Icehouse should be sporting a mustache in tribute to John Oates, but no such luck.

Lead singer Iva Davies (born Ivor) does have a most impressive mullet, though. Not quite as magnificent as Henry Lee Summer‘s, but a strong contender. The camera slowly pans around Davies and his hair as he sings. We periodically cut to the brunette, who’s hanging out in a loft, looking out the window. Maybe she’s trying to watch Icehouse film their video across the street, but she never interacts with them (or with the guy wearing a hat who briefly appears sitting in a chair in the loft, watching her).

Given the lack of interaction between the singer and the (presumed) subject of the song, this seems like a good time to mention that “Electric Blue” is also the name of a series of British porn from the ’80s and ’90s; I learn from the Internet that Electric Blue 28 starred an underaged Traci Lords and has hence been heavily edited. It’s also the name of an Andy Bell album and a Cranberries song; I’m going to state flatly that none of them could possibly compare to “Midnight Blue,” the ridiculously good single from Foreigner lead singer Lou Gramm (alas, from early 1987, so not to be seen on this countdown).

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The song chugs along. “I just freeze every time you see through me and it’s all over you–electric blue.” Block that metaphor! Icehouse’s bassist, we learn, looks like Frank Stallone in a porkpie hat and sunglasses; the keytarist is a nerdy black guy who kind of looks like the guy who did the stuttering dance at the end of the “Beat It” video. Lots of close-ups of the girl smiling and looking through the window.

Some guy stands around looking at the clouds; he’s got a saxophone on his shoulder, so consider this fair warning that there will eventually be a sax solo.

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Davies walks past a chair. Does he sit in it? No! That’s the kind of dynamic bandleader he is. He keeps pacing on the rooftop, past his bandmates. The brunette girl walks away from the window, runs her hands through her hair, and then arches her back and throws her head back as far as it will go, like she’s hoping a vampire will bite her neck.

They warned you: Sax solo. The saxophonist stands silhouetted against the evening sky, with rosy colors in the background. The camera skews on a 45-degree angle to connote the crazy excitement we might be feeling from the song if we had not previously heard any music ever.

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Cut to nighttime: it’s another one-day video! Alas, nothing’s on fire, but the city buildings are lit up and everyone seems to have thrown on a jacket. The band’s smiling now, maybe because they know they’ll get to go home soon.

The brunette girl from the loft is unleashed upon the world! In blue light, she walks by a brick wall, doing a pirouette, and then leans against the wall contemplatively and cracks a smile. In a final flourish, the drummer actually stands up.

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The video closes with a feminine hand pressing an elevator button and a rising elevator in a shaft. I guess the implication is that she’s actually going up to meet Icehouse at last. Poor Icehouse–when the Beatles and U2 performed on rooftops, they got mobs of fans. These guys just get one stalker. I bet John Farnham didn’t have these problems.

“Electric Blue” peaked on the American singles charts at #7. You can watch it here.

posted 9 September 2008 in 1988 and tagged , , , , . 5 comments

5 Comments on 1988 Countdown #82: Icehouse, “Electric Blue”

  1. Chris M. Says:

    It’s slightly weird that this is Icehouse’s only Top 10 hit in America (John Oates connection notwithstanding — remember, H&O were getting pretty cold in America in the late ’80s).

    My memory of Icehouse in 1987–88 was that they were annoyingly omnipresent on U.S. radio with a crappy pseudo-ballad, “Crazy” (no relation to Willie Nelson/Patsy Cline’s hit or any other, better song with that name), the sort of “passionate” song Michael Bolton and his mullet would later make famous. And then “Electric Blue” benefited from “Crazy’s” breakthrough and popped into the Top 10 quickly. Yet, according to Billboard “Blue” was on the charts a couple of weeks longer than “Crazy” was; so maybe “Crazy” just felt to me like it was around forever, because I didn’t care for it.

    Icehouse were always better as a new-wave-cheese band than as romantic balladeers, anyway. The first song I remember from them, around ’86 or so, was a sheeny synth song (very post–Tears for Fears) called “No Promises,” and I still have a soft spot for it. “Electric Blue” is a weaker new-wave song, but at least it was in their wheelhouse.

  2. Tom Nawrocki Says:

    “Midnight Blue” was so good that R.E.M. started covering it on the Lifes Rich Pageant tour. “Dreamtime” was really good, too, leading to the conclusion that John Oates was actually a net negative on the overall quality of the Hall and Oates output.

  3. Jac McLaurin Says:

    It never ceases to amaze me that when Australian bands make it big overseas, people (ie Americans) are surprised to discover they aren’t American and then point to all the US influences.

    If I had a dollar for every argument I’ve had about the Aussieness of AC/DC and the Bee Gees….

  4. Ramachandran Says:

    i was hoping to get the name of the brunnette in the video, but cant find that info anywhere. anyway my first exposure to this catchy song was on americas top 10 in 1987, which i saw in my home country malaysia. the tune stuck in my head and i really loved it, kind of forgotten it after all this while. i re discovered icehouse recently and i thought crazy was the song by them i rembered most, until i stumbled upon electric blue , and unmistakenly remembered it as THE most famous Ice house song for me. The girl looks like beverly d angelo dont you think ?

  5. Bud Says:

    BTW, actress Cassandra Delaney plays the part of the woman caller in the video, and was also in the Icehouse video for “Electric Blue” from the same album. Delaney is probably known best for being married to the late John Denver.

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