1988 Countdown #61: Heart, “There’s the Girl”

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We come back from the commercial break to Kevin Seal, thrusting his pelvis to the rhythm of Aerosmith’s “Rag Doll.” “Oh, boy,” he says, “the top 100 videos of 1988. In case you’re just getting out of prison–1988.” Seal, apparently, is eager to be done with his work day. The camera’s somewhat closer on Seal than in previous shots, and we can see that behind him in the studio is a dollhouse-size city–and a big Godzilla toy heading towards it, ready to wreak havoc.

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Seal introduces Heart’s “There’s the Girl.” “This is another one where Nancy took over the vocals, which is kind of a step,” Seal says. “‘These Dreams’ was the first time that Nancy stepped out in front of the mike to take the lead.” (I don’t think people actually step in front of the microphone, as it won’t pick up your voice very well, but let’s move on.) “Ann stepped back a little bit.” Seal pretends to be Ann, pushing Nancy forward: “Go ahead, go on. That’s right. Oh, they love you. Go ahead, go ahead.” He thrusts an arm in the air. “It went to number one!” He grits his teeth, channeling Ann’s presumed rage. “And she did it again!” He starts laughing. “But this one, Ann got her nose back in joint, because this one went nowhere.”

Before we start, a quick stat sheet for the Wilson sisters: Ann is the dark-haired one with weight issues, 38 years old in 1988, usually the lead singer. Nancy is the blonde one who married Cameron Crowe two years prior, 34 years old in 1988, usually the guitarist.

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The video opens on a soundstage dressed up to look like an Egyptian desert. There’s two statues of pharaohs, each about fifteen feet high, a whole bunch of sand, a sky with dramatic streaks, and an oasis that looks like a wading pool filled with purple water. Ann appears between the pharaohs, pursing her lips. Then Nancy walks through the wading pool. She’s wearing a white top, a black dress, and black leggings. It’s possible we’re supposed to think she’s walking on top of the water, but it’s pretty apparent the pool is about three inches deep. Billowing white artificial smoke rolls across the pool, following her.

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Nancy drops the white jersey top and turns to the camera: she’s styled like it’s 2 am on prom night. The black dress has metallic scales and has been seductively lowered on one shoulder. As she sings (“now you’re feeling kind of rough”), we get cutaway shots of the three male members of Heart: a big-haired guitarist with an instrument that looks like a sci-fi probe, doing a Pete Townshend windmill; a drummer in spandex, playing the largest kit this side of Neal Peart, and a bassist with a large exhaust tube hooked up to the back of his jacket and up the neck of his instrument, so as better to spread the smoke-machine love. No, really.

“I know how long you’ve been searching for the perfect touch,” Nancy sings. Her voice is fine, but this song is just dreadful, a generic pop-rock grind with no discernable melody. (Nancy cowrote it with Holly Knight, best known for Pat Benatar’s “Love Is a Battlefield.”) We cut to Nancy with a guitar, spinning around and bringing her left knee up to her waist for a quick kick. In guitarist mode, she’s wearing a short black jacket and a lot of necklaces, and looks different enough from her prom-dress singer getup that it feels like we’re cutting between two separate band members. Periodically, we cut over to Ann for some token handclapping.

Nancy, standing between the two sphinxes and playing guitar, does the left knee bend again. While some guitarists can play the instrument behind the head, she can play it for very brief increments of time while standing on one foot. This is less impressive than one might hope for.

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We get some close-ups of Ann singing backing vocals. She looks unhappy: contrary to Kevin Seal’s narrative of Ann pushing Nancy forward, I suspect the actual story was that Capitol Records said “Is there any way we can have the hot girl singing?” The video is trying to minimize Ann’s presence and her weight; one of the semiotic rules of MTV for women is that the larger you are, the less visible you are. This contradictory maxim would reach new absurd heights two years later, when Wilson Phillips kept rolling out hits and the videos did everything possible to conceal Carnie Wilson’s presence. Ann knows exactly what’s going on and isn’t pretending to be cheerful.

Nancy struts down a mist-shrouded catwalk, playing guitar, with dozens of hands reaching up through the grating. The drummer spins a stick. The bassist clenches his fists. Nancy spins. This is a master class in clichéd rock poses.

Somebody turns up the smoke machine as high as it will go, either because the director wants some more visual elements or because they’ve got an hour left on the smoke-machine rental and figured they might as well get as much use out of it as possible. Nancy fights her way through clouds. Ann and Nancy stand together in front of a billowing wall of smoke. Ann stands alone in front of a dozen misty jets with frizzed-out hair, looking sullen.

For the line “feel your heart beating faster,” Nancy moves her right fist in a way that is presumably meant to evoke a drum beating but comes much closer to the universal symbol for handjob.

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Nancy does some jumping and some scissors kicks. Ann stoically stands surrounded by seven midgets wearing black Boba Fett helmets and yellow jumpsuits, all with their arms crossed. This doesn’t seem to relate to anything else in the video–maybe there was a whole plotline that got excised?–and we quickly cut away.

We rotate through the shots we’ve already seen, which don’t look any better the third time around. Boy, I really hope Cameron Crowe had nothing to do with this video. Nancy tickles the chin of a pharaoh statue, and does another mini leg-kick. Not long after, she does a high kick, again with the left leg, in slow motion, over her head. Why doesn’t she ever kick with her right leg? Was there some tragic accident at Budokan? Is the smoke machine covering up a grotesque, misshapen right leg?

Lots of pointing into the camera as the song fades out; we finish with a shot of Nancy putting her head on Ann’s shoulder. Ann looks disgruntled but affectionate.

“There’s the Girl” peaked at #12 on the Billboard charts. You can watch it here.

posted 17 December 2009 in 1988 and tagged , . 6 comments

6 Comments on 1988 Countdown #61: Heart, “There’s the Girl”

  1. Rob Says:

    excellent post–and excellent question about the patented Wilson leg kick. Google sez: No results found for “nancy wilson’s right leg”.

    it’s almost like Billy Idol’s right fist–a bona fide mystery limb.

  2. Chris M. Says:

    I literally forgot this song existed. Amazed it’s this high on the chart, compared with some much bigger radio hits lower down. (Man, MTV was all over Heart’s metaphorical jock during this period, weren’t they…) I’m vaguely recalling that Bad Animals, the album whence this sprang, wasn’t much of an album once you got past the immortal “Alone.”

    The video is trying to minimize Ann’s presence and her weight; one of the semiotic rules of MTV for women is that the larger you are, the less visible you are.

    In general, totally agreed (especially your Wilson Phillips recall; they’d put Carnie on a beach wearing a tent, practically), but does this apply to Ann during this phase? I guess she was on her way up the weight scale during the late ’80s, right? My memory of Ann is that she fought her weight off and on throughout her career, and that when Heart finally broke at pop radio in ’85 she was in one of her svelter (or at least pleasantly voluptuous) phases, and the videos (“What About Love,” “Never”) would feature her pretty prominently in those Renaissance Fair–bustier outfits, in clear full-body shots. I don’t have clear recall of the Bad Animals videos (maybe she was chubbier then and Capitol just did a good job of fooling my 16-year-old eyes with quick cuts), but I think everyone recalls the shock in 1990 when they came back with “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You,” and Ann was fully, unmistakably plus-size.

    Yeah, Nancy is blonde and more classically “hot,” but she always was, regardless of what size Ann was. So it’s understandable — if still evil — that the label would want to emphasize her over Ann. I just honestly don’t know where Ann was on the size/Beauty Myth continuum in ’88 (probably bigger than ’85, smaller than ’90).

  3. Tom Nawrocki Says:

    I recall Ann’s girth first being an issue (at least for me) in the video for “This Man Is Mine,” from 1982, which featured a shot of her in a tight dress with an unmistakable pot belly. That video has now been deleted from YouTube, so you know, make your own guesses.

  4. Gavin Says:

    I just watched the videos for “Alone” and “Who Will You Run To,” the first two singles off 1987’s Bad Animals. The basic strategy with Ann in both clips is to show her only in extreme close-up: there’s a very few quick, distant shots of the whole band where you can’t really make out anyone’s body, but otherwise, it’s a tightly framed headshot for Ann, even further obscured by her hair being styled for volume. (Judging by your teenage memories, Chris, this approach worked.) There’s lots of full-body shots of the other band members, especially Nancy, rocking the cleavage.

    I should add that Ann looks actively unwell in the “Who Will You Run To” video. She’s wearing so much makeup that there’s a kabuki effect–I can only assume it was an effort at concealing some serious skin problems.

    The plan changed for “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You”–they had full-body shots of Ann, although the camera didn’t linger on her. But they kept the visual focus on the hot young actress playing out the story of the lyrics.

    What this all reminds me is the great efforts in the Def Leppard videos of the same time period to not show Rick Allen’s left shoulder.

  5. Tom Nawrocki Says:

    One other weird thing about the Heart videos of this vintage is that the songs are all very synth-heavy (especially the dreadful “There’s the Girl”), but you never, ever see anyone playing keyboards.

  6. Gavin Says:

    So to recap, things generally not included in Heart videos are (1) keyboards (2) Nancy Wilson’s right leg (3) Ann Wilson’s entire body.

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