1988 Countdown #56: Poison, “Fallen Angel”

(New to the countdown? Catch up here.)

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Back from the commercial break, Kevin Seal reorients us: “Top one hundred of 1988, which is quite convenient, because it’s the year that we best remember.” He grins and flaps his hands around, and then starts talking loudly, denoting that this is the official part of his palaver: “Eighty-eight was a pretty good year for Poison! George Bush and Poison were the big winners of ’88. They released their second album–Poison, not George.” Seal leads into a clip of lead singer Bret Michaels talking about making videos:

“You know, it’s just like doing an album or anything that has to do with your career,” Bret says. His blond hair is teased and piled high, with sunglasses precariously perched on top. (Apparently, he actually had his own hair at this point.) “So we wrote the plot to ‘Fallen Angel.’ We’ve written the plots to all our videos, and how we want them to be edited and stuff, and then we worked with him and he did a great job.”

The “him” in question is director Marty Callner, who did a substantial percentage of the videos on MTV in its first decade, including Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” and Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” I’m sure he loved taking notes from Bret “Eisenstein” Michaels.

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We open on a family dinner: Mom, Dad, four kids. “Great dinner, Mom,” says one of the sons, with a completely flat delivery.

“Glad you like it,” says Mom, who is wearing a puffy-shouldered power suit.

The young blonde daughter, who we will soon call Angel, is played by model (and Michaels girlfriend) Susie Hatton. She is wearing a demure blue sweatshirt, and has an announcement: “Dad, there’s something I want to talk to you about. I’ve decided to move.”

“Move? Where?” Dad is nebbishy, with curly hair and glasses.

“To California,” Angel says. Dad chews, and looks worried. “And I want to leave on Friday.”

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As the guitars kick in, we dissolve from concerned looks from Mom and Dad to footage of a bus pulling into Hollywood, neon signs reflected in its windows. Then we see Poison, playing in a huge soundstage, empty except for the neon sign with their logo. C.C. Deville (“Guitar Screechin’ and Hair Bleachin'” was his credit on Poison’s debut album) jumps in the air. Bret Michaels (“Vocalizin’ and Socializin'”) spits out a big mouthful of water. Bobby Dall (“Bass Rapin’ and Heartbreakin'”) smokes a cigarette. Rikki Rockett (“Sticks, Tricks & Lipstick Fix”) stands up behind his kit.

Rock stars often wear different outfits in the course of a video; the usual strategy is to mix up the wardrobe later on in the clip in case our attention flags. But Poison were never about “patience” or “restraint.” In his first appearance, Bret is sporting black leather pants and a red-and-black doo-rag. In his second appearance, approximately five seconds later, he’s got a red wide-brimmed hat that coordinates with a red-and-black suit and red fingerless gloves. This isn’t the borderline drag-queen approach the band had two years earlier, but it’s still delightfully insane.

Meanwhile, in black and white, Angel gets off the bus and onto the Sunset Strip–basically the same scene of the hayseed coming to LA that we saw at the beginning of “Welcome to the Jungle,” out half a year before this video. The difference is that Axl was prettier.

Angel’s adventures are intercut with the band playing, while Michaels sings the narration: “She stepped off the bus and out onto the city streets.” Angel, now in color, the better to show off her pink dress, is meeting with a sleazebag talent manager. He looks like an unshaven, swarthy version of Jonathan Pryce. The budget Pryce spins his finger, indicating that he wants to check out Angel’s ass. She obediently pirouettes. He then brushes her cheek with the back of his hand, and she shies away. Mr. Sleazebag sits down and leers at the camera.

We haven’t hit the chorus yet, but we’ve already reached look #3 for Bret: he’s still rocking the fingerless red gloves, but he’s now got sunglasses, a denim jacket, and a big black cowboy hat.

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Three-way split screen! Poison in the middle, rocking the house–Dad on the left and Angel on the right are talking on the phone, wearing matching plaid shirts! Either she thinks Dad can see her through the phone, or she’s telling us that she retains her Midwestern virtue. But not for long, because soon we see Angel looking in the mirror as she dolls up in an outfit with a plunging neckline. Mr. Sleazebag comes up behind her with a necklace and kisses her on the cheek. As the girls in Rock of Love like to say, “She’s not even here for the right reasons!”

And now we hit the chorus, so powerful that three members of Poison must cluster around a single microphone: “Win big! Mama’s fallen angel! Lose big! Livin’ out her lies! Wants it all! Mama’s fallen angel! Lose it all, rollin’ the dice of her life!” Overall, the song’s a catchy slice of poppy hair metal. Despite the chorus, the video is more concerned with Daddy than Mama. While Bret (who’s now accessorizing look #1 with an oversized pair of ski-goggle sunglasses) tells us about Angel’s life in the fast line and how she let her family slip away, we see a flashback of Angel hugging Dad.

A tuxedo-clad Mr. Sleazebag escorts Angel to a white limo. The driver holds the door open; Mr. Sleazebag pats his cheek, like he’s the discount Sinatra. This happens while Bret sings “Caught up in the Hollywood scene / All the parties and limousines.” Apparently, it was cheaper to show a limousine than a party.

Cut back to Bret, who has moved on to look #4, which has a black leather cap and a humongous tribal metal necklace. The constant is the red fingerless gloves, and with a closeup, we can see why: they are fringed red fingerless gloves.

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Modeling sequence: Posing for a photographer in a studio, Angel wears lingerie, spins, pulls on her hair, leans over, and generally shows off her young body, not looking morally conflicted. This was pretty much the maximum amount of skin allowed on MTV in 1988.

Nightclub scene, with a half-dozen extras skillfully deployed to make it look like the club is hopping. Mr. Sleazebag, still in his tux, is entertaining three young women. Angel sees him kiss one on the cheek, throws her drink on the table, and storms out.

Guitar solo: C.C. gyrates and hops around, often backlit. It’s not obvious how short C.C. is.

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Angel storms out of the nightclub (it actually looks like the front of a theater, but fine). Mr. Sleazebag chases her onto the sidewalk. When he catches up and grabs her arm, she kicks him in the balls. The actor playing Mr. Sleazebag has his big moment, doubling over and grimacing in cartoonish pain. Angel struts down Sunset Boulevard and into the night, not at all concerned about being mistaken for a hooker.

The band kicks up the energy: C.C. duckwalks and the drummer spins his sticks around. Bret hops around on one foot and looks excited.

We soon see Angel walking down the sidewalk with her suitcase. She looks in a store window where a sign reads “There’s No Place Like Home.” She does not click her heels together. The band is now rocking so hard, Callner has to break out the slow-motion to contain them.

The two threads of our video come together as we see Angel on the back of Bret’s motorcycle. For some reason, she’s decided that Bret’s a more reputable escort than Mr. Sleazebag. Angel’s wearing a practical jeans-and-sweater combo; he’s wearing the ludicrous look #2, and even though it’s night, he’s got his sunglasses on. As they ride off into the night, they pass a bus where another wholesome Midwestern girl is getting off with her suitcase. Well, at least it wasn’t the Rock of Love bus.

“Fallen Angel” hit #12 on the singles chart. You can watch the video here.

posted 27 May 2010 in 1988 and tagged , , , . 8 comments

8 Comments on 1988 Countdown #56: Poison, “Fallen Angel”

  1. Chris M. Says:

    The “him” in question is director Marty Callner, who did a substantial percentage of the videos on MTV in its first decade

    Did you have to do a lot of Googling to figure this out? I ask because ’88 is still in MTV’s pre-director-credits era. Basically, until David Fincher, more or less, I’m not sure I knew any of the directors of videos unless they were renowned/VMA-winning ’80s guys like Godley & Creme or Steve Barron or Russell Mulcahy.

    I really (and only a bit sheepishly) like this song: meaty hook, big chorus, an almost country-music-worthy spin on a shopworn theme. Poison were on their best string of hits at this point. Actually, I’d say they each got better than the last one as ’88 progressed — “Fallen Angel” was better than the already-solid “Nothin’ But a Good Time,” and then the third single from this album was, duh, “Every Rose…”

  2. Gavin Says:

    Kevin Seal mentioned Marty Callner’s name as he set up the Bret Michaels interview clip; otherwise, I wouldn’t have known. I’ve identified only a couple of the directors of the forty-plus videos I’ve written about so far–sometimes I try, but the detective work is usually fruitless.

  3. Rob Says:

    God, I love this video. Although I guess since it failed to scare you out of moving to LA, it has to get some points deducted.

    I love how Mr. Sleazebag is basically the exact same Mr. Sleazebag character from Pat Benatar’s “Love Is A Battlefield” and John Waite’s “Change.” For some reason wearing a white vest without a jacket is a sure sign of sleazebaggery on MTV.

    do you know who played this particular Mr. Sleazebag? I’ve always wondered. He reminds me of the great TV character actor Gregory Sierra, who was Fred Sanford’s Chicano neighbor and the militant Jewish terrorist who visits Archie Bunker’s house. But I can’t imagine it’s really him! Whoever it is deserved some sort of award.

  4. azul120 Says:

    I’m feeling a little let down. I was expecting at least one Newman from Seinfeld reference here. The dad reminds me of Wayne Knight.

    Marty Callner, most infamously of course, was Aerosmith’s video collaborator during practically their entire Geffen era, with the notable exception of the Fincher directed Janie’s Got A Gun. Little surprise Callner found himself a name in hair-metal. (He would also direct Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time”, something else I’m pretty sure he’ll never live down.)

    Even for a video on the lower half on this year’s list, Fallen Angel evidently got a lot of heavy rotation, appearing on multiple weeks under the Heavy Rotation listing on MTV’s playlists, some of which can be found on mrpopculture.com, and recurrent rotation afterwards. (The kicked in the balls image is strongly ingrained in my head to this day.) This year just happened to be the year of two of their biggest MTV hits, “Nuthin’ But A Good Time” and “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”, and MTV liked to keep videos from the same artists spaced out on their big countdown lists, both of which will be seen in the top 40.

  5. Tom Nawrocki Says:

    So what would have happened to this entry if Bret Michaels had passed away? Would it have gone on the shelf alongside “The Day the Clown Cried”?

  6. Gavin Says:

    I see the Wayne Knight resemblance; I was also thinking he looked like Jeff Garlin. I would love to know who he was–him and Mr. Sleazebag both.

    As cautionary tales go, Angel could have done a lot worse–she tested her boundaries, and nothing really bad happened to her. Unless we’re supposed to read the lingerie photo session as a representation of a XXX movie set.

  7. Gavin Says:

    To answer Tom’s question, I would have moved on to video #55, and backtracked after a suitable interval.

    This countdown project, after all, started when Michael Jackson was still alive.

  8. Rule Forty Two - » 1988 Countdown #53: Chicago, “Look Away” Says:

    […] the most relentless. The unusual thing about it is that while other prurient videos of the era (Poison, Van Halen) rely on the stripper trope, the girls in “Look Away” are presented as […]

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