1988 Countdown #91: Eric Carmen, “Hungry Eyes”

As previously noted, deciphering the plot of a movie from an associated music video is a subtle art. My best guess on It Couldn’t Happen Here: the Pet Shop Boys drive around England, picking up hitchhikers and ultimately becoming professional tour guides, leading paying customers around the United Kingdom by train and by plane.

I’ve never seen Dirty Dancing, some scenes of which are contained within the video for Eric Carmen’s “Hungry Eyes.” Here’s what we’re shown of the movie: Patrick Swayze dancing with Jennifer Grey, while a blonde girl stands behind Grey with her hands on her hips, moving in time with them. It’s presumably a dance lesson designed to rev up the three-way sexual tension. The next clip: Grey swaying with a shirtless Swayze. Soon, she’s taken off her shirt too (revealing a reasonably demure bra), arching her back as far as the human spine will allow. They start kissing. We switch to soft-focus backlighting as they get intimate.


As far as I can tell from this video, Dirty Dancing was a porn movie. There was a fig-leaf of plot involving dance instruction, and then a three-way that didn’t make it into this video, and then later, a hardcore scene between Swayze and Grey, and presumably after that, some girl-on-girl action.

The rest of the “Hungry Eyes” video: Eric Carmen is sitting in a darkened room, watching a 16-mm print of Dirty Dancing, wondering where all his Raspberries royalties went. (In theory, the Raspberries seem like the sort of band I should love, but I’ve never clicked with them. I recently learned that after the Raspberries’ demise, Carmen continued as a songwriter, placing “Almost Paradise,” sung by Mike Reno and Ann Wilson, on the Footloose soundtrack in 1984. So this hit and “Make Me Lose Control,” both (see comments for correction) on the eleven-million-selling (!!) Dirty Dancing soundtrack marked the fusion of the two stages of his career and, presumably, set him up for life financially.) The Dirty Dancing footage ends, and Carmen stands before the white light of the projector. He opens a window as footage of himself is projected on the wall, giving the whole scene a bit of a Norma Desmond tint, made stranger by the fact that he looks less like a star reliving his glory days and more like a lawyer who hasn’t quite made partner yet.

Cut to a blondish white girl in a black evening dress with a plunging neckline and off-the-shoulder straps. She’s gathering red flowers. In an abrupt non-continuity cut (not the last one in this video), she’s suddenly wearing a red satin jacket and caressing her own collarbone, with her fingers then sliding down between her breasts. Her lips are parted. The editing suggests that she’s just outside Carmen’s window, but then she’s projected against his own wall (without the jacket, but with long silver gloves), leaning beneath the red flowers. She steps forward in the projected film, and then steps into the frame with Carmen and touches his face. She walks out the door, vanishing into thin air as she goes. He takes it all in stride: presumably he’s been having these hallucinations for a while.

The song, by the way, is catchy but dull, a churning midtempo pop number notable only for the phrase “I’ve got hungry eyes / I’ve got you in my sights,” which makes for a ballistic/cannibalistic twist on what would otherwise be utterly standard lyrics about gazing longingly upon a desired one.


We hit the chorus, and footage of Carmen singing is projected on a big outside wall. (This video appears to have been shot in a single night in some industrial district.) Beneath the Eric-O-Vision is a hastily art-directed “nightclub,” so denoted by a couple of potted trees and a striped awning. Carmen strolls under the awning, where there are neon signs reading “Cerveza,” “Disco,” and “Club Entrance.” The fantasy girl spins around, hugging a brick wall, and then shimmies against a white background, and gazes longingly into the camera while artificial rain falls behind her. She pulls on her hair. The camera comes in for an extreme closeup on her throat.


The fantasy girl appears outside the club, now wearing a gold evening dress that barely contains her cleavage. In front of the fake rain, she puts her hands on her hips. Footage of her alternates the gold outfit with the black outfit. Carmen stands on a staircase, hands behind his back, lip-synching. For the song’s saxophone solo, the fantasy girl appears with a sax, allegedly playing along–although she doesn’t seem to be moving her fingers at any point.

Across the parking lot from the “nightclub,” Carmen sits in the “charming outdoor café,” so denoted by the checkered tablecloths and the neon sign saying “Café.” His table has no plates or silverware, but does feature a small candle. There’s a statuesque blonde girl sitting across from him. Carmen looks across the industrial zone and sees his fantasy girl, who has wrapped herself around an aging guy with sunglasses and a mustache, who is either her pimp or Stan Lee. She kisses him, and when she breaks the kiss, she is a different girl, an Asian one.

The video ends with Carmen sitting alone with his projector again, meditating on the patriarchal gaze.

“Hungry Eyes” peaked at #4 on the Billboard charts in early 1988. You can watch it here.

posted 1 July 2008 in 1988 and tagged , , , . 6 comments

6 Comments on 1988 Countdown #91: Eric Carmen, “Hungry Eyes”

  1. Chris M. Says:

    Ew. Nicely written, but man did I not need to remember this.

    One small correction/clarification — but I think it actually strengthens your overall point. Carmen’s followup hit, “Make Me Lose Control,” wasn’t from Dirty Dancing. In fact, I need to check my Billboard books when I’m back at my desk — I don’t think it was on a formal studio album at all (maybe a belatedly-promoted greatest hits).

    Basically, as I recall, after “Hungry Eyes” gave him the unlikely comeback (it was, like, the third or fourth single from Dancing, which succeeded wildly beyond anyone at RCA’s imaginings), he scurried back to the studio quick-like to record a broadly soundalike followup. “Lose” isn’t a carbon-copy composition or anything, but apparently Carmen decided the key to his success was continuing to appeal to that middle-aged Poconos crowd a la Dancing; so he Cousin Brucie’d the song up, throwing on incongruous doo-wop elements and references to the sound of the radio and shit like that. And he was rewarded with an even higher Billboard placement for “Lose.” Then he disappeared again.

    So basically, your point about Carmen looking like a lawyer who didn’t make partner is apt — despite Dancing‘s crossover appeal to a teen-girl crowd, he decided the key to his success was appealing to aging Boomers (by the late ’80s, the first wave had just hit 40) who treasure radio shows like “The Doo-Wop Shop.” His whole mini-comeback kind of depressed me.

  2. gavin Says:

    You’re right; I will fix that. You are also correct that “Make Me Lose Control” wasn’t on a charting Carmen album (not even the greatest-hits in 1988, which must have been rushed out by a competing label). Reinforcing your point: “Make Me Lose Control” was a #1 single at Adult Contemporary for three weeks.

    Checking my Dirty Dancing soundtrack, which is a real grab-bag, by far the oddest inclusion is the Blow Monkeys (covering a Lesley Gore tune).

  3. Tom Nawrocki Says:

    The Blow Monkeys were great, but the real keeper on that soundtrack is Mickey and Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange,” which was way ahead of its time when it first came out in 1959 and still a little ahead of its time in 1988. The scene with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey pantomiming that song is the best one in the movie.

  4. gavin Says:

    I’m pretty sure I won’t have an opportunity to write about this later in the countdown, because “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” hit the top in 1987: man, what an odd career Jennifer Warnes had. Leading Leonard Cohen interpreter, two #1 soundtrack singles, theme song for Growing Pains.

  5. Tom Nawrocki Says:

    I don’t think I mentioned her in my SNL rundown, but Jennifer Warnes was on a second-season show singing “Right Time of the Night,” which was a big hit at the time. What struck me about her performance was how terrible she looked: Big glasses, bad teeth, poor fashion sense, no stage presence whatsoever.

    Good singer, though.

  6. wladmir pereira Says:

    qual o nome da garota do saxofone?

Leave a Reply

Keep up to date with new comments on this post via RSS.