1988 Countdown #76: Johnny Hates Jazz, “Shattered Dreams”


Kevin Seal’s back, standing in front of his ladder. “Well, 1988 was a big and exciting year for bands from England,” he says. One of those bands, apparently, was Johnny Hates Jazz, who released their debut album Turn Back the Clock. (Wasn’t that an oddly retro title? Aren’t synth-pop acts supposed to be futuristic? Were Johnny Hates Jazz trying to tap into nostalgia for the early 80s?)

We see an interview clip with JHJ lead singer Clark Datchler saying, “Calvin’s dad is a rather famous record producer who’s supposed to pick the hits by the dozen, but [he] certainly didn’t [with] this one. He said he’d stand in Selfridge’s shop window in London naked if ‘Shattered Dreams’ was a hit, and he hasn’t done it yet, and I’m waiting. I go there every day and he’s still not there.”

Cut back to Seal, who seems genuinely amused. “He finally did and was arrested,” Seal jokes.

“Calvin” is Calvin Hayes, the band’s keyboardist and the son of record producer Mickie Most, who worked with a host of big names in the 60s and 70s, including Donovan, the Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Brenda Lee, and Suzi Quatro. Most died in 2003; his net worth was estimated at upwards of 50 million pounds.

Who else has hit the pop charts with that much family money? Paris Hilton, I suppose. Jakob Dylan, perhaps. Carly Simon, maybe. (I’m not thinking of people who got rich off music, like Elton John whenever he has another pop single, but those who grew up with a vast family fortune.) I’ve always been fond of the Ellen Willis line on “You’re So Vain”: it proved that rock ‘n’ roll is so democratic, even a rich person can make a great single.

On to the video: this black-and-white clip opens with a “Do Not Disturb” sign dangling by a chain from a doorknob. We briefly see a trio of musicians in black suits against a pure white background, and then cut to the key for hotel room #17. Datchler stands up from a crouching position, and we cut  to more hotel accoutrements: trays of ice cubes and lots of cotton balls. A feminine hand rests on a naked knee. Datchler talks with Hayes while a piano moves through the foreground at alarming speed. A drop of water falls from that feminine hand.

Datchler starts singing. He’s wearing a white T-shirt underneath what appears to be an expensive dark suit: this is the London version of the Miami Vice look, I suppose. He’s got a light dusting of stubble, not the full George Michael harvested beard. In back of him is a closeup of a girl: we can see one eye, one nostril, and her upper lip. Datchler looks imploringly into the camera. Then we cut to him looking about eight inches tall, standing somewhere on the girl’s left shoulder, or maybe her left breast.


Datchler shifts his weight from one leg to the other and the girl turns her head. The video makers were clearly using a protean version of the green-screen technology to integrate Datchler and the girl while they both move. The angle is wrong for the intended optical illusion, by the way: it almost looks like he’s balancing on the girl, but you can tell that he’d be jutting out from her collarbone at a 45-degree angle, so it’s pretty obvious he’s standing on top of a projection.

Band montage. We see Hayes playing a grand piano. That’s a particularly ludicrous bit of staging: while this single has gotten a wholesale rate on its keyboards, they’re obviously all synths. On bass is “Mike Nocito,” or so the band claims, but it looks a lot like Jerry Seinfeld, moonlighting for some extra cash the year before his sitcom launched. We see the band superimposed onto the front of a white refrigerator.

The girl–who is brunette and stunning–brushes her hair and stands up. She opens her hand to reveal Datchler reclining on her palm, about two inches tall now, still singing. He hugs his knees. The limitations of this version of green-screen tech are becoming clear: Datchler needs to be in an area of pure white, such as her pale skin, to make it work.


Cut to Hayes, who is now leaning against his piano, having given up on convincing us that he’s actually playing it. Another band montage, which ends up with them projected on a shower curtain. The brunette closes her hand: with Datchler still sitting on it, this seems a bit menacing. A tiny Seinfeld (excuse me, Nocito) runs across a puddle of white milk. We see a wee Datchler and Hayes standing on a sheet of paper on a desk, about the same height as a pencil. Mini-Nocito then runs across the sheets of an unmade bed. The director’s certainly finding all the different white surfaces he can.

There’s a genre of erotica called “giantess porn,” where men imagine the sexual attack of a 50-foot woman, and being the flesh-bauble for an impossibly large, powerful woman. It’s a variation on the Fay Wray meets King Kong fantasy, with the genders flipped; traditional penetration is right out in these scenarios, of course. I can’t help but think that somebody involved with this video was a giantess fetishist.


The brunette shifts from wanly caressing her own brow to a full-on freak-out. Perhaps she’s tired of tiny Brits running around her hotel room while singing catchy midtempo melodies about an ugly breakup? The brunette yanks a shower curtain off the rod and pounds a wall so hard that picture frames drop off it, breaking spectacularly. The wall actually pulses when she hits it, demonstrating either that she has Hulk-like strength or that the scenery construction budget for this video was very low.

A glass of red wine drops into a white sink and shatters. But it’s quickly cleaned up, because we wouldn’t want a white surface to go to waste; we soon see Datchler standing on the lip of the sink. By the time of this countdown, by the way, Datchler had already quit Johnny Hates Jazz (perhaps deciding that he wanted to appear in videos at his full height, or maybe discovering that he secretly loved jazz). He was replaced by Phil Thornalley, formerly the bassist for the Cure (and future cowriter of Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn”).


The brunette sits on her bed, looking plaintively at the camera, wondering if she read The Borrowers once too often as a little girl, if this might be an elaborate hallucination, and if not, whether it’s possible to get rid of miniature synth-pop bands with mousetraps. Nocito leans against an electrical socket; by examining the socket, we learn that this is an American hotel room. Makes sense–British record companies rarely pony up the money for cutting-edge special effects in videos. In fact, there was a lower-budget UK video for this song before this version: it was in color and involved a girl from an advertising billboard coming to life. Neither clip really had much connection to the song’s lyrics.


This video closes with the band superimposed on the brunette’s alabaster back, looking as if they’re walking away into a Magritte painting. The song fades out with some delightfully bleak lyrics that will glide right by if you’re not paying attention: “You said you’d die for me, die for me / So much for your promises.”

“Shattered Dreams” spent three weeks at #2 on the Billboard singles charts, blocked from the top by Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine (“Anything for You”) and George Michael (“One More Try”). (In the UK, it peaked at #5.) You can watch the American video here.

posted 29 October 2008 in 1988 and tagged , . 2 comments

2 Comments on 1988 Countdown #76: Johnny Hates Jazz, “Shattered Dreams”

  1. Chris M. Says:

    Kevin Seal…. “Well, 1988 was a big and exciting year for bands from England,” he says.

    Really? By ’88, I feel like most of the limey synth-pop had been metabolized and MTV was fully into diva-and-metalhead mode. Note that we’ve already seen a lot of British stuff in the bottom quartile of this countdown — I think that’s because most of the top stuff that year was American, or George Michael (English, yes, but not a band).

    Aren’t synth-pop acts supposed to be futuristic? Were Johnny Hates Jazz trying to tap into nostalgia for the early 80s?

    Hell, yes! If these guys had been born earlier and released this song in 1983, they’d have scored at least a couple of huge followup hits, instead of the virtual one-hit-wonder status they ended up with. (They had one more hit scrape the Top 40 and one other one make the A/C charts, but they didn’t exactly go platinum.)

  2. Rob Says:

    God, this song holds up psychotically well. My friend Melissa sang it Saturday night at Sing Sing (I had to follow it with Heart’s “Nothin’ At All”) and as always when I hear it, I am amazed how quintessentially 1986 it sounds, especially for a song that came out in 1988.

    “Turn Back the Clock” is a brilliant title, given how narrowly these guys missed out on the whole Glass Tiger/ Wang Chung/ Scritti Politti gold rush.

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