1988 Countdown #66: Richard Marx, “Endless Summer Nights”

(New to the countdown? Catch up here.)


Many musicians have a career arc that takes them through various radio formats: country to top-40 and back to country, for example. One of the most common paths, taken by artists such as Rod Stewart, is classic rock to top-40 to adult-contemporary.  Richard Marx  following that route isn’t unusual–what makes his career remarkable is that he did it in the space of a single album.

Marx started his career writing songs for the likes of Kenny Rogers and Chicago, and singing backup for Lionel Richie. But when his debut album (the creatively titled Richard Marx) came out in 1987, its success was fueled by AOR playing “Don’t Mean Nothing”–the format snarfed up Marx as a palatable new performer in the mode of Jackson Browne or the Eagles. A year later, AC programmers were putting Marx in heavy rotation, while their rock-radio counterparts were trying to forget they had ever championed him.


On to the video, I suppose: Richard Marx sits at a bar, surrounded by various older working-class men: guys who work on an assembly line, or at the docks. Some are wearing old-fashioned hats with brims. Marx is not, of course: he wouldn’t want to inhibit his poodle hair, which has achieved an impressive volume, just shy of heavy-metal singer proportions.


Cut to Marx walking down a cold city street; it looks like the lower East Side of New York City. Trash is falling from the sky and a garbage can is on fire behind him. It looks like an alternate-universe version of Sid and Nancy. Or maybe one of Rudy Giuliani’s campaign ads (his first mayoral run was 1989). I lived in NYC for twenty years, and I never saw a garbage can on fire (although I did sometimes see the aftermath: a metal can that had an odd bulge at the bottom).

Back to the bar, where Marx is nursing a drink and rubbing his brow. In the background, a pool game is in progress and we can see a neon sign reading ILLIAN’ RED. Yes, that’s “Killian’s Red,” but with the K and the S taped out, to comply with MTV’s practices and standards. It’s very distracting. This is, incidentally, the third video on this countdown with significant time spent in a bar, after Glenn Frey’s “True Love” and Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Sign Your Name.” The camera moves in on Marx as he stares at the pool game. As the guy playing pool hits the ball, we switch from color to sepia-toned black-and-white. Flashback!

In the flashback, Marx is wearing a black tanktop and playing pool by himself. His love interest walks in the door: a brunette wearing a man’s shirt. We can tell she’s the love interest because of the way Marx stares at her. She’s accompanied by a douchebag; we can tell he’s a douchebag because the way he rubs the bartender on the head and his habit of pulling on his girl’s shirt. Oh, and his hat.

In color, Marx leans against a chain-link fence at night, wearing a leather jacket, singing the chorus: “Time was all we had until the day we said goodbye”? Yeesh. This seems like a good time to mention that this is a terrible song: it’s a ballad so all-encompassing in its mediocrity that it’s passed the Bland Event Horizon beyond which no listener can escape. I actually find it hard to focus on it. I never thought any song could make me miss Steve Winwood, but at least when he sang dreck like this, he had some vocal presence and sold whatever piece of hackwork was on the menu. Marx’s voice is so thin, he just sounds overwhelmed by the synths.


Unfortunately, Marx keeps singing (“rising in the afternoon / making love to you under the moon, oh-whoa-oh”), bobbing his head and rubbing his ass against that chain-link fence, like he’s a cat in heat. In the flashback, the love interest grows bored with the douchebag and brings a beer over to Marx. She sits down at a booth, and twirls her hair in her fingers, the international symbol for “take me now” (except in some parts of Europe, where it means “what brand of conditioner do you prefer?”).


Back to the present day. While a bad sax solo plays, Marx watches two Alka-Seltzer drop into a glass of water. In the video’s one moment of artistry, we fade to a flashback scene where Marx and the love interest are driving in tight circles in a dirt lot near some oil derricks: their dusty tracks match the rim of the Alka-Seltzer glass. I’m glad whatever film-school graduate toiled on this clip had something he could put on his highlight reel. The love interest puts her hands over Marx’s eyes while he drives: customarily a bad idea, but I’d like to stop watching this video too, so it seems sensible enough.

“Endless Summer Nights” hit #2 on the Billboard pop charts. You can watch the video here.

posted 1 October 2009 in 1988 and tagged . 7 comments

7 Comments on 1988 Countdown #66: Richard Marx, “Endless Summer Nights”

  1. Tom Nawrocki Says:

    I can barely remember a Richard Marx song without a great deal of prodding, but I do remember that when critics pointed out what a bottomless pile of crud his music was, the one figure who leapt to Poor Richard’s defense was Billy Joel, turning the tapdance into his crusade.

  2. azul120 Says:

    It is a little odd how he was once popular on MTV. According to one of the pre-commercial break flashbacks on the top 20 countdown some years after the video’s debut, the video made a strong #16 bow in its first week, climbing to #2 and spending 11 weeks on the chart. Which was a pretty strong run, really. Again, of course, top 20 runs had little bearing on performance on retrospective countdowns such as this. And I do concur this was a rather bland and forgettable video.

    Which still makes one of the next entries on this list, having seen the whole thing, a little shocking. But I’d rather not spoil the uninitiated.

  3. Chris M. Says:

    This wasn’t even the moment that this wimp-rocker peaked, much as we’d wish it so.

    For one thing, we’re probably going to hear him again on this list — his next single was his first chart-topper, “Hold on to the Nights,” an even more insipid (but deathless; I still hear it on A/C radio to this day) ballad.

    And then he had a great 1989, releasing a sophomore disc that topped the charts (Repeat Offender; was an album ever so aptly named?) and spawning not one but two more Hot 100 chart-toppers, the “rocker” (in quotes) “Satisfied” and the Marx Ballad to End All Marx Ballads, “Right Here Waiting.”

    One last comment: I like your AOR-to-AC story arc on Marx’s debut, but it isn’t entirely accurate. Apparently EMI suckered AOR programmers at least one more time, because in ’89, “Satisfied” made it to No. 5 on the Album/Mainstream Rock chart.

  4. Gavin Says:

    I suppose the title of Repeat Offender should amuse me in its self-deprecation, but it doesn’t; it just smells of somebody who’s spending way too much time reading his reviews.

    See also Sugar Ray’s 14:59.

    There was also a 1988 track sent only to AOR, “Have Mercy.” My memory is that the two classic-rock station I was listening to at that time, NYC’s WNEW and Connecticut’s WPLR, both bailed on Marx after that first single. So either I’ve blotted out the memory of those singles or his AOR airplay had become more regional.

  5. Thithi Says:

    I found the song really neat though 😉

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Why all the negativity? You must really be from New York. I liked the video and song. It’s cute, sweet, and makes you feel good. Let the sunshine in buddy, the world doesn’t hate you.

  7. jacob Says:

    i liked the review , it was funny.. from a music production point of view, the sound achived by the artist in his final mixdowns were at best is conducive of the era , very stereophonic and separated well. keep in mind that at this point on time digital was openning very unexplored creative avenues. so it was a free for all as far as break aways from your conventional display of the pre digital age of music and ” video” expression as for the puddle mullet i have no explanation.

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