1988 Countdown: Commercial Break #21

(New to the countdown? Catch up here.)

The commercial break begins with the promo for “The Year in Rock 88.” The people deemed newsworthy enough to get a quick video clip of them flashed in this spot: Chuck D. (in a Pittsburgh Pirates cap), Tracy Chapman (looking dour), Keith Richards (with cigarette), Billy Joel (playing guitar!?), the “Addicted to Love” “Wild Thing” video girls (pouty), Bruce Springsteen (reclining), Madonna (red-carpet glam), Bono (earnest, and with an earnest hat), Axl Rose and Slash (both uncharacteristically amused), all of U2 (at the Grammys), Sammy Hagar (looking bloated and drunk), Jon Bon Jovi (bangs teased over his eyes), D.M.C. (hat, glasses, gold rope, toothpick), George Michael (very tan), Michael Jackson (grainy), Sheila E. (hair piled high), Bjork (backlit), Cher (in front of a trellis), Iggy Pop (in a swimming pool, hair dyed bright red), Neil Young (with wooden beads and a Cirque du Soleil shirt).

We then get a repeat of the two-minute spot for Time-Life’s book series about paranormal phenomena, Mysteries of the Unknown. It’s framed by vignettes about a woman who has a sudden premonition that her daughter was in an accident. (It can’t be a premonition if it already happened, can it? A postmonition? A monition?) In the opening scene, the set designer has taken care to have lots of circles: the large dots on the mother’s shirt, the polka dots on a flowerpot, the ball that the little girl chases. When mother and daughter reunite at the end, the daughter is wearing a checked dress: the circles have changed to squares, to symbolize how enduring mysteries have been neatly put into a box for you.

“How would you explain this?” the narrator asks, as we see a series of pencil sketches. “A dozen people around the world who have never met each other describe an encounter with a being from space. And their illustrations of the creature match almost exactly.” Well, judging by the sketches, I’d guess they all saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

We’re told about more mysteries, and then we make the pivot to the sell: “Maybe no one can fully explain these things, but they can no longer be ignored. That’s why Time-Life takes a serious look into this world with a remarkable new series, Mysteries of the Unknown.” This was not only before the AOL merger, this was before Time Inc. had joined forces with Warner Communications.

“How can you explain this?” the narrator asks again (and of course, you can’t, which proves your need for these books). “Four men are drawn to an ancient Anglo-Saxon fort, the site of a fierce battle. They enter the shadows of a ring of trees.” We see three dudes who look like they were extras in St. Elmo’s Fire. “And without warning, one of them is grabbed by an unseen force, lifted five feet in the air, and suspended for thirty full seconds.” The three dudes stare at their fourth friend, who is horizontal, floating in the air (it looks more like three feet up, though), and wearing a cable sweater. I tried Googling to see if I could figure out what incident this described, but I came up dry. We get ordering info ($12.99 per book plus shipping and handling).

Another MTV promo: some sculptures in an art gallery. Stainless steel, spraypaint: it all looks very ’80s. The camera pans right, and we learn that viewed from the correct angle, the art forms an MTV logo. It happens again with a different installation, and then a third one (at which point there’s really no surprise). It’s a cute idea, but doesn’t really come off.

The intro to “Welcome to the Jungle” signals our return to the videos. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Adam Curry has entered the building. He’s wearing a black tuxedo jacket decorated with three medals. But is his hair resplendent, you want to know? Oh, yes it is.

Curry tells us he’ll be taking us through the second half of the countdown, and thanks Kevin Seal for doing the first half. “I actually watched a lot of it,” Curry says in a flat tone, “and he comes up with some stuff that is just incredible, don’t you agree?” I don’t know if Curry’s being ironic or not! Which is the most fitting tribute possible to Seal.

posted 22 October 2010 in 1988 and tagged , , , , , , . 5 comments

5 Comments on 1988 Countdown: Commercial Break #21

  1. azul120 Says:

    Adam Curry should be a fun watch. I’ve had a lot of respect for him since the latter part of his stint in the ’90s. He’ll never live down his early “hair farmer” days, even though he was one of the few VJs who were both knowing and charismatic. Not to mention that he got the last laugh following the fallout of his relationship with MTV after he left by hitting it big on the net and helping define the podcast.


  2. Chris M. Says:

    Chuck D. (in a Pittsburgh Pirates cap)

    This is unusually astute for MTV at the end of ’88, considering they still weren’t programming that much serious hip-hop in regular rotation, Public Enemy hadn’t really scored any actual hits off the nine-month-old Nation of Millions (their crossover began a year later with “Fight the Power”), and Yo! MTV Raps was less than half a year old. Bonus points to the promo editor…

    Billy Joel (playing guitar!?)

    …and then we take those points right back: guitar-playing Joel was a 1986 phenomenon (with the Bridge hit “A Matter of Trust”) and shouldn’t be in this montage at all.

    the “Addicted to Love” video girls (pouty)

    Again, this is 1986 stuff. Unless…are you positive it’s the “Addicted” girls and not the hard-to-tell-apart “Simply Irresistible” girls? If the latter, they’re right on-schedule; that’s an ’88 hit.

    Madonna (red-carpet glam)

    Again, strange: 1988 was Madonna’s one year of ’80s inactivity — no hits, no albums, no movies, just a lot of behind-the-scenes bickering with Sean.

    Sheila E. (hair piled high)

    Again, a little off…Sheila E.’s last U.S. hit of any kind was in 1987; last big hit (“A Love Bizarre”) in ’86. Somebody in that editing bay needs a calendar and a stack of Billboards!

    Bjork (backlit)

    And yet, here again, remarkably with-it — the Sugarcubes’ Life’s Too Good took most of the year to break in America, and that was only on college/early Modern Rock radio (plus a memorable fall ’88 SNL appearance that served as, essentially, Bjork’s U.S. coming-out). Like the Chuck D. inclusion, a moment of rare hipness by the promo editor.

    Neil Young (with wooden beads and a Cirque du Soleil shirt)

    This is the prime weird-Neil period we’re in — the phase that got him sued by Geffen. He’s probably promoting This Note’s for You, the title-track video for which has gotten banned by MTV at this point (and is still nine months away from winning its surprise Video of the Year VMA).

  3. Gavin Says:

    I’m pretty sure it’s the “Addicted” girls–there’s only three of them and they’re in black-and-white.

    The other odd thing about the Madonna clip is that there’s a prominent microphone in it with the “ET” logo of Entertainment Tonight–they really couldn’t find a clip that didn’t promote a competitor?

    By the way: thanks to Chris and Rob, who confirmed my guesses on the identity of Jon Bon Jovi, Sheila E., and Neil Young, all of whom looked somewhat atypical for different reasons.

  4. Gavin Says:

    A correction: the last time I saw that ad (almost two years ago!), I identified the “Addicted” girls as being in Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing” video, which (a) makes more sense (b) has the advantage of being accurate.

  5. Chris M. Says:

    “Addicted” girls as being in Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing” video

    AH! Now that makes sense. And more bonus points to the editor: “Wild Thing” was literally breaking on the charts right then, at the end of ’88. Very up-to-the-minute.

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