The modern music video has been a thriving enterprise nigh on 40 years now, having survived MTV’s continued embrace of reality fare and scripted entertainment. But there’s at least one very specific subset of these beloved promotional clips that has disappeared: the video promoting a feature film and, of course, that movie’s soundtrack album.
Specifically, those videos that managed to find a way to shoehorn in one or more of the actors from said film, forcing them to either interact with the artist and/or lip sync the song in question. The results were, by and large, some of the most awkward clips ever aired on MTV, VH1, or any of other shows that popped up in the wake of the success of those networks (Friday Night Videos, Night Tracks, etc.).
Of course, these particular videos are not hard to find, thanks to the wonderful world of YouTube. With that in mind, here are 10 of the most awkward, hilarious, and awkwardly hilarious clips from an era when Danny DeVito rubbed elbows with Billy Ocean, a cardboard cut-out of Steve Guttenberg outacted El DeBarge, and Jean-Claude Van Damme was free to stare menacingly at The Smithereens.
10. “Lust For Life” by Iggy Pop
The soundtrack for Trainspotting was a perfect melding of ‘70s proto-punk classics and modern Britpop, anchored by the song that kicks off the movie, Iggy Pop’s stomping ode to hard drugs and rough sex. The ad wizards in charge of promoting the film decided to truck out ol’ Iggy, and let him mince around shirtless in front of a white backdrop with a little overly enthusiastic help from Ewen Bremner, who played Spud in the film.
9. “Sweet Freedom” by Michael McDonald
Running Scared (1986)
This video was already on a weird course with scenes of movie violence intercut with shots of a bushy-haired Michael McDonald and a woman in bondage gear on roller skates. (She, like, represents the opposite of freedom, man). Then the stars of the film Running Scared, Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal, pop in for a bit of dancing with some comely companions, a touch of pretending to be the crooner’s backup singers, and lots and lots of mugging for the camera.
8. “Time Won’t Let Me” by The Smithereens
As with a lot of these clips, I’d love to have been a silent witness to the marketing meeting that resulted in this strange matchup of a pasty rock group from New Jersey and the Muscles from Brussels. For as much fun as The Smithereens likely had recording a faithful cover of The Outsiders’ 1965 hit, this was best suited to simply playing over the closing credits of Timecop and not lip synced while Jean-Claude Van Damme dances and mimes some harmonica playing along with it.
7. “Spies Like Us” by Paul McCartney
Spies Like Us (1985)
Macca would probably like the world to erase from their memory the song he recorded for a slight Cold War buddy comedy starring two ex-members of the Not Ready For Prime Time Players. Alas, as long as YouTube’s servers are up and running, we’ll be able to bear witness to this glorious shit-show of overacting by McCartney, Dan Aykroyd, and Chevy Chase, all set to a song that sounds like it took all of five minutes to write and record.
6. “Big Gun” by AC/DC
Last Action Hero (1993)
In spite of the throwaway nature of this tune, as it was recorded for the soundtrack to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1993 blockbuster, it’s a pretty killer track, featuring all the fist-pumping brutalism that this Australian band does so well. Sadly, the same can’t be said for its accompanying video, which required AC/DC to indulge the future Governor of California by sticking him in his own ill-fitting schoolboy outfit and letting him duck walk across the stage alongside Angus Young.
5. “Who Is Johnny?” by El DeBarge
Short Circuit (1986)
Steve Guttenberg apparently had enough movie star juice in the mid-‘80s to opt out of participating in this weird and unintentionally hilarious music video. His co-star, Ally Sheedy, was not so lucky, as she is stuck in this weird courtroom drama trying not to look embarrassed as she sashays, shrugs, and “sings” along with this completely forgettable tune from then R&B superstar El DeBarge. She needn’t worry; her video castmates are the ones that should feel deep, deep shame for their acting and dancing in this.
4. “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio
Dangerous Minds (1995)
Does anyone remember that this classic Coolio cut was actually recorded for the soundtrack to a “white woman saves kids in the inner city through the power of poetry” film starring Michelle Pfeiffer? That somehow makes it a little less badass. As does the video for the song, which pits a grumpy-looking Coolio against Ms. Pfeiffer in a staring contest for the ages. This clip somehow doesn’t diminish the song’s greatness, which I attribute to its perfect use of a Stevie Wonder tune as its hook.
3. “Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough” by Cyndi Lauper
The Goonies (1985)
To talk about this video, you almost have to take on the persona of Stefon, SNL’s city correspondent, because this clip has everything: almost all of the Goonies, a trumped-up plot involving a pirate ship, the stars of the WWF (including the late Rowdy Roddy Piper and The Iron Sheik), terrible voiceover, and a cameo by Steven Spielberg. Also, Lauper’s two-part clip runs, unbelievably, for seven long minutes. No wonder this never landed in heavy rotation on MTV.
2. “Addams Groove” by MC Hammer
Addams Family Values (1993)
You can’t really fault Christina Ricci and Jimmy Workman for this. What kid among us would pass up the chance to be in a big music video starring one of the biggest pop stars in the world? So, the blame for everything here — from concept to song choice to performance — falls squarely in the drop-crotched lap of MC Hammer. No one who lived through the period when this song was released remembers this as anything more than a musical Icarus finally flying too close to the sun. Cue this up right before re-watching Hammer’s episode of Behind the Music for the appropriate one-two punch.
1. “When The Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” by Billy Ocean
The Jewel of the Nile (1985)
This song was far too good to be used as simply the theme song for the sequel to a successful action/romantic comedy. It was so good, in fact, that it got all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard singles charts, and was No. 1 in the UK for a couple of weeks back in 1986. Trouble was, that meant the video for this tune was in regular rotation on MTV. And that meant having to grimace through the sight of the three stars of The Jewel of the Nile, in white suits, pretending to be Billy Ocean’s backup singers. How this didn’t instantly disqualify Michael Douglas from winning an Oscar just two years later for Wall Street is one of the great show business mysteries.