My mom was a nice, polite, overprotective Catholic lady who raised us on her own after my dad passed away. I grew up right at the crux of a momentous cultural epoch in music—the advent of MTV—with outrageous, scandalous videos and catchy, ultra-cool tunes. I worshiped it and sat transfixed for hours. Without it, I wouldn’t have developed my musical taste beyond the mainstream. I discovered it one day by mistake, stumbling coming across it as they were playing a Heart concert video. From that point, I was hooked!
During a visit to my cousins’ house, we discovered that my cousins were forbidden to watch MTV. However, my mom permitted it. My mom, the lady who humiliated me by refusing to let me watch the movie Fame with my cousins at a family party due to the R rating (she didn’t even know about Irene Cara’s topless scene!). Then again, my mom never entered the room when MTV was actually on since we craftily changed the channel when the most risqué videos aired. When she entered, CLICK! went the video.
Recently, I asked her why she allowed us to watch MTV. “Oh, I figured it was just like listening to the radio.” But Mom, did you see Madonna writhing on the floor in a see-through, lace wedding dress, crooning “like a virgin”?! Nope. We were too quick with that cumbersome cable box.
Here are just a few 1980s music videos my mom would have never let us watch, if only she had known:
The J. Geils Band, ‘Centerfold’
The narrator’s old girlfriend appears naked in a “girly” magazine. What the hell is a centerfold? I mused. In the video, girls paraded by, flashing between demure, sweater-clad schoolgirls to strutting, scantily-clad-in-silk-teddy calendar girls, singing, cheering, doing cartwheels, and clapping. Were they laughing at their good fortune to be cast in a video that guaranteed their superstardom of guest-starring roles on The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote or did they not realize that only Tawny Kitaen would benefit from her video vixen status?
Madonna, ‘Like a Virgin’
This was no innocent Madonna, dripping in black rubber bracelets, unbrushed hair and pleather spandex, calling a boy her “lucky star.” She’s crooning about her latest sexual experience and informing us that it ain’t the first time, just feels like it. While being rowed across the Venice canals, she luxuriates around the boat, swathed in white, gauzy, sheer material, with come-hither, heavy-lidded eyes gazing at the camera. How many kids asked their parents what a virgin was after hearing this song?! Oh, boy!
Culture Club, ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?’
I will never, ever, forget watching this video for the first time while sipping hot chocolate out of Snoopy mugs with my sister, and our endless debate over whether this singing creature was a boy or a girl. How do you explain a gender-bending personality like Boy George? The refrain of 1980s parents who couldn’t possibly utter the right combination of words to explain cross-dressing to naive, sheltered, suburban kids like me.
Van Halen, ‘Hot for Teacher’/ The Police, ‘Don’t Stand So Close to Me’
Both catchy tunes with one of my favorite guitarists and one of my favorite bands. (I included The Police song due to the content.) Holy bosoms in the Van Halen video, BTW, and successively any of David Lee Roth’s solo material! What subject were the students really learning from the teacher? Hmm? Since I’ve had a thing for Sting forever—his brooding, blonde good looks; his sexy, raspy voice; his quiet intelligence—would I have been tempted to accept the ride he offered? I know, don’t talk to strangers (good song by Rick Springfield, BTW), possible criminal activity with an underage girl, but, hey, it was raining and “his car is warm and dry.” Could you blame me?!
Glenn Frey, ‘Smuggler’s Blues’
Drug imagery galore, most likely inspired by the hit show, Miami Vice. I love storyline videos, and this regales us of a drug dealer/smuggler, his dirty dealings, many disguises, and the inevitable double-crossing denouement. Although I was clueless about cocaine, I couldn’t help watching this supposedly cautionary tale which totally glamorized yet informed average kids about smuggling/dealing drugs. Since I grew up in the “Just Say No” era, I wasn’t interested in doing drugs, just watching the video, but is this a “gateway” video?! Oh, please!
The Tubes, ‘She’s a Beauty’
How about this almost forgotten video? Circus performers, strippers, women dressed in black latex—weren’t they interchangeable? Luckily, I didn’t understand the whole concept and didn’t care—it was simply a great tune that sticks in your head. Without the video, though, it may have been lost forever in the annals of music history. Did you know The Tubes cemented their reputation in musical history with the notoriously banned MTV video entitled “Mondo Bondage”? Another unexplainable video, leaving parents tongue-tied everywhere!