Classic Video of the Week: China Crisis
Great song, terrible video, cool cassette player.
This is a rather different edition of the Classic Video of the Week, in that far from being a classic, this video flat out sucks. I mean, it has to be among the absolute music videos of its era, hitting some many marks of absolute naffness: an inexplicable spoken intro, a woman wearing dusty-purple cat makeup, random superimpositions of letters and symbols, ridiculous posing, and even for 1985, some truly dreadful clothes and haircuts. And yet, China Crisis' "Black Man Ray" is still a terrific song.
I discovered China Crisis and The Smiths on the exact same day: shortly after my family moved to Levelland, Texas -- likely the most honestly-named town in the USA -- my fourteen-year-old self saw a full-page ad in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal for the now-defunct record store chain Sound Warehouse. Near the bottom was a row of LPs on sale for $4.99 apiece: I already owned Aztec Camera's High Land Hard Rain, but the blurbs for The Smiths and Working With Fire and Steel: Possible Pop Songs Volume Two by China Crisis were interesting enough that when my brother and I drove the 27 miles to Lubbock later that week, I cadged a stop at Sound Warehouse and spent $10 on the two new albums.
While it took me several listens to wrap my head around The Smiths' first album, the China Crisis record took pretty much immediately, so much so that a few weeks later, I went back to Sound Warehouse and paid the inflated import price for their UK-only debut, Difficult Shapes and Passive Rhythms, Some People Think It's Fun To Entertain. China Crisis was always a kind of second-tier band for me -- I never went on days-long listening binges with them or anything, but if I saw a new album of theirs, I bought it.
So I bought the band's third album, Flaunt the Imperfection, around the time it came out in the spring of 1985. Because I was still in that sophomoric period -- to be fair, I was in fact a high school sophomore -- where I looked askance at any band that predated the Ramones, it was not a selling point that Steely Dan's Walter Becker produced the album. But I really liked the way that the molder, more synthetic sound of the first two albums felt a bit warmer and more organic, and I completely fell in love with the first single "Black Man Ray," a lovely, atmospheric tune with a wistful, melancholy edge and a keyboard hook that would bounce into my head at the oddest moments. Then as now, it immediately became my favorite China Crisis song ever.
But frankly, part of that may be due to the fact that in January 1985, my family moved from Levelland to Lubbock, and the part of Lubbock we moved to -- a new development on the southern edge of town -- didn't have cable yet, and in fact wouldn't get cable for another two years, after my mother spearheaded a campaign to get the neighborhood wired. So there's two years' worth of MTV I almost completely missed out on mid-decade. Which means that I didn't discover that there was a video for my favorite China Crisis song until several weeks ago, when a late-night bout of deadline procrastination led me down the YouTube rabbit hole.
And thank god for that, because honestly: what a terrible, terrible video this is. If I wasn't positive that that those were in fact the guys from China Crisis, I would think this was one of those note-perfect deadpan parodies of old '80s videos that crop up online sometimes. That said, there is one tiny saving grace to this video: you see that seafoam-green cassette player with the rounded edges that's on the dining table? (You can see it most clearly around 90 seconds into the video, as the blonde girl is walking past the table.) That is the Sharp QT50, perhaps the very first item that I bought as much for its design as its function. Mine was kind of a orangey-pinky color, though it was always that green one that I coveted the most. I miss that cassette player. The clothes and haircuts, not so much.
|Black Man Ray|