A few weeks ago the Rock Band download content (dlc) included one of my favorite songs, Devo‘s "Girl U Want." I played it through a few times with the kids, who are constantly subjected to my taste in music and have grown to appreciate a good, geeky tune when they hear and/or see it. Devo on Rock Band led to another nostalgic session of surfing through my iTunes library, searching out songs that, like the Devo track, had a bit of Geek cred to them. The kids always get a kick out of this and the music videos fascinate them.
There are so many worthy choices, but here’s a quick play list I threw together. Think of it as part one. I know "Z" has a list or two kicking around, but these are all old school, pre-Grunge even, never mind Nerdcore… Mostly 80s era, which means that we also have a handful of hilarious videos -in some case it was the video that got the song on the list in the first place; Russ noted a few examples of these earlier this year, including one of my early 80s Montreal favs, Men Without Hats. I’m going to risk a pummeling from the music nerds by referring to this a "retro" list; I’ve done my time as a music critic and I’ll take the abuse over the arguable misuse of the term, but frankly it makes for a catchier title, so it stays. So here you are. Videos are SFW, and safe for kids. A few "damn"s sprinkled around, here and there, but really nothing most of you would be worried about your kids seeing or hearing (this was the 80s after all). Unless you’re concerned about them demanding a Flock of Seagulls hair cut -then again, kids are much more discriminating these days…
10 Retro Songs With Geek Cred
Devo: "Girl U Want". ‘Cause it’s on Rock Band and started this whole post. A performance video with the band in their trademark Flower Pot hats (sorry- "energy domes"), silver suits, stilted robotic movements and not one, but two keytars… And it’s on the TankGirl soundtrack.
Talking Heads: "Once In A Lifetime". I’ve posted this one before, but really, it can’t be left off any list. David Byrne‘s got the full classic nerd costume, including the horn rim glasses and bowtie- but it’s his dance moves that make it.
Kraftwerk: "The Robots". If you’re not familiar with this pioneering German band, well you’ve got some learnin’ to do, old-school style. Check out their web site and you’ll get a pretty good idea of what kind of Geek cred these guys can lay claim to (warning: content is displayed in a pop-up window).
Prism: "Spaceship Superstar". Hey, they’ve got a "solar powered laser beam guitar!" ‘Nuff said. Here’s a link to an MP3 of the 1977 Spaceship Superstar demo. Don’t worry, it’s a legal, promo version posted by the band…
FM: "Phasors on Stun." I repeat: Phasors. On. Stun. From the Black Noise LP (1977) that included song titles like "Dialing For Dharma," "Aldebaran" and "Slaughter In Robot Village." And the band featured Nash The Slash, an electric violin player who later became infamous for performing in a mummy costume.
Trans X: "Living on Video." Bonus points for dropping the Hyperspace reference and the robotic voices. They do lose a few points for the big hair and too-cool 80s detachment that runs rife in the video.
A-Ha: "Take on Me." Hitting the airwaves in 1985, the height of the MTV revolution (the first one- when MTV was actually playing music videos and not reality shows), this re-released version of "Take On Me" featured an innovative comic book theme employing a mix of animation and live action. The lead singer is a motorcycle racer in a comic strip, who is chased by a gang of wrench-wielding riders (presumably ticked that he’s soundly trashed them in the race), all the while saving the real-life girl he’s lured into his comic book universe.
Funky enough to stand on it’s own as a bit of techno-geek music thanks to sampling pioneers The Art of Noise, the video featured sputtering commentary and entertaining minimalist dancing by Max Headroom, a fictional artificial intelligence character who scored his own short-lived TV series.
"Genetic Engineering." British synth-pop band OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark) released this little bit of pop confection in 1983. I have the vinyl single kicking around and besides the mad science song title (remember this was 1983- DNA was pretty deep stuff back then), it’s a picture disc and pretty cool looking on it’s own. The coup de grace for this track making it onto a Geek list is the prominent use of a Texas Instruments Speak & Spell for the chorus.
A Flock of Seagulls. The band that launched 1000 hairdos, most of them soon regretted. They had song titles that are instant qualifiers: "Modern Love is Automatic," "DNA" and "Space Age Love Song" among them, but it was the hilariously low budget, tin foil abusing, hair-riffic, and minimalist keyboard-playing video that vaults "I Ran" to the forefront.