Those of us who were lucky enough to grow up that magical decade of the 1980s experienced a lot of trends in entertainment that enhanced our lives and helped us make a lot of fun, lasting memories. We had arcades and video games, we had the cable TV boom and the home video explosion, we had blockbuster summer movies and afterschool program-length animated toy commercials five days a week (thank you, deregulation!).
And we also had the birth of MTV spewing short, punchy, provocative, tightly-edited music videos into our living rooms and into our brains, and at the same time, we had the golden age of stand-up comedy, when growing cable channels desperate to fill their schedules would take new and veteran comedians, stand them in front of a brick wall, and broadcast them coast-to-coast! But wait, you’re saying – wouldn’t it have been great if there has been some kind of crossover between the world of records and music videos and the worlds of stand-up and sketch comedy? I’m so glad you asked, because THERE WAS! Here are five examples of quality COMEDY SINGLES and MUSIC VIDEOS that kept us laughing, watching MTV, and buying records in the 80’s.
The great Rodney Dangerfield had a late start to his comedy career, and only really started to make it in the entertainment business in the late 1960s and 1970s, but when he hit, he hit big with comedy albums, appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and a comedy classic with Caddyshack. In 1983, Rodney landed on MTV with a rap-influenced comedy single called “Rappin’ Rodney” with a video that included appearances by Don Novello’s Father Guido Sarducci and iconic rocker Pat Benatar. The record was a hit for Rodney, and chrted on the Billboard Hot 100 album chart.
The Canadian sketch comedy series SCTV was reaching its peak in the early 80s, having made a leap to the US broadcast network NBC with 90 minute shows on Friday nights, and providing a showcase for the insane amount of talent who appeared on the show – John Candy, Eugene Levy, Joe Flaherty, Martin Short, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara – and particularly Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis, who connected with audiences with their characters Bob and Dave McKenzie, beer-chugging back-bacon eating brothers who made regular appearances in a sketch called “Great White North”. These characters proved so popular that they spun off into their own feature film called “Strange Brew”, and they released a hit comedy album in 1981 with a track called “Take Off” featuring Geddy Lee from the Canadian rock band Rush. “Take Off” was released as a single and made the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart!
YOU LOOK MARVELOUS
Saturday Night Live has become a television institution in the decades since it debuted in 1975, but in the early ‘80s, the show had fallen on rocky creative times, and by mid-decade, the cast of the show grew to include some established comedy talent, including Billy Crystal, whose stable of characters included Fernando, a less-than-sincere talk show host who was a parody of actor Fernando Lamas. Fernando was a hit character on SNL, a success that included a spin-off comedy album with a single based on Fernando’s catchphrase “You Look Marvelous”, that made the Billboard Hot 100!
CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEVIL
Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, and Christopher Guest carved their faces into the Mount Rushmore of Comedy with the creation of THIS IS SPINAL TAP, an monumental faux rock documentary about a clueless British heavy metal band that can’t quite keep it together. The film and its soundtrack album were released in March 1984, and that spring, the band appeared on an episode of Saturday Night Live, and unleashed an unusual and out-of-season Christmas song on audiences nationwide with “Christmas with the Devil”, a song that later appeared on reissues of the movie’s soundtrack. The band performed the song many times in later years, including during this appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show (woof woof woof!)
CITY OF CRIME
A big screen version of the classic television show DRAGNET was released in the summer of 1987, starring Dan Aykroyd as the namesake nephew of Jack Webb’s every-cop Joe Friday and Tom Hanks as his colorful partner Pep Streebeck. The film was, of course, a fully comedic take on the original show, and to help promote the movie in the age of MTV, Aykroyd and Hanks performed a rock/rap hybrid song called CITY OF CRIME that was a fun companion piece to the revamped take on the Dragnet theme performed by Art of Noise.
So, friends, when you think back to your Walkmans and your leg warmers and your microwave milkshakes, remember the comedy on the shelves of your local record store and on the screen of your MTV!