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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Jessie's Girl

Can you believe that earlier this week, MTV celebrated its thirty-third anniversary?  I know!  I can hardly believe it myself - mainly because MTV has changed so much since the 1980s...and sadly, not for the better.

But back on August 1, 1981, MTV made household names out of Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, J.J. Jackson, and Martha Quinn.  And the very first video that was played on the music channel was "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles.  And during the first fifteen years of the channel's life, MTV certainly was the premiere choice for all things music.  There were special concert performances and "MTV Unplugged" acoustic show tapings.  There was the MTV Video Music Awards.  There were special games shows based on pop culture such as "Remote Control", and cartoon series like "Beavis and Butt-Head" and "Daria". 

And of course, the music videos were the best part of the whole MTV experience.  From rock and roll to dance-pop, MTV's early years had all sorts of music videos played in segments hosted by the MTV VJ crew.  The VJ's also exclusively interviewed artists who wanted to promote new albums or concert tours, and they even allowed some artists to become guest VJ's.  Music videos could be requested as well by viewers who called in to "Total Request Live" at the beginning of the late 1990s.

That's why I'm really sad to see that MTV has seemingly drained all of the M out of MTV, and is now reduced to being a 24-hour-long reality channel.  As if I really care if Paris Hilton finds a new best friend, or if a group of frat boys can stay quiet in a library to win money, or where the "Real World" cast is going to stay, or what the heck a Snooki is.

I suppose that it was inevitable though.  Reality television became a pop culture phenomenon at the beginning of the twenty-first century, so naturally MTV had to jump on that bandwagon.  And YouTube, Vevo, and Vimeo have been posting free music videos for years now, so I can understand why more people would choose to watch them there instead of on television.

Still, as someone who grew up on the Canadian version of MTV (which may as well be re-christened as "The Degrassi Channel"), it's depressing knowing that a huge part of my childhood is now a television wasteland.  Why couldn't things go back to the way they were?  I say bring back Martha Quinn and Mark Goodman to co-host a retrospective MTV type show!

But, until that happens (if that happens at all), I thought that I would take today's Sunday Jukebox entry all the way back to August 1981.  This was the #1 song the week that MTV first went on the air. 

ARTIST:  Rick Springfield
SONG:  Jessie's Girl
ALBUM:  Working Class Dog
DATE RELEASED:  February 14, 1981

Ah, yes.  Rick Springfield, the Australian born rock singer who made millions of women swoon when he starred on the soap opera "General Hospital" from 1981 until 1983 (he has since come back for several guest appearances; the last one in 2013).  Though Rick had been in the music industry since 1972, it wasn't until August 1981 before he reached the zenith of his career with his first (and only) #1 hit on the Billboard Charts. 

How ironic that this song about unrequited love would happen to be released on Valentine's Day of all days!

Now, I bet you're wondering something about this song.  I bet you're wondering who Jessie is.  I bet you're wondering who Jessie's girl is.  I bet you're wondering if Rick had a friend named Jessie and the friendship soured because Rick secretly had feelings for Jessie's girl, even though Jessie's girl is only in love with Jessie.

Wow...that kind of sounds like a synopsis for "General Hospital", doesn't it?

Well, I have some information that might let a little air out of that scandalous balloon.  Truth is, there is no Jessie.  However, there was a Gary. 

See, back when Rick was still somewhat of an unknown in the music business, he was busy doing other things - such as attending a class on how to make stained glass creations.  It was in this class that he befriended a man named Gary as well as Gary's girlfriend.  And Rick decided that these would be the subjects of the song that he would eventually record in the last days of 1980. 

So, why wasn't the song called "Gary's Girl" instead?  Well, for one, Gary's Girl doesn't seem to have that same ring to it as Jessie's Girl.  I doubt that Gary's Girl would have made the same impact on the charts, let's put it that way.

The name Jessie actually came from a girl who just happened to be walking by Rick Springfield one day.  She was wearing a baseball jersey with the name "Jessie" stitched across the back, and Rick decided that Jessie's Girl would be the name of the song instead.

As for the name of Jessie's Girl?  Well, it remains a mystery, although the video makes it appear that the name of the girl is Patty (look at the graffiti on the walls).  In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Rick admits that there's a reason why Jessie's (Gary's) girl didn't have a name.  He couldn't remember it!  Because he was never really formally introduced to her, he could only really worship her from afar.

TRIVIA:  Oprah Winfrey actually launched an investigation to find the girl at the heart of Jessie's Girl, and made it pretty far.  But the investigation hit a snag when she discovered that the teacher of the stained glass class had died two years earlier, and all of his class records were destroyed.  So, as of 2014, Jessie's Girl still remains a mystery. 

The music video certainly did a great job showing Rick's angst over falling in love with the one woman that he can't have.  He sees how happy she is with her current squeeze (who happens to be Rick's friend), and he is so upset that he takes his guitar and smashes it through the mirror of a medicine chest. 

You know, come to think of it, I seem to recall a lot of early 1980s music videos featuring people destroying objects with other objects.  I suppose that was considered a fad back in the day.

Anyway, the song won Rick a Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Performance in 1982, and although it was his only #1 single, it was far from the end of his music career, as he had a slew of singles between 1981 and 1988.

I also suppose that if the story about Rick developing feelings for Jessie's (Gary) girl is the real deal, he happily seems to have moved on from those feelings.  In 1984 (right around the same time that the single was released in the United Kingdom), he married his wife, Barbara Porter and fathered two children with her.  Interestingly enough, Barbara was working as the receptionist of the recording studio where Rick was recording his "Working Class Dog" album.  Therefore, it's quite a nice tale of love and courtship with Rick meeting the woman of his dreams at work while he was recording a single about getting over a love that was never his to begin with.

It's funny how life works out, isn't it?

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