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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Jukebox - "Legs" by ZZ Top

I always loved watching some of the music videos that would grace the early days of MTV and MuchMusic.  Well, back in those days that those two channels actually showed music videos anyways.

What some don't realize was that a lot of the music videos released during the 1980's were like watching little four or five minute movies.  Each one had a plot, a main character, a few supporting characters, and the lyrics of the song done by the singer or the band in the video acts as the dialogue of the music video.

Not all of the videos followed this formula.  Many of them were just headshots of the band, or showed band members dancing in front of a green screen dodging flying objects.  But, quite a lot of them did.

Last week, we did a study on Madonna's 'Material Girl' video, which had a concrete plotline, and worked as a mini-movie.  Certainly, a lot of Madonna's videos follow the 'let's tell a story in five minutes' method, and that's probably why Madonna became so successful.

Other artists who have done this successfully at least once include Michael Jackson, Aerosmith, Pearl Jam, Mariah Carey, and the group that is featured in today's blog entry.

And as it so happens, this is one video that sort of has a double meaning to it, and depending on your point of view, it will go from one extreme to the other.

Some people will claim that the video can be quite sexist.  It can be demeaning to see women dressed scantily and causing all sorts of mischief throughout the video, and that it isn't appropriate to showcase women like Barbie dolls.  And that's fine, they're certainly entitled to their opinion.  I on the other hand am firmly on the opposite side.  I feel that the video brings forth a positive message throughout the song.  It not only shows people standing up to bullies, but I actually feel that it promotes empowerment in women, and tells them that they can be strong and powerful if they really put their minds to it.

I'm certain that you want to see this video to see what I mean.  Don't's just below this line.

SONG:  Legs
ALBUM:  Eliminator
DATE RELEASED: May 18, 1984

Wow...that song hit the charts the same day I turned three years old.  That makes me feel old.

It could be said that the 'Eliminator' album was the one that most people seem to associate with the band ZZ Top.  Certainly with hit songs like 'Legs', 'Sharp Dressed Man', and 'Gimme All Your Lovin' on the album, it certainly helped put them on the map as musical artists.

But, did you know that the band had formed fifteen years earlier in 1969?

The band currently known as ZZ Top was founded by Billy Gibbons, Dan Mitchell, and Lanier Gregg in 1969 in Texas.  The original line-up only lasted a few months before Mitchell and Gregg departed the band.  They were replaced by Dusty Hill and Frank Beard shortly after, and have been that way ever since.

With the release of their first album in 1971, the band developed a following in Texas as well as other Southern states, and by 1975, they had achieved popularity by touring all across the United States.  They took a little hiatus in 1977, and returned to the music scene in 1979, with Gibbons and Hill now sporting their signature beards (ironically enough Frank Beard was the only member who chose to go beardless).

Although the band had a lot of success with tours throughout the 1970's, it wasn't until 1983 that the success began to spill over onto Top 40 radio with the 'Eliminator' album.  It was so popular that it is currently ranked at #396 in Rolling Stone magazine's Top 500 albums of all time.

The name 'Eliminator' came from a term used in the world of drag racing, and it also happens to be the name of the above car that Billy Gibbons had a hand in designing (and which appears in the video).  The album had a total of five singles released from it, and 'Legs' just happened to be the fifth and final single that charted.

So let's talk about 'Legs', and why the video itself seems to divide people, despite the fact that it won the award for Best Group Video in the 1984 MTV Video Awards.

If you watched the video, you know what the storyline is.  You see this young woman, who is very much what one would call the 'Plain Jane' type.  She dresses conservatively, she wears glasses, and she doesn't really speak very much.  You get the impression that she wants to come out of her shell, but isn't sure how to do that.  She does have one thing going for her...she has nice legs. 

Hey...someone had to say it.

On a break from her depressing job at a shoe store where she is treated terribly by the other staff members and customers there, she finds herself in a diner where the patrons and staff aren't much better than the ones at the shoe store.

Which kind of makes you wonder what ghetto mini-mall she happened to find herself stuck in.

When she tries to order lunch, she's hit on by men who treat her like she's fresh meat, while the women in the diner immediately pounce on her insecurities and her fear.  Even the staff seems to go out of their way to make her totally uncomfortable.

Well, all except one kind-hearted young man behind the counter.  I guess you could call him her knight in blue plaid.

Unfortunately, our knight in blue plaid is also an easy target for the people in the diner, and they have no problem inflicting as much harassment on him as they do with the customer of the day.

It appears that the girl is feeling overwhelmed by being there, and once she gets her order, she tries to leave as quickly as she can, but in the process ends up leaving behind a slice of cake, and her glasses.  She hurries back to the shoe store, where once again, she is belittled and bullied by the other staffers there, with one even rudely stepping on her hand.

During this time, our knight in blue plaid finds the items she has lost, and hurries over to the shoe store to return them.  Although the woman is very appreciative of this fact and responds with a smile and and thank you, her bosses will have none of it, and throw him out of the store.

At this time, the Eliminator pulls up behind the alleyway of the shoe store, and three women help our knight in blue plaid up on his feet before entering the store through the back.

It is here that our salesgirl meets the three girls and the staffers who made her life a misery have instant karmic retribution served up to them on a silver platter.  For some reason unknown to me, the band itself soon pops up, and hands the saleswoman the key to the Eliminator.

Cue the makeover montage!  The Eliminator girls give our meek and timid salesgirl a whole new look to try and get her to feel more self-confident about herself.  New hair, new clothes, new shoes from the store she works at (now that the sales staff couldn't be nicer to her after being served up a nice dose of Eliminator justice).  It kind of reminds me of a caterpillar crawling inside a cocoon to show off the bad butterfly that it can become.

Before you know it, the salesgirl, all decked out in her hot little ensemble now has a lot more confidence inside her pink pumps, and wastes no time in telling others what she thinks of them.  She had so much confidence that the losers who tried to impress her by being rude to her got burned.  It was beautiful to see.

Oh, and her knight in blue plaid?  He and her reunited, and they hopped in the back of the Eliminator where they both lived happily ever after.

It was almost kind of like a 1980's version of Cinderella, in some weird way.

Now for the divide.

As I said earlier, there are a few people that I know who find this video a bit sexist.  And honestly there may be a couple of arguments for that.  Some of the claims that I've heard from others include that the video objectifies women in a negative way, and treats them like sex objects.  The idea that the three women who help our salesgirl happen to be Playboy models certainly didn't help alleviate those thoughts.

But if one were to take a second glance at the video, they might see something beyond the models.  I think it's a great message myself.  It shows a woman who initially let people walk all over her and treated her like garbage finding her inner strength, and telling herself that she was worth more than that.  When she shed her old image to try on a new set of clothes, it was almost symbolic, for she was shedding her shell that prevented her from being the confident, self-assured woman that she knew she could be.

She also knew that the only people whose opinion mattered were the people who thought highly of her no matter what she looked like, or how she dressed, or how she acted.  Which is probably why knight in blue plaid got the girl at the end of the video.  Who knows?  If this was an actual couple, by now they might be celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, thinking about that day when fate brought them together at that greasy spoon, and how angels made sure that they found their way to each other.

Only their angels had chest-length beards.

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