Flashback Video: 'Steppin' Out' by Joe Jackson
Ever since the dawn of MTV and Friday Night Videos, the music video has significantly impacted musical tastes and pop culture. It might not be as extreme as when the Buggles declared that "Video Killed the Radio Star", but there is no arguing that the music video certainly could make or break a song's popularity. So this regular Flashback Video feature will serve to remember some of the music videos from the great '80s decade that made an impact on me in one way or another. This issue we will cover "Steppin' Out" by Joe Jackson. He is known by many for his 1979 hit “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” from the album Look Sharp! That song garnered him a Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, but I am fonder of a song from his 1982 album Night and Day. “Steppin’ Out” is actually one of my very favorite songs of the entire '80s decade. There is something smooth and comforting about it that I have always really appreciated. The single, released in August of 1982, peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 (as well as #4 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart) and would earn Grammy nominations for both Record of the Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. It is Jackson's most commercially successful single in the U.S.
The music video was directed by Steve Barron who is one of the most prolific video directors of the decade. He would go on to direct such music videos as "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson, "Money For Nothing" by Dire Straits and "Take On Me" by a-ha. Joe Jackson was more about being a musician and less about being on camera, but realized it was a necessary part of the job. The video was shot in New York City at the St. Regis Hotel. As Barron explained the concept to a hesitant Jackson, "We'll keep it simple, we'll have you as a ghost narrator at the piano, performing the song in a posh hotel. We'll have a chambermaid coming to clean the posh suite, she finds some posh lady's beautiful, sparkling, expensive dress on the bed. She goes to hang it up, but then it's like every Cinderella's dream. She's drawn into taking a break from scrubbing the floors - tempted into seeing if that dress fits. Dreaming the princess dream. Dancing the princess dance. The city lights coming on." Here is the music video for "Steppin' Out" by Joe Jackson...
Early in the video, there is a lyric in the song that goes, "Now, the mist across the window hides the line. But nothing hides the color of the lights that shine. Electrify so fine. Look and dry your eyes." You may notice that the video has an awesome shot of New York's famous Chrysler Building's lights turning at that moment. Barron wanted that shot, but didn't realize it might not be that easy to get.
In Steve Barron's 2015 autobiography entitled Egg n Chips & Billie Jean: A Trip Through the Eighties, he discusses the "Steppin' Out" video and getting that particular vital shot:
Cinderella's castle turret lighting up. Yes, the Chrysler Building lighting up. The Chrysler Building doesn't have an exact time it's going to light up? But that's our tower, our castle turret. The whole point is we need it to light up. Can't somebody just switch it on when we cue it? Unfortunately not. Apparently, during the war, the Deco arch lights in the roof could be switched off in case of bomb raids for a blackout. But they converted the switch into some new-fangled light sensor thing. The lights only go on when the sensor tells them to and no human knows when that is. So how do I get me shot of the castle turret lights coming on? I need that shot. There's a moment in the track that's crying out for that shot. It's vital. Well it could really fall anywhere in a half hour period so perhaps we'll have to keep filming that whole time. So I'm up on the Empire State Building filming the Chrysler Building with my camera that only has ten minute loads, burning reels of film in the hope that the lights don't ping on while we're reloading the camera. I hate modern technology. Why can nothing be easy? But we got it. Those lights pinged on with all their glory, right in front of our rolling camera.
He was right. That shot was perfect for that lyric. It is so interesting to see what incredible effort can go into getting a shot that flashes across the screen in mere seconds. If you missed it, go back and watch the start of the video again to fully appreciate it. Such a great song. And a great example of the music video as an artform that was gaining traction in the early '80s.
Hope you enjoyed another trip back to the '80s thanks to Flashback Video!