That “Hey, Let’s Add Some Breakdancing!” Period in Music Video History


A long time ago, during an amazing time in New York and Los Angeles, dancing in the street had taken a new form. Originally named “b-boying” or “breaking”, it was the physical embodiment of hip hop’s early days; the “breaks” in the music provided a soundtrack for kids to throw down that flattened refrigerator box and show off their popping, locking, and headspinning as part of a street-produced dance vernacular a new generation was calling its own. As the media began to feature the dance style, the word “breakdancing” (now derided by purists) worked its way into the mainstream; kids were learning about battles and starting their own dance crews all over America. Opportunities (as well as the usual nonsensical crossovers) emerged for dancers with b-boy moves to make their way onto the small and big screen. Credit the movement with permanently embedding landmark dance moves into the pop consciousness, which can be verfied by anyone watching America’s Best Dance Crew, Step Up 3D, or those Kia commercials with the dancing mice, but hey, at least they’re not doing the Carlton.

For a weird period in THE GOLDEN AGE OF MUSIC VIDEO, certain videos featured breakdancers showing off their best moves. Sometimes it made sense, but sometimes just seemed like a gimmicky attempt to jack up the cool factor or make the clip seems more urban in orientation. Now, we examine the breakdancing in specific videos and try to sort out the proper placement of the art form from those were just shoplifting the electric boogaloo.

(By the time that breakdancing movies had arrived, we’d hit critical mass, so movie-crossover music videos don’t count. I mean, Lorenzo Lamas in Body Rock? REALLY? Breakin’ was IT, end of story.)

Chaka Khan – I Feel For You
This remake of a Prince song gave La Chaka her highest charting hit, with Grandmaster Melle Mel providing some Chaka-loving rap lyrics and scratching, and Stevie Wonder throwing in harmonica and a “Fingertips” sample. In the video, the definitive breakdance stars of the era are present: Adolfo “Shabba Doo” Quiñones, Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers and Ana “Lollipop” Sánchez. The video moves like a Merry-Go-Round window display come to life…

Lionel Richie – All Night Long
Shabba Doo, Lollipop and Boogaloo Shrimp make another appearance, along with some tiny L.A. breakers, in the first single from Lionel Richie’s “Can’t Slow Down” album. Lionel Richie and breakdancing — how did that happen? “All Night Long” director Bob Rafelson (yes, THAT Bob Rafelson) told THE GOLDEN AGE OF MUSIC VIDEO the following by e-mail:

“Lionel had seen Head (my first picture and a musical) and apparently liked it. But he was a fan of Five Easy Pieces and dramas I had made. He called me. I was not a fan of his, but i went down to the studio where he was finishing up the record of ‘All Night Long’. I heard it and loved it. I said ‘Give me ten minutes,’ and walked around the block. I returned with the concept, but said to him that I had been, for years, shooting street kids dancing on the east side of L.A., this with a Sony Port-A-Pack Video Recorder. Next day, I showed him the footage and made a condition of the video that I use these kids.”

So there you go.

Robert Plant – In The Mood
Robert Plant’s post-Zep videos in the 1980s are something to behold. From “Big Log” to “Tall Cool One” to his Honeydrippers video with Frank Zappa in a speedo, he comes out pretty much unscathed. “In the Mood” is a strangely surreal clip that’s actually pretty cool, although the setting feels strangely secretive, as if the breakdancers might have been kidnapped or something.


Rod Stewart – Young Turks
Rod the God apparently was hungover and didn’t want to come out of his trailer to shoot this one (he did eventually), so director Russell Mulcahy went about shooting all the other stuff first: the lovers (check out tasty 80s cupcake Elizabeth Daily) and the dancers, including a breakdancing kid that then-choreographer Kenny Ortega found on the street. Important note: This video came out in 1981, about two years before breakdancing had hit the public consciousness. Mulcahy recalls: “Kenny said, ‘come outside I found this kid!’ and the kid did this thing, and holy fuck, what is that? We took him up to the railway station, and he did his thing again, and no one had seen any quite like it. It was like, ‘Wow!'”

Don Felder – Bad Girls
Director Tim Newman usually keeps a steady formula for his music videos: Hot girls and hot cars. “Bad Girls” is no exception. Newman said he brought in a friend, musician/choreographer friend Eddie Baytos, who delivered to him the breakdancers Baytos had been working with in downtown L.A. Besides, what self-respecting hot chicks WOULDN’T get out of their limo at midnight in L.A. to dance in an alley?

Nils Lofgren – Across The Tracks
Nils is the only performer in this video. He sings, he plays guitar, he flips, he breakdances, he crashes through windows. Later on, he would join Bruce Springsteen’s E. Street Band and never do this sort of thing again. Nice how things like that work out, eh?

Billy Joel – Uptown Girl
By the time “Billy Joel” and “breakdancing” are in the same sentence, we’re near the end of the road…

BONUS VIDEO! Here’s Judd Nelson’s breakdancing segment in 1984’s gloriously bad “Making The Grade”. Watch at your own risk.

PARTING THOUGHT: Personally, I think that it’s particularly cool that veteran actor Don Ameche won an Oscar for “Cocoon,” a movie where he was breakdancing at age 80 — or at least his stunt double was.

 

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