Sunday, February 8, 2015

Video Flashback: Sampson - "Vice Versa"

One of the bands that often gets short shrift when people are talking about the New Wave of British Heavy Metal is Samson -- often they're brought up as a kind of a musical footnote, as the band in which Bruce Dickinson would shine as the singer who would not long after front Iron Maiden.  And, to be sure, a case can be made that their best work was the two albums on which he sang, as "Bruce Bruce" -- Head On (1980) and Shock Tactics (1981).  It's unfortunate that these albums, and the band as such, doesn't get more notice, for if you listen to those two albums, you hear the vitality of a genuinely heavy and yet melodic band, whose members come together quite well for some classic early-80s metal compositions.
I came across this gem of a video for "Vice Versa" several days ago -- I'm not sure of the context of clicking and searching that brought me to it, but I remember being intrigued by the idea that they had managed to get into the growing video scene early on in.  As a kid growing up in the 70s and 80s, we had MTV -- and cable at all, for that matter -- only for the briefest trial period, so what I got to see of music videos was entirely a matter of what got played at friends' houses, and what I got to see when we would stay at the house of my tech-early-adopter uncle (and purchase-indulgent aunt!) in Chicago.  So, this video was entirely new to me.

It is admittedly a bit cheesy in quite a few of the features of the video -- but it's good to remember that the early 80s were essentially a time in which innovators bringing together a new genre of music and the possibilities afforded by filming were figuring this stuff out on the fly!  Give it a watch:

There's a bit of extra, somewhat bizarre footage at the start of this particular clip -- and as I did my research, I discovered that the reason for it is that this video -- as well a video for another Sampson standard, "Biceps of Steel" -- were parts of a short movie, entitled, reasonably enough, Biceps of Steel.  Strictly speaking, you should watch the video for "Biceps" first and then "Vice Versa," because that's how the narrative structure works in the original movie from which they're taken.

A Roadie of Steel

Taken on their own as music videos, I'd say that "Biceps" is slightly more successful than is "Vice Versa" in visual terms -- though I'm much more partial to the latter musically.  I've actually had the chorus as an earworm this entire weekend after showing the video to my equally metal-loving wife!

"Biceps" cuts back and forth from high-energy shots of the band Sampson to a narrative centered on a super-strong roadie, who likes a fight ("you know, in my life, I've been a fighting man . . . ") and who finds a prime occasion for it when some orange-suited, blue-haired ne'er'-o-wells start up all sorts of trouble at the Samson concert.  Better yet, it's the roadie -- we may as well just call him "Samson the guy" (as opposed to guitarist and band leader Paul Sampson) who sets up the stage, and even carries out a mike check for the band.

It's an interesting set of visual metonymic and metaphorical plays going on -- none of them subtle, of course, but that's not really needed for the brashness of a young Sampson band at the top of their game.  In certain respects, Sampson the guy is subordinate to the band Sampson -- he totes their Marshall stacks about and gets the stage ready for their performance.  The band itself is clearly showcased, everyone -- Bruce Dickinson singing, Paul Sampson soloing and riffing on guitar, Chris Aylmer setting down the groove and the bottom on bass, and of course Thunderstick hammering the drums from within his cage -- getting enough face time to establish their presence as iconic individuals.  And, Samson the guy is in a certain sense almost a mascot -- this is even more pronounced in "Vice Versa".

He's also, you might say, an expression of the very spirit of the band -- or of heavy metal itself.  He's got the brute strength to place the massive accoutrements of the new, distorted, in your face sound -- the speakers -- in their places, as well as, later in "Vice Versa," to topple them with catastrophic effect.  He also doesn't brook any nonsense -- certainly not from guys who all dress alike, and who hassle the exuberant crowd at a show -- and not only does he launch himself off the stage to take on and thrash all five of the weird partycrashers, at one point, he places himself at the very apex of the surging crowd.

There's a bit more of complex intertwining of various Samsons going on as well -- for as it turns out, the watchful roadie, Samson the guy, is in fact one of the bandmates.  He's actually played by Thunderfoot, for once out of costume, that is, no longer hidden behind what we nowadays tend to call a "gimp mask"!  The drummer in the video then really is a cypher, an unknown (though the story is that it was Thunderfoot's brother in law).

Getting The Wrong Kind of Trim

"Vice Versa" is not quite so successful, considered on its cinematic merits alone -- it's a bit tough to tell precisely what they were trying to do with that blue plane (a sea? water? fog) out of which first the object of the song ("the real two-timer") emerges, soon followed by Bruce Dickinson's head.  In the early shots of the entire band, the singer and guitarist, and possibly the drummer have completely emerged from the blue, while the bassist labors on below -- alas, poor bassists, so often the unappreciated workhorses! -- with just his head, shoulders and bass neck entirely out of the blue.

The song, however is such a great composition -- one that has really stood the test of time -- that it's easy to be forgiving towards the so-slowly developing narrative.  It takes two verses of what might best be termed slow writhing with the occasional bite, facing each other, of the woman and Samson the guy before it becomes apparent -- with a snap-shot to a shining scissors, raised as if to stab on the downstroke -- that we may as well call her Delilah.

I'm not sure that the actress manages to convey the lyrical description:
She could roll you over
and make you blind
She could say things to astound
the dirtiest mind
But then again, perhaps that's the point -- you're supposed to see her as pretty, not as hyper-sexualized (at least by early 80s standards).

Once the story is established -- she shears him of his quite enviable rocker hair (which my wife asserts to be a wig -- myself, I'm not so sure) -- the song shifts tempo, and goes into a frenetic bridge and guitar solo, mirrored by the former orange-ass-kicker now getting his own handed to him, then crawling around by the speakers, watching his gum-chewing Delilah cavorting with the rowdies at the front of the stage.  That is, until a truly epic true-to-archetype Sampson rises as the song comes to its crescendo, and topples the pillars of speakers -- bringing destruction not only to his opponents, but as it also appears, the band Samson themselves, and the fans!  The destruction actually goes on for quite some time, accompanied by a mix of screaming and typical crowd sounds, as the movie credits roll through.

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