It’s funny how the passage of time can completely change our perception of something. Case in point: The video for David Bowie and Mick Jagger’s 1985 version of “Dancing in the Street”. Though a perfectly credible mid-eighties music video, it’s now seen as one of the most unintentionally camp three minutes ever filmed.
Recorded as a charity single (with an accompanying video to be screened at Live Aid), the pair spent a mere 4 hours recording their vocals in June 1985 before heading straight to the London docklands to shoot a video with director David Mallet (which took about 8-9 hours according to legend). Mallet was no novice, having built up an impressive portfolio shooting music videos for the likes of Peter Gabriel, Def Leppard, Billy Idol and Tina Turner.
He was also the man who directed Queens video for “I Want to Break Free” which surely secures him a special place in pop-culture history. Yet, regardless of his directorial pedigree, the hastily-shot Dancing in the Street stands alone as a bit of an oddity.
For a start, the location looks like a kind of no-mans-land between Cold War East and West Berlin – with not a person in sight (save for the two charismatic popstars). Make no mistake, this was London’s Docklands when it was still a post-industrial wasteland – a far cry from today’s expensive riverside developments.
If Mick and Dave really did head straight to the docklands after wrapping up in the studio, there’s a good chance that they didn’t even bother to get changed. Our first exhibit here is Mick Jagger’s enormous pea-green shirt with perhaps the biggest pair of breast pockets ever committed to fabric. But even this looks positively tame compared to Bowie’s loose fitting, wallpaper-patterned jumpsuit paired with a trenchcoat.
The choreography (if that’s the right word) looks like it was made up on the spot, with a frankly insane amount of ass-shaking and a particularly memorable fade-to-white ending over a freeze-frame of the duo’s wiggling backsides.
As camp and silly as this looks now, it’s worth remembering these were the early days of music video. The idea that these things would one day costs millions and have the kind of scope normally reserved for hollywood films was still largely alien to audiences (with only Michael Jackson’s video for Thriller beginning to give a sense of what was possible).
Meanwhile, just seeing Bowie and Jagger dancing like loons around abandoned buildings was quite enough entertainment and spectacle for 1985 and (thanks to the internet’s appreciation for all things camp) equally entertaining (though in very different ways) to modern-day audiences. So next time you’re shaking your playsuited/trenchcoated rear to Dancing in the Street – just remember: Mick and Dave were doing it first. And back then it was cool – not camp…