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culture

Reel Toronto: Music Videos of the 1980s

In this special edition series, and inspired by a reader’s suggestion, Reel Toronto looks at just a few of the classic (and less-classic) music videos filmed in our fair city over the years.

The Pursuit of Happiness’s indie-shot video for “I’m an Adult Now” is just a stone classic. You can see seedy-era Yonge-Dundas (watch for the old World’s Biggest Jeans Store and the old Eaton’s frontage), the bus terminal, and City Hall.
But the bulk of the video takes place in the parking lot at the corner of Queen West and Soho. During the first, long shot down Queen you can see the Citytv building, the Black Bull Tavern, and a few other locations that have survived twenty-odd years of change (the “Cooper’s” seen in some shots is now a Gap, natch.) If you look quickly we think you can even see the then-alive Hug Me Tree.
Ain’t it always the way? The re-recorded song and video just don’t hold a candle, even with the strobe lights.


Ah, “Subdivisions.” It opens with a helicopter shot of the intersection at King and Bay Streets, and only gets better from there. You can see the Scarborough RT, the DVP-401 interchange, and what looks like the PATH system (or at least the generic bowels of some downtown offices). The Warden-Finch neighbourhood has the honour of playing the seventh circle of cookie cutter suburban hell.
What Toronto high school gets to play the role of the soul-crushing monster that is education in suburbs? If Wikipedia is to be trusted (and if you can’t trust them, who can you trust?) it’s Scarborough’s L’Amoreaux Collegiate. You can see the bland, grey exterior just short of the two-minute mark. Just look at those cool dudes with all their chicks, probably on the way to have a rockin’ good time at Bridlewood Mall!
At about 2:45 we take a Goin’ Down the Road-style trip down Yonge Street at night. And towards the end we see our oppressed hero playing video games at the now-defunct Video Invasion. The Bathurst-Wilson landmark has since changed hands a few time, most recently serving as a What a Bagel.
(Other Wikipedia trivia? That bad-ass synth is an Oberheim OB-X.)


Okay, arenas look pretty much identical once you shut the lights off but the video for Duran Duran’s “The Reflex” was shot at Maple Leaf Gardens, way back on March 5, 1984. If you’re old enough and lucky enough, you might know someone soaked by the CGI waterfall. (Actually, the close-ups were shot separately, but you still get the idea…)


Speaking of needing to be old enough, the Parachute Club broke through right around the same time as Duran Duran, thanks in large part to this video. Its music and lyrics perfectly capture the era of legwarmers and aerobics, and the video features a massive conga line parading through downtown, past landmarks like Roy Thomson Hall. Note how shiny and white First Canadian Place was, and the absence of Metro Hall (it was still a parking lot, as seen in Police Academy).


The video for Blue Rodeo’s “Try” isn’t especially dynamic when viewed today, but it was a big part of breaking the band way back in 1988. It basically features the band playing in a generic industrial location while a girl walks around under the Bathurst Street bridge, barefoot. The actress in question is actually Michelle McAdorey, who dated Greg Keelor and sang in the band Crash Vegas. (Keelor started the band with her and Colin Cripps, who is now sideman for and husband of Kathleen Edwards.)


We’ll end up with a couple for the TTC nerds—we know there are a lot of you out there.
“Spadina Bus” is not only a great song, but a great way to see what Spadina Avenue looked like before the huge streetcar makeover. The Shuffle Demons are jamming at the St. Andrew intersection, hanging out in the Sullivan Street shelter, and in front of the Queen Street CIBC, but shots cover the whole stretch from Spadina Crescent down to King Street.
(On a barely-related note, we’d like to hope that Toronto staff have since caught and corrected this incorrect street sign. Tsk tsk.)
Is there any point using this opportunity to, for the umpteenth time, hammer MuchMusic for having changed from the kind of place that used to play this stuff? Probably not.


We’re ending with The Spoons’ “Romantic Traffic” partially because—having had your fill of buses—we know you’ll enjoy seeing the old, red subways and pre-reno stations like Sheppard and Bloor.
But mostly it’s because we know you’ll now have that “doo doo doo de doo doo de doo,” chorus stuck in your head the rest of the day. Don’t try to extricate it, you’ll just make it worse.

Got a video we should include in this series? Email us at tips@torontoist.com!

Comments

  • http://twitter.com/vid_kid Colin

    Great post, I hadn't seen some of those. The Pursuit of Happiness video was amazing.

  • http://twitter.com/bigdaddyhame bigdaddyhame

    Let Your Backbone Slide – Maestro Fresh Wes – shot at the (now burned down) church south of Avenue Rd/Davenport.
    Lovers in a Dangerous Time – The Barenaked Ladies

    oh and as an added note, I attended the Duran Duran concert in 1984 where they filmed the Reflex video. No one was drowned! :-p So awesome. I was deaf from the teenage girl screams for two days.

  • Jeremy Wilson

    It looks like the Toronto Dominion Centre portion of the PATH to me. Classic International style!

  • http://twitter.com/accozzaglia accozzaglia

    I should have written this instalment's column! This is my specialization! :)

    Actually, Romantic Traffic (a better quality version can be found here), Spadina Bus, and Rise Up were all shot by the same director: Rob Frescoe. Other Toronto music videos he shot are on his YouTube page.

    Several pivotal music videos were excluded/left out from this set, so I'll add the other essential ones:

    Martha + The Muffins :: “Danseparc (Everyday It's Tomorrow)” [1982]
    (By far my favourite in a tie with Spoons' “Romantic Traffic”. Copious footage of the now gone Guild Inn.

    Pukka Orchestra :: “Listen to the Radio” [1984]
    This was a contemporary cover of the Tom Robinson song, “Atmospherics (Listen to the Radio“) also released the same year (both had airplay on the Spirit of Radio CFNY). In this, the Pukka Orchestra version pay a nod to their controversial song about 52 Division's police brutality, “Cherry Beach Express,” for which no music video had been recorded. This is also a Rob Frescoe video, probably Toronto's greatest unsung video director from the day.

    Chalk Circle :: “April Fool [1986]
    Sunnyside Beach represent! Shot around March or April 1986. Also the closest thing Toronto had to Gene Loves Jezebel, but far less pretentious and far more powerful to hear. Chalk Circle later made an awesome song about gentrification called “N.I.M.B.Y.”

    The Partland Brothers :: “Soul City” [1986]
    They drive to Soul City — which apparently is somewhere between Yonge Street and King Street West nearby Portland. We don't know, and was it ever really true?

    Trans-X :: Message on the Radio” [1983]
    Montréal, Québécoise mode, comes to Toronto, making Toronto feel like some island city with a big mound at its centre. Generous references of the Canada Life weather spire and the old King St. West in its transitional days from gritty warehouses to an arts corridor.

    Maestro Fresh-Wes :: “Let the Backbone Slide” [1989]
    Toronto warms up to hip-hop. I'm probably wrong, but it looks like an older Avenue Road in those street scenes with old livery TTC buses riding through the background.

    Glass Tiger :: “Someday” [1986]
    We couldn't get away from a 1980s Toronto without these guys popping up. The city shares face time with some place in the Bloor-Ossington area (I think, at least), and an abandoned warehouse in the old warehouse district along King. This is the videos whose shooting locations I have not totally confirmed. But men with well-coiffed hair. Here. It once happened.

  • http://twitter.com/accozzaglia accozzaglia

    I should have written this instalment's column! This is my specialization! :)

    Actually, Romantic Traffic (a better quality version can be found here), Spadina Bus, and Rise Up were all shot by the same director: Rob Frescoe. Other Toronto music videos he shot are on his YouTube page.

    Several pivotal music videos were excluded/left out from this set, so I'll add the other essential ones:

    Martha + The Muffins :: “Danseparc (Everyday It's Tomorrow)” [1982]
    By far my favourite in a tie with Spoons' “Romantic Traffic”. Copious footage of the now gone Guild Inn and of a Gardiner with long-gone low-pressure sodium luminaires (remember those awful yellow lights?).

    Pukka Orchestra :: “Listen to the Radio” [1984]
    This was a contemporary cover of the Tom Robinson song, “Atmospherics (Listen to the Radio“) also released the same year (both had airplay on the Spirit of Radio CFNY). In this, the Pukka Orchestra version pay a nod to their controversial song about 52 Division's police brutality, “Cherry Beach Express,” for which no music video had been recorded. This is also a Rob Frescoe video, probably Toronto's greatest unsung video director from the day.

    Chalk Circle :: “April Fool” [1986]
    Sunnyside Beach represent! Shot around March or April 1986. Also the closest thing Toronto had to Gene Loves Jezebel, but far less pretentious and far more powerful to hear. Chalk Circle later made an awesome song about gentrification called “N.I.M.B.Y.”

    The Partland Brothers :: “Soul City” [1986]
    They drive to Soul City — which apparently is somewhere between Yonge Street and King Street West nearby Portland. We don't know, and was it ever really true?

    Trans-X :: “Message on the Radio” [1983]
    Montréal, Québécoise mode, comes to Toronto, making Toronto feel like some island city with a big mound at its centre. Generous references of the Canada Life weather spire and the old King St. West in its transitional days from gritty warehouses to an arts corridor.

    Maestro Fresh-Wes :: “Let the Backbone Slide” [1989]
    Toronto warms up to hip-hop. I'm probably wrong, but it looks like an older Avenue Road in those street scenes with old livery TTC buses riding through the background.

    Glass Tiger :: “Someday” [1986]
    We couldn't get away from a 1980s Toronto without these guys popping up. The city shares face time with some place in the Bloor-Ossington area (I think, at least), and an abandoned warehouse in the old warehouse district along King. This is the videos whose shooting locations I have not totally confirmed. But men with well-coiffed hair. Here. It once happened.

    AND OMG, how could we forget this?!

    Tears for Fears :: “Head Over Heels” [1985]
    A music video shot in June 1985, just after finals, at UofT's Emmanuel College Library! When I came to the UofT as a student and stumbled into this building one afternoon, it was as if the ground beneath had swallowed me into a parallel reality where I was in a long-familiar music video. It was pretty freaky. This is why Emmanuel College Library is still my favourite library to just bring my stuff and read, even if I'm not liable to check out a single book from its stacks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ian-Crombie-Gray/591936676 Ian Crombie Gray

    Check the O.R. by Organized Rhyme! Jane and Finch!

  • http://thirtykzone.com/ tara

    HELLO – SPADINA BUS BY SHUFFLE DEMONS IS BEST OF ALL. ALSO, READ ABOUT MY LESBIAN REALIZATION AND A SINGER WHOS COMING TO TORONTO

    http://thirtykzone.com/2011/01…/

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=703092024 David Fleischer

    As always, you guys bring so much to the table. We'll definitely try to do a sequel that moves further into the future (i.e. closer to the present) some time soon.

    I must apologize most heartily for not remembering Tears for Fears, in particular, because I totally remember it was shot at U of T and simply haven't seen it in forever. Between Roland Orzabal, the Red Sox-loving monkey and the fake Hasidic Jew, I really have no excuse.

  • rich1299

    Loved it! makes me feel a little old though since I can recall when all these videos were brand new.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=90411288 Mark Altosaar

    Thanks for following up on my suggestion :) I'm still an unabashed TPOH fan.

    You can always do a follow-up 80s post too; or we could all read accozzaglia's comment heh.

    I didn't really follow later 90s Canadian music (industrial phase), but I remember catching “Feelin' Alright” by Len, where it was clearly filmed at Leaside High School.

  • http://twitter.com/adamlibtech adamlibtech

    Don't forget Corey's hard times in the big city

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v

  • http://twitter.com/natekelly Nathan Kelly

    I watched that Pursuit of Happiness video and couldn't help but think that Diamond Rings totally ripped off that guy's style.

  • http://twitter.com/accozzaglia accozzaglia

    Great find, Adam!

    Actually, something I only recently confirmed — and it was a bit of a surprise — was that “Sunglasses at Night” was not filmed in Montréal, as I'd always presumed (the West Island was his childhood stomping grounds). Rather, it was filmed in Toronto — much of it studio sets. Nothing about it stands out as being a Toronto-made production.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=532130245 Richard Underhill

    Thanks for this, great stuff. The Shuffle Demons wil be at the Piston this Friday, Jan 21. We're still doin' it! That was a heady time, when any crazy idea you had could get on MuchMusic.

  • the_lemur

    Roni Size, 'Brown Paper Bag':

    http://dai.ly/9r47hZ

  • http://twitter.com/accozzaglia accozzaglia

    That'll be a great selection for a 1990s series.

  • the_lemur

    Oops, totally missed that aspect.

  • http://twitter.com/accozzaglia accozzaglia

    That'll be a great selection for a 1990s series.

  • the_lemur

    Oops, totally missed that aspect.

  • Mark A.

    Confused how DHX Media holds the rights to this ancient indie version of I’m An Adult Now, and if they really do, why they’re being enforced. They only produce children’s shows.

  • Joy

    Oh my gosh, how is Corey Hart’s “Never Surrender” not on this? There’s even streetcars!!

  • Mark A.

    Here’s a working version of I’m An Adult Now:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6zMtTQix28

  • Celeste

    Lisa Logheed filmed her video Run With Us on Balamuto Street between Yonge Street and Bay Street.
    I seem to recall that Bloor Street East was blocked off between Yonge Street and Bay Street so shooting could start.
    Tears For Fears filmed their video for Head Over Heels at Emannuel College’s library at U of T.