The Rock Video Hook: The Rolling Stones, “Love Is Strong,” directed by David Fincher (1994)

Rock video hooks would seem to be a vast, rich subject, yet I don’t think of many moments in rock videos that I yearn to re-experience. In fact, it is so hard to think of such moments that I wonder whether there is something in the very nature of rock videos that militates against peak experience—something beyond the general deflation caused by lip-syncing skit shenanigans, since there are quite a few wonderful rock videos. (I love my Director’s Label DVDs.)[1] It’s just that I very rarely encounter any particular thing in the video experience that feels decisive in the way that peak musical moments do.

Part of the issue is that nothing else one could pick out as a rock video hook can compare with the physical presence of the star performers.  Beyoncé’s face is Mt. Everest (and her other parts are Himalayan slopes and valleys), and next to that anything like a cool shot composition is merely a pebble. You don’t need a Hook Analyst to tell you this. However, there is a strange hook effect here that I feel bound to remark. Precisely because Beyoncé is so dominantly interesting whenever she appears, she levels everything out: she makes it harder to feel any one moment as a peak experience.  (If you’ve got a minute to watch “Crazy In Love,” does it matter which minute you watch?)

This leads me to make a two-part prediction: the greatest rock video hooks will involve seeing some very interesting performer’s body photographically amplified (as a visual intensification of music’s amplifying of sound and speech), but will lift a peak moment up from the leveling effect by setting something against that body, unexpectedly checking it or framing it.

Wonder of wonders, the first rock video hook that rises to my mind confirms my hypothesis.

I love the “Love Is Strong” video partly because of the risks it runs. Putting oversized human characters in Manhattan might look arbitrary and silly in the way photo tricks usually do; and even if were physically convincing, it might make the Rolling Stones look like Godzilla-type monsters or Macy’s parade balloons, which would rather dull their edge.  But somehow, in certain shots, the images aren’t silly at all, they capture something as deep as the feeling in the song, which seems to well up from something underneath music and sex. (Manhattan is the ideal site; in Manhattan you always know there’s something under you.) What they capture is a feeling of going about in the city with your own feelings and powers huge, because they are central to you, and yet still framed by the mighty works of mankind on a greater scale—framed in such a way that you’re both humbled and expanded. As by love.

I am dubious about this video for the whole first minute, but the song’s smoldering mood is working on me nonetheless—it’s a mysteriously simple, serious, archetypal I-IIIb-VIIb-I rock tune, a big low-hanging fruit that for some reason never got picked till now; and it’s been picked by The Rolling Stones, with whom we’ve already shared quite a lot of such fruit.  So I’m in. The experience solidifies when Mick Jagger and Keith Richard both go down the avenue in the chorus from 1:19 on (after a Cloverfield moment at 1:16 when the camera has a hard time tracking Keith). And now, here is my hook: just as the stabbing new lead guitar accents in the chorus are coming on, as if to say “Yeah! What you’re feeling here really is more than you can handle!”, the Jagger gesture of fanning his shirt out on his arms behind him—at once childishly sportive, adolescently desperate, and rock-star flamboyant—is overwhelming at 1:24. It converges with all my thematic suspicions to sell me on my budding interpretation.


If you don’t know it, you should CHECK OUT ALSO the wonderful “Scream” video Michael and Janet Jackson made with Mark Romanek around the same time (1995). There’s no one hook to single out here. The whole thing is a hit parade of violently surprising framings of bodies in a nightmare space yacht. It’s great fun to see Michael and Janet at war with their own fetishized personae.


[1] I.e. collections of music videos directed by Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham, Mark Romanek, Jonathan Glazer, Stéphane Sednaoui, and Anton Corbijn.


About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
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