Credit: Neil Zlozower
The David Lee Roth years of Van Halen include more than a few famous videos. There was, of course, the one “infamous” video for “(Oh) Pretty Woman”.
Rock journalist Greg Prato has shared an excerpt from his recent article on the controversial video for Ultimate-Guitar:
Van Halen and David Lee Roth (early in his solo career) were responsible for some of the most memorable music videos of all time. Case in point, “Jump,” “Panama,” “Hot for Teacher,” “California Girls,” “Just a Gigolo,” “Yankee Rose,” and “Goin’ Crazy.” But one that tends to get overlooked was VH’s rarely-seen 1982 clip for “(Oh) Pretty Woman.”
With MTV having just been launched the previous year, the station had much fewer videos to choose from (it was not uncommon to see several clips from the same artist the same day – Pat Benatar, Rod Stewart, Devo, REO Speedwagon, Hall & Oates, etc.), with the majority of them merely lip-synched on a soundstage. But for the “(Oh) Pretty Woman” video, a decision was made that it would follow a storyline with all four band members portraying a character – David Lee Roth as Napoleon, Eddie Van Halen as a gun-slinging cowboy, Michael Anthony as a samurai, and Alex Van Halen as Tarzan – and would come to the aid of a “damsel in distress.”
While it seemed like a VH conceptual video would be a slam dunk for the fledgling channel, it was allegedly banned by MTV – due to scenes of a woman (who ultimately turns out to be a man) held captive and being molested by a pair of dwarves. In the 2011 book, MTV Ruled the World: The Early Years of Music Video, one of the contributors to the video, Pete Angelus, discussed his memories of the controversial clip.
“[‘(Oh) Pretty Woman’] I did not direct myself. I was on the set with Dave and Van Halen. I think it was kind of a group effort. I think everybody was kind of involved with that. What I remember specifically about that video was that the primary cameraman quit in the middle of shooting it, so that was a problem. I don’t remember why he quit. I don’t know if we were driving him insane, the subject matter was driving him insane… I don’t know what he was appalled by. But I remember him leaving in a huff.”
Angelus – who would go on to direct all of the classic VH and DLR videos mentioned earlier – also recalled other unexpected troubles on the set.
“And then, the other thing I remember about that video is always having to send people around the set to try and find the ‘little people.’ We could never find them. People’s megaphones were always screaming for them to come to the set, and we could never find them. I later discovered that I think the reason that we couldn’t find them was because they were dealing mushrooms on the set, and they were so high that they had disappeared into some field and were having some hallucinatory trip. So I remember that being a problem.”
There’s much more to this story in Prato’s Ultimate-Guitar article. Even more stories from Pete Angelus discussing the Van Halen and David Lee Roth videos he worked on, as well as other Van Halen memories (US Festival, etc) in Prato’s 2011 book MTV Ruled the World: The Early Years of Music Video.