The music video for “Separate Ways” by Journey is widely regarded as one of the worst of all-time. It was memorably mocked by Beavis & Butthead during the show’s original run on MTV, and the network later went on to rank it as the 13th worst video ever made. There is a good reason for all the scorn it received: It is awful. Awful. The whole thing looks like it was shot in 30 minutes, edited in the next 30, and then shipped off to MTV in a manilla envelope labeled simply “MUSIC VIDEO.” Needless to say, I love it dearly.
The first few times I watched it — and I have watched it many, many times — I tried to grade it on a curve. “Well, I mean, it was 1983,” I said to myself. “Music videos were just becoming a thing, and they had to work with the limited resources they had at the time.” But then I thought about that some more and realized that 1983 was also right around the time the videos for “Beat It” and “Thriller” came out, and Journey was also a big-ass deal back then. They had the juice to demand a big, elaborate concert video, or one with some sort of narrative structure, if they really wanted it. But no. They chose to hang out on a wharf and play air instruments for a while. And thank god they did.
Watch the video for yourself, then join me on the following pages for a breakdown of all its crappy pieces. This one is mess.
The video opens with the band playing air versions of their instruments over the song’s opening notes, then magically, utilizing the modern movie-making technique of “a terrible jump cut” …
… POOF their instruments appear. We are literally 10 seconds into the video and it is already one of the worst I have ever seen. Buckle in, people.
There is a girl in the video. Because there is always a girl in the video. At this point all we know about her are the following things:
- She has legs
- She has a white jacket
- She has white shoes
- She has a butt (see above)
Will we find out more about this mysterious, apparently anatomically-correct vixen? KIND OF! (But not really.)
It is important to look back at videos like this one, if for no other reason, to remember that there was a time when Journey lead singer Steve Perry was a sex symbol. He really was. With groupies and everything. I do not mean this as an attack against Mr. Perry, who for all I know is a very nice man who loves dogs and gives lots of money to charity, but when you go home for the holidays in a few weeks, you would be entirely within your rights to back your mother into a corner and demand an explanation for this. She owes it to you. She owes it to society.
Anyway, what is happening in this screenshot is that Steve Perry is doing this thing where he snaps his head toward the camera, slowly turns it away, then dramatically snaps it back again. It is great and everybody should start doing it a lot.
The vixen walks into a warehouse. Why, you ask? NOT IMPORTANT. Because it NEVER COMES UP AGAIN. Here are all of the things she does in this video: she walks up and down the wharf, she walks into the warehouse, and then she does both of those things a few more times. That is it. I am dying to know what her motivation for this was. She woke up, got dressed to the leather-clad nines, went down to the wharf, and just strutted around for a while? To impress Journey, maybe? Who was singing and playing air instruments at the wharf because … of reasons?
The whole thing would bug me for a week if I thought more than four seconds of thought went into it.
AIR KEYBOARDING OR CAT IMPRESSION: YOU DECIDE!
One of the few downsides to this video, from a breakdown perspective, it that there really isn’t all that much to it. Most of the other videos I’ve tackled had an absurdly involved plot, or multiple locations, or the bonkers hallucinations of a snakey-dancing madman. This has none of those things, and the temptation is to just take a bunch of screencaps and type “HOLY SH-T LOOK AT HOW AGGRESSIVELY AWFUL AND 80s THIS IS” over and over for 20 slides. I promise I will try to better be than that. I am a professional.
If I were going to do that, however, this would be one of those times.
JOURNEY: So, uh, what do you want us to do next?
DIRECTOR: [eating a turkey sandwich] I dunno, go stand on those pallets or something.
DIRECTOR: [wiping mayonnaise off his chin with his sleeve] Babes love pallets.
Here is my favorite thing about this screencap: EVERYTHING. I want it as a poster in my living room.
DIRECTOR: [eating a bowl of pudding] Let’s glue your keyboard to the wall.
DIRECTOR: [licking spoon] I’m the director, aren’t I?
KEYBOARDIST: Yeah, but it doesn’t even make sense. Why would my keyboard be on the wall?
DIRECTOR: Truuuust me. It’ll all make sense when we edit it together.
[edits it together, it does not make sense]
FACT: Everyone in Journey plays their instruments hilariously. Especially the drummer. This picture really doesn’t do it justice. Go back and watch the video again. Trust me on this.
SECOND FACT: I was so delighted by the first fact that I got a little carried away and now I have five (5) screencaps saved on my computer of Journey’s drummer playing the drums. That is not something I expected to happen at any point in my life. And yet, here we are, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I like to imagine the underside of his keyboard is caked with leftover glue from the previous shot, and he is secretly FURIOUS about it, but he is too much of a trooper to let it get in the way of his performance.
Hey, look, she’s walking into the warehouse again, this time in front of Steve Perry. This seems like a good opportunity to post this paragraph from the song’s Wikipedia page, which I have read about 100 times, and continues to improve on each pass:
It was reported that on the first day of shooting, there was a cold breeze coming off of the Mississippi River, which the wharf was located next to. This made filming all the more difficult on the band and Perry, who was seen retreating to his camper on-site to keep warm. This state of affairs was complicated by the presence of Perry’s then-girlfriend, Sherrie Swafford, on the set. Not only had the band been told that they could not bring wives or girlfriends to the shoot, the other members disliked Swafford and her effect on Perry, creating considerable tension. She was reportedly extremely jealous of the model in the video, and kept demanding she be taken out of it. “There was a big kicking and screaming session”, Cain recalled later. “Sherrie was giving Steve a very bad time about that girl.” Perry had also just gotten his hair cut short, which Cain found inexplicable since the singer’s previous hairstyle had been “rockin'”.
Speaking of amazing things people have written on Wikipedia, here is what Steve Perry has been up to lately:
Perry rekindled a childhood love for cattle and dairy farming, including an interest in a small bovine insemination business in California’s Central Valley.
The Internet is great.
Okay, so here is how you can tell this video was made in under an hour, as if it weren’t already obvious: While Steve Perry is backing up through these pallets and singing to the camera, he takes a quick peek backwards to make sure he doesn’t trip and fall over anything, and THEY LEFT IT IN THE VIDEO.
Everyone involved in the making of this video should be sued for malpractice.
DIRECTOR: Okay, everyone line up from most-to-least hilarious-looking.
JOURNEY: Got it.
Put this GIF in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame IMMEDIATELY.
Everyone hops back up on the pallets for one last go-round as the song begins wrapping up. I am sad this is ending. I feel like I could watch Journey fart around on a wharf for another 20-30 minutes. Easy. I bet eventually they would have run out of things to do and just started playing cards or something, and the director would have put a 40 second uninterrupted shot of it in the video. I bet the drummer would have won. He seems sneaky.
Anyway, I have good news for you. We are about to find out what the hell was going on in this damn video.
At the very end, it is revealed that…
… it was all the vixen’s dream! Wait, what? You mean to tell me that this sexy, leather-wearing babe of the 80s went to bed and dreamed about … Journey? On a wharf? Playing air instruments and standing on pallets?
She either needs to do way more or way less drugs. One or the other. Whatever she’s doing now ain’t working.