Written by: Sloan de Forest, Special to CC2K
Stand Back by Stevie Nicks
As a member of Fleetwood Mac, one of the few 1970s stadium rock staples to voluntarily embrace the medium of music video before MTV launched, Stevie Nicks was already a seasoned video star by 1983. In fact, her face was one of the earliest to appear in regular rotation on the new music channel, swinging her Bo Derek-style hair beads alongside Tom Petty in “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” Two years later, Nicks heard Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” on the car radio, raced home and wrote “Stand Back,” a techno-pop/r&b/rock treat which she categorizes as “a dancing song.” (Yes, that is the Purple One himself playing keyboards on “Stand Back” – though he does not appear in the clip.)
Jeff Hornaday’s video for “Stand Back” is essentially a classic exercise in formulaic juxtapositions, but it still works. In it, Stevie appears to be a pagan priestess whose Wiccan ceremony is interrupted by the backup dancers from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video. She twirls and fans her gossamer shawls in the air while behind her the dancers pop and lock in all of their zippered, belted and buckled glory.
When I first saw this video as a youngster, I was confused by Stevie’s wardrobe and hairstyle. Didn’t she know it was the 1980s? Had she missed the memo that the ’70s were over? Why in the name of Chachie would she turn her lace-draped back on those great new inventions like hair mousse, leave-in conditioner and cotton/spandex blends in favor of vintage beaded gowns and passé platform boots? Now when I watch the video I tend to find the look of the “modern” backup dancers dated, while Stevie seems more preserved as a timeless icon, her signature look never wavering with the ever ephemeral fads.
She opens the clip with her trademark slow-motion spinning, then the theme of the song is briefly established when we see her slow dancing in the arms of a semi-faceless young man, whom we vaguely assume at some point will stand her up, put her down, or in some way ignite Stevie’s melodic wrath. She performs her vocals with charisma and confidence; her only props a microphone on a stand, a strong halo light behind her and mesmerizing eye contact with the viewer.
Upon the first refrain of the chorus we see the dancers make their presence known, reminding us that This Is the Eighties! Flashdance and Michael Jackson are at their apexes of popularity and a feature film about breakdancing is about to be shot. Dancing in videos is obligatory at the moment. Even non-dancers like Rick Springfield and Pat Benatar can be found on MTV following simple choreography and trying not to remind younger viewers of their parents dancing at a boozy wedding reception.
Ms. Nicks, however, with her ballet training, held an obvious advantage over these performers and it shows. She never officially gets down in “Stand Back,” but her movements are graceful and rhythmic as she holds her own with the overdramatic Fame kids in the background, although for the most part they never dance together. The two exceptions are a quick scene in which Stevie whirls abstractly with the other dancers and one near the end where they all march toward the camera like the Jets in West Side Story, with Stevie in front as a kind of diaphanous silk-swaddled Riff. For the rest of the video we mostly see images of the flowing, mystical chanteuse versus images of the hip, headbanded dancers in back and forth cuts of visual tug-of-war, as though she is attempting to sing her song while extras from the set of Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo keep sneaking onto the sound stage and ruining the mood. This friction between these two visual extremes fuels the dance-club sound of the song perfectly, without ever straying into the danger zone of narrative territory; the images clash, collide, and synthesize into an energy all their own.
As for the symbolic meaning of the sheer curtains, the white French doors or the neon-lit treadmill runway, who knows? Stevie Nicks herself admitted that even she is not quite sure what the song is about, and neither am I. I just know someone will end up “standing in a line” because she ominously predicts this fate during my favorite moment in the video, her hands resting on her hips as if to say “I told you so.” She might be warning us about long delays in the grocery store check-out line for all I care, I just know I like it. For one moment in 1983 old met new, street met séance, two worlds collided and something slightly magical happened.