“Hot Rocks”: Berlin’s “Sex (I’m A…)” and other techno-sleaze glamour rock hits

By on January 20, 2017

On Friday, July 15, 1983, part of the “Night Flight” programming for the evening included the premiere episode of the Playboy Channel’s “Hot Rocks,” a new music video show that featured music videos showcasing partial or full-frontal NSFW nudity, the ones usually seen only on that naughty continent of Europe. We’re serving up that steamy 60-minute first “Hot Rocks” — featuring uncensored videos by David Bowie, Queen, the Tubes, and a Night Flight fave, Berlin, whose sexy single “Sex (I’m A…)” video was considered “too hot for radio” at the time — exclusively on Night Flight Plus.

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“Hot Rocks” had been produced by two former MTV execs –Fred Seibert and Alan Goodman — who’d formed their own company, Fred/Alan, who created the show for the Playboy Channel, an even smaller-scale pay-cable service at the time.

The not-ready-for-MTV first episode — the same one we’re featuring on Night Flight Plus — was given its world premiere at the legendary Studio 54, hosted by Connie Brighton, who was Playboy‘s April 1982 Playmate of the Month (we’re sure you all remember her from her only acting role in Smokey and the Bandit Part 3).

Berlin were formed in late ’77 (some sources say early ’78) in Fullerton, California, an Orange County suburb twenty-five miles southeast of Los Angeles, by bassist/guitarist John Crawford, who had began taking guitar lessons after breaking his leg during a basketball game.

His guitar teacher put him in touch with future band members, Dan Van Patten (drum/synths/drum machine programmer), and Chris Ruiz-Velasco (guitar), and at first, with a vocalist named Ty Cobb, they first began calling themselves The Toys before switching to Berlin, which Crawford thought sounded more European and exotic.

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Crawford was influenced by bands like Ultravox and Kraftwerk and wanted the band to focus more on keyboard and synth-driven electro-pop, with the appropriate icy, often-robotic vocals which usually accompanied those types of European bands), but electro synth-pop wasn’t in vogue at the time and record labels (and therefore radio stations) weren’t really interested in it either, not yet anyway.

Terri Nunn — who didn’t join the band until sometime in 1979 — would later recall that most of the bands they played with in the circuit of L.A. and Orange County clubs (like the Knack, the Plimsouls, and the Motels, for instance), were, in her words, “all skinny ties and a lot of upbeat, happy guitar stuff.” (In 1984, Crawford described his own band’s music as “techno-sleaze glamour rock.”)

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Berlin — according to the picture sleeve, the lineup that recorded the band’s first single featured Jo Julian (synth/vocals) — released “A Matter of Time” in early 1979, on Zone-H Records, a small L.A. label (it was also issued on Renegade Records).

The a-side was listed as “East,” and the b-side as “West,” no doubt representing the then-current Cold War split in the actual city of Berlin, Germany.

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Nunn (born in 1961) was interested in music, but before she’d sung a note, she’d already been living an interesting life, with a lot of ups and downs.

At fourteen, her father — a chronically-unemployed alcoholic — learned he had terminal cancer, and since his marriage was already falling apart, he took his own life. Nunn’s mother, a secretary, became the family’s sole provider.

Teenage Terri, meanwhile, began landing roles in TV movies and appearing on a slew of network series (her IMDB entry lists them all), but she ultimately wasn’t too happy playing what she called the “underbelly stuff,” telling an L.A. Times writer: “I never got the sweet girl [parts]. I was always a schizophrenic hooker, a junkie. In ‘Mary Hartman,’ I was a babysitter on reds.”

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In 1976, she went to three call-back auditions and nearly landed the role of Princess Leia Organa in George Lucas’s Star Wars — Jodie Foster, Cindy Williams and a few other recognizable names were vying for the same career-making role, which ultimately went to the late Carrie Fisher, of course — and there are photos of Terri rehearsing lines with Harrison Ford (and check out her audition on Youtube!).

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That same year, 1976, she also posed for nude photos that landed her on the cover and in a typically soft-focus 70s-era Vaseline-lensed pictorial spread in the February ’77 issue of Penthouse.

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She appeared under an assumed name of “Betsy Harris,” and for years, when journalists asked Nunn if it was her she denied it, but finally, in 2011, during an interview for a radio show called “Life Unedited,” she admitted that she was indeed Ms. Betsy Harris, the Penthouse Pet.

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She was just sixteen at the time she posed for the photos and not yet eighteen when the issue was published eight months later.

(An underage Traci Lords would also end up posing for Penthouse, for their 15th Anniversary Issue which arrived on magazine stands in September 1984, when she was just sixteen — we told you about that in our most popular post ever, right here).

Terri Nunn continued to land bigger and bigger roles, including the role of “Jeannie” in the disco musical Thank God It’s Friday (released in May 1978), and that same year she auditioned for a new primetime CBS soap opera drama, called “Dallas,” but the producers — who apparently thought she was perfect for the saucy “Lucy Ewing,” teenage niece to Bobby and J.R. Ewing (Patrick Duffy and Larry Hagman, respectively) — wanted her to sign a seven-year TV contract.

Nunn realized that if she did that, she wouldn’t be able to pursue her true love, which was music, so she declined to accept their offer (the role was ultimately played by Charlene Tilton). Her agent was so upset about it that he dropped her as a client, and “Dallas,” of course, proved to be a huge hit, lasting fourteen seasons.

Nunn — who had left Berlin in ’79 to audition for some of these big acting parts — returned to Berlin, sometime in 1980, with a renewed desire to focus on making music.

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Berlin, meanwhile, had replaced Nunn with a new chanteuse, Virginia Macolino, and even released an album (Information) and a single (“Fascination”) in Germany, and they’d even re-issued “A Matter of Time” with Macolino’s vocals and a new picture sleeve on I.R.S. Records, but with Nunn back in the band and now fully committed, it was just a “matter of time” before they would find success.

Crawford, meanwhile, had put Berlin on the back-burner, and had begun singing with another synth-pop quartet, Fahrenheit, whose lineup also included Van Patten, Keith West and Rich West (later of Stacey Q’s band), the latter two on synths (Crawford also played bass in another O.C. band, the Videos).

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With Nunn back in Berlin, they recorded a new single, “The Metro” (the b-side, “Tell Me Why,” appeared on several Berlin b-sides) for the L.A. indie label, MAO Music, in late 1981, but they really wanted to sign with a bigger label, as all bands surely do.

Sometime in early 1982, Berlin grew to the six-piece lineup with the addition of guitarist Rick Olsen, and synthesist/keyboardist/guitarist David Diamond (who lists himself as co-founder of Berlin in his Linked In profile), and they recorded a new song that Crawford, Diamond and Nunn had written to specifically get airplay on the local powerhouse FM station, KROQ, and land them a record deal.

Their first choice was Geffen Records.

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The song, “Sex (I’m A…),” was recorded for about $3000 on modest studio equipment at the Casbah in Fullerton, along with “Masquerade,” and “The Metro” and a few of Berlin’s best songs, up to that point.

It was produced and engineered (as was most of their songs) by the band’s then-drummer and drum programmer, Dan Van Patten (he died in July 2013).

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“Sex (I’m A…)” was inspired, Nunn has said, in part, by the relationship she was having with her boyfriend at the time.

Apparently, their sex life was going through one of those lulls that periodically happen from time to time, and Nunn’s girlfriends had suggested that she take charge in the bedroom and have fun with some role-playing and they encouraged her to try being more dominant.

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Around the same time, when the band were in the studio, Crawford began singing the Muddy Waters song, “Mannish Boy,” which Nunn has said inspired some of the lyrics she wrote later, at home, also saying later that her boyfriend picked up on what she was saying and told her,

“You know Terri, I’m not a pirate, or a burglar. I don’t really want to be a rapist that comes and gets you and ties you down. I really don’t want to be any of those things: I’m just a guy. I’m a man. I like normal guy things and that’s all I really want to do.”

Nunn flipped around what he was saying to her own point-of-view, and the lyrics poured forth:

“I’m a man, I’m a goddess
I’m a man, well, I’m a virgin
I’m a man, I’m a blue movie
I’m a man, I’m a bitch
I’m a man, I’m a geisha
I’m a man, I’m a little girl
And we make love together”

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A new L.A. indie, Enigma Records, who were just starting out at the time, liked what they heard from Berlin, who would end up being one of the first bands they signed (Mötley Crüe was another), and although the band’s self-released EP, Pleasure Victim, was really considered by the band to be a bunch of demos, it proved to be a colossal hit, selling 25,000 copies in a single month.

Terri Nunn was also credited for “BJs” on the EP, but in the run-out groove, a message was scrawled that explained what it meant: “BAD JOKES, YOU FOOL.”

Its success, of course, led to them being courted by Geffen, who bought the EP, and re-released it worldwide on January 26, 1983. To date, it is Berlin’s best-selling album and was certified gold by the RIAA in September 1984 and platinum in February 1993.

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Some of the band’s success on Geffen has to be credited to Berlin’s first two videos, which, according to Nunn, in Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Mark’s I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, were shot in two days:

“We shot videos for ‘The Metro’ and ‘Sex’ in a two-day period, back to back, forty-eight hours straight. What I remember is crying. There’s a sequence in ‘The Metro’ where I’m walking on subway tracks — it was a stage set — and I’m kind of stumbling through it. I was exhausted and pissed off, like, ‘When are we gonna fucking finish this video? I wanna go to bed and die.’ I was sobbing, and the director was like, ‘Great! Yeah! Okay, film her now!’ It was good for the video.”

Their high-concept video for “The Metro” — directed by Dominic Orlando, at GMT Studios in Culver City, California — landed in MTV’s heavy rotation, but the video for the controversial synth-driven “Sex (I’m A…)” (btw, the last person you see in the video is Terri’s mom) was banned by some radio stations due to its graphic lyrics, which had somewhat controversial lyrics that would ultimately lead to it being banned by some radio stations.

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The single for “Sex (I’m A…)” ultimately peaked at #62 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart, for two weeks in late March and early April 1983, no doubt hurt by the limited airplay it received; nevertheless, the video for the track was a highlight of the Playboy Channel’s “Hot Rocks,” which as we said first aired in July 1983, just a few months after Berlin appeared — on Monday, May 30th, the last day of the three-day weekend), billed as “Rock Day” — at the US Festival, which we told you about here.

Have a look at this first episode of Playboy‘s “Hot Rocks,” featuring the uncensored videos for Duran Duran’s “Girls On Film,” and David Bowie‘s “China Girl,” as well as uncensored videos by Queen, Doug and The Slugs, The Tubes, Marty Balin, and newcomer Peter Godwin, among others. It’s on Night Flight Plus (and not on Youtube!).

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.