Might as well face it, Robert Palmer’s iconic “Addicted to Love” video helped define the ’80s

By on July 7, 2017

In 1986, Robert Palmer’s video for his Top Ten hit “Addicted to Love” caused quite a sensation, becoming one of the most iconic and enduring videos of the 1980s, defining the decade’s hyper-stylized fashion-conscious look. It was featured in Night Flight’s “Take Off to 80s Dance Classics,” which originally aired on November 11, 1988, and you can watch it again, any time you want, over on Night Flight Plus!

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In the 1980s, blue-eyed British rock singer Robert Palmer was considered something of a Casanova with the ladies, and after his video — directed by British photographer Terence Donovan, known for his work with mod fashion during the Swinging ’60s — became hugely popular, due to its frequent airing on MTV, as well as other music video shows in the U.S. and abroad, giving the then-37-year-old singer the biggest hit of his career as a solo artist.

“Addicted to Love”entered the Billboard Hot 100 on February 8, 1986, before topping that chart — as well as the Billboard Top Rock Tracks chart — around May 3rd of that year.

The single also reached #1 in Australia and #5 on the UK Singles chart.

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In 1987, “Addicted to Love” would win Robert Palmer a Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Performance, and at the 1987 Brit Awards, Palmer received his first nomination for Best British Male, but Palmer had by then already had a long career before this seemingly overnight success.

He’d drifted in and out of numerous bands in the 1970s, including a stint with the R&B group Vinegar Joe, and had recorded four solo albums for Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, before the decade had come to an end, beginning with a great album called Sneakin’ Sally through the Alley (1974), which was his first LP to end up on the Billboard Top Pop Album charts.

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The albums that followed in the mid-to-late-70s –including Pressure Drop (1975), Some People Can Do What They Like (1976), Double Fun (1978), and Secrets (1979) — increased his profile, with the latter album climbing to #19 on the album chart, propelled by its big single from the album, “Bad Case of Loving You,” charting at #14 on the singles chart.

He’d follow that huge single up with another Top Twenty hit in 1982, “Some Guys Have All The Luck.”

By the summer of 1983, Palmer had become friends with the members of Duran Duran while performing at their charity concert in Birmingham, England, and a few years later, when that band went on hiatus, Palmer joined their guitarist Andy Taylor and Andy’s bass-playing brother John, to form a new band called Power Station.

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Power Station would have two Top Ten hits of their own — “Some Like It Hot” (#6) and a cover of the T. Rex hit “Get It On (Bang a Gong)” (#9) — but Palmer decided to leave the band right before their scheduled appearance at Live Aid (he was replaced at the last minute by Michael Des Barres).

Palmer wanted to pursue his own solo career again, and since he had enjoyed working with Power Station’s producer Bernard Edwards, he turned to him again to produce tracks for his next album, Riptide.

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Edwards had already gained fame as a co-founder of the disco-funk group Chic (teaming up with Nile Rodgers), who had massive hits with “Dance, Dance, Dance” (1977), a four-million selling single, as well as “Le Freak” and “Good Times,” which were also sampled by rap acts, beginning with the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper Delight.”

After Chic had disbanded in 1982, Edwards recorded solo albums of his own, and had joined a short-lived group, the Distance, before turning to production work, often in collaboration with Rodgers, working on hits for Diana Ross (“Upside Down,” “I’m Coming Out”), Rod Stewart & Ronald Isley (“This Old Heart of Mine”) and others.

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Edwards reunited Power Station, minus John Taylor, to play on “Addicted to Love,” with Edwards on bass and long-term friend and renowned studio guitarist Eddie Martinez — who had played the guitar riffs on the Run DMC hits “Rock Box” and “King Of Rock” — alongside Andy Taylor on guitar.

The rest of the band — drummer Tony Thompson, keyboardists Wally Badarou and Jeff Bova, and bassist Guy Pratt, among others — were among some of the top session musicians around.

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Originally, Palmer had wanted to do a straight-up rock album, with Jeff Beck originally, using disco technology, similar to what ZZ Top were doing at the time, mixing guitar-heavy rock riffs with slightly-sequenced computerized drum beats.

“Addicted to Love” was first recorded as a duet between Palmer and Chaka Khan, but her management didn’t want her to have three singles out at the same time and her label, Warner Bros., would not grant her a release to work on Palmer’s label, Island Records, and so her vocals were removed from the recording.

Khan was by then having a lot of success with her 1984 album, I Feel For You, which we told you about in this recent Night Flight post, and she had also sung on Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love,” which beat out “Addicted to Love” for the 1987 Record of the Year Grammy.

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And so, “Addicted to Love” was released as a solo performance, with Palmer forced to re-record her high notes by himself.

Khan receives a credit in the album’s liner notes for the vocal arrangement for the track, and apparently there is a demo version of the track with both singing.

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As for the video, Palmer — who appears on a small stage, in a white shirt and black tie — had subbed-out the actual band and replaced them with a new backing band, five impossibly beautiful, identically-dressed high-fashion models wearing either a slightly sheer, very tight little black dress, or a black top & mini-skirt combo with sheer black stockings, each towering in black stiletto heels, their faces dramatically made-up with smoky kohl’d eyes and slicked-back dark hair, rouged cheekbones, and bright glossy-red lips.

The video — which doesn’t have any special effect trickery, or smash-cut edits or anything else that would allow the mind to drift — was focused entirely on the performance of the song itself, with Palmer singing the song and the beauties miming along on their musical instruments.

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The models were Julie Pankhurst (keyboards), Patty Elias (guitar), Kathy Davies (drums), Julia Bolino (guitar) and Mak Gilchrist (bass).

Donovan auditioned the girls for the clip, filming them in a basement studio somewhere in London.

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Terence Donovan, photographed by his daughter, Daisy Donovan, in 1987

Over the years, each of the models appear to have been sought out for their comments about being in one of MTV’s most popular music videos during the 1980s.

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For instance, in Rob Tannenbaum’s and Craig Marks’ I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, Julia Bolino recalled that she’d never heard of Robert Palmer when she arrived on set to appear in the video. She was just eighteen at the time, and into bands like Blondie.

Bolino: “When we go to the set, the director, Terence Donovan, told each of us to pick up an instrument, and I happened to pick lead guitar. I’m glad I didn’t pick drums. Poor Kathy Davies, she didn’t get much screen time. Then we went into hair and makeup, which took quite a long time as you can imagine. The makeup was ladled on. I could barely talk because my lip gloss was so heavy.”

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Mak Gilchrist, meanwhile, was twenty-one years old and she says she had to persuaded to appear in the video, which she believed was something that models did to supplement their modeling career (she says she was paid a quarter of her normal day rate to appear in the video).

In 2009, Gilchrist told Q Magazine:“I remember feeling an acute sense of embarrassment when I first saw how sexy the video was.”

She also said that they were “meant to look and ‘act’ like showroom mannequins,” and adds that the “most unusual place I saw it was on a huge screen on the side of a Tokyo building.”

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Here’s what she says about the experience in I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution:

“I was really into funk, and I thought, I get to be the funky bass player who slaps the bass. As you can see, I insisted on slapping the bass, even though the song had no slapping bass whatsoever. In fact, I’m not even dancing to the tune that’s playing. I am not in rhythm with anybody or anything.”

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Gilchrist — who describes Julia Bolino as “the one with what we called the autonomous breast, the girl whose boob is swing to its own tune” — adds that Terence Donovan got the girls drunk on a bottle of wine during their lunch break, slamming it down on the table and saying to them, “Right, you lot, get your chops around that.”

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Gilchrist admits that she got “a little tipsy.”

“In fact, I got rather drunk. After lunch, my ankles began to wobble in those heels. My ankle sort of clicked over and I lost my balance. The neck of my bass hit Robert in the back of the head and hit a microphone. That would have been a hilarious outtake.”

Bolino — who says that Palmer was “very polite, very professional… his wife was there so perhaps he had no choice” — says that they had no idea that their tight black dresses were see-through.

It was only when she saw the video played back that she realized “Oh my god, you can see my boobs,” adding “I’ve always had quite big boobs.”

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The stylish look of “Addicted to Love” was likely inspired by American artist Patrick Nagel’s art-deco style, which can be seen on album covers — like Duran Duran’s Rio, among others — as well as inside the pages of Playboy magazine, where Nagel’s work was featured in advertisements for Lucky Strike cigarettes and Budweiser, among others.

Nagel’s art was so popular that he sold tons of posters, most of them paintings and illustrations featuring similarly striking, highly-sexualized depictions of young females with dark hair, full red-lipped mouths, smoky eyes, and pale white skin.

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The good-looking and apparently effortlessly charming Palmer always insisted that his “Addicted to Love” video was not intended to appear chauvinistic, or sexist, and feminist critics accused him of using sexploitation tactics to sell records (“I was as much a prop as the girls,” Palmer countered during an interview with The Guardian).

Donovan’s concept for it was meant to depict Palmer as both mocking or sending up his own popularity with the ladies while also offering up a stylized look that was essentially focused everyone’s attention on his performance as much as possible, even while being back by five female bandmembers who looked boldly striking in black, red and white.

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In Tannenbaum’s and Craig Marks’ I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, Gilchrist says that none of the girls felt they were being exploited in the video, saying:

“That was a shock to me, when people said the video was demeaning to women. I thought the opposite; I thought we looked strong and quite scary.”

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John Taylor of Duran Duran and Power Station, also quoted in I Want My MTV, says that Palmer wasn’t very comfortable doing videos.

“‘Addicted to Love’ exemplified how he felt about it — it’s a video commenting on itself. He’s making fun of it. He didn’t really step outside of that… He was a bit too old and self-conscious by the time videos became important.”

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Mak Gilchrist, in I Want My MTV, says that she kept it quiet that she was involved in the video.

“It did not appear on my résumé. I remember walking into bars, and if it was on the TV, I’d turn around and walk back out. When the video comes to the point where you see me licking my lips, I would go crimson and leave the room. I was horrified. My best friend Gil would introduce me to his male friends and say, ‘This is the one from the Robert Palmer video.’ And the guy would look at me in a way that made me want to wash my hands straightaway.”

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Riptide — Palmer’s eighth solo studio album — was originally released in November 1985, recorded over a period of three months at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas.

It would later chart at #8 in the US and #5 in the UK, eventually going double platinum in the US.

Palmer would perform the song on the March 15, 1986 episode of “Saturday Night Live,” and in September ’86, Palmer he performed “Addicted to Love” at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles.

(Van Halen also sang the first verse of the song before breaking into their own song, “Best Of Both Worlds,” during a pre-taped contribution to the show).

Palmer was awarded the Best Male Video award.

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Palmer would subsequently draw on the video for “Addicted to Love” and its influential, hyper-stylized look again and again for additional thematic videos (“Change His Ways,” “Simply Irresistible,” and “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On”).

The “Addicted to love” video inspired quite a lot of other artists too, spanning the decades right up to the present, and its stylish look has been copied (and parodied) by artists like Beyoncé (and her Single Ladies), Paula Abdul, Shania Twain and even Weird Al Yancovic — whose parody, “Addicted to Spuds,” was featured on his album Polka Party! among many, many others. That video featured models wearing glasses and mustaches.

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Here’s a video we found on Youtube — “Cover Story: Robert Palmer,” recorded in the summer of 1986 on the USA Cable network, during the Addicted Tour, where Palmer discusses the recording of the track and the filming of the video.

This short documentary also provides commentary from friends like comedian David Brenner and keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Harrison from Talking Heads:

Palmer had more hits during the 1980s — including “Simply Irresistible,” the lead-off single for his ninth solo album, Heavy Nova, which peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1987 — and along with “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On,” and “Addicted to Love,” the three singles were to be his only solo Top Ten Hot 100 hits.

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By the mid-90s, Palmer’s solo career had stalled. His last solo album, Honey (1994), didn’t sell well at all, and a few years later, in 1997, he re-joined Power Station for a reunion tour and album, Living in Fear, but John Taylor was forced to leave the tour to go into rehab, resulting in a loss of momentum for the band as well as fan interest in their comeback.

Meanwhile, “Addicted to Love” took on a life of its own. Tina Turner began covering the song during her concert tours promoting Private Dancer and Break Every Rule, and released the song as a single off her 1988 double live album Tina Live In Europe.

It has also been covered by the Sonic Youth side project Ciccone Youth, and Johnny Cash recorded the track for his second Rick Rubin-produced album Unchained, in 1996.

The Eagles Of Death Metal, and many others, have also covered the song in the past thirty-plus years.

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Chaka Khan posted a picture of her and Palmer performing “Addicted to Love” live at Wembley Stadium on her Instagram page shortly before Palmer died of a heart attack in September 2003.

Robert Palmer died of a sudden heart attack while in Paris, France, on September 26, 2003, while on tour. He was fifty-four years old.

He’s buried in Lugano, Switzerland, where he’d been living with his wife and family for the last fifteen years of his life.

Watch Robert Palmer’s iconic 80s video for “Addicted to Love” in Night Flight’s “Take Off to 80s Dance Classics,” which originally aired on November 11, 1988. It’s streaming over on Night Flight Plus!

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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.