More “Hot Rocks”: L.A. new wave act Wet Picnic’s sexy & risqué video for “He Believes”

By on May 25, 2017

One of the rarest and sexiest single episodes we’ve offered up so far on Night Flight Plus was this special presentation of the world premiere of the Playboy Channel’s “Hot Rocks,” which originally debuted on “Night Flight” on Friday, July 15, 1983.

This decidedly NSFW episode — be sure to read our first post about Berlin‘s “Sex (I’m A…)” (the video that was considered “too hot for radio” at the time) — featured quite a few rarely-seen music videos which were notable for having a little partial or full-frontal nudity, including the world premiere of L.A. new wave act Wet Picnic’s super-rare and risqué video for “He Believes.”

Read more below about the band and their founder, Gustavo Santaolalla.

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Wet Picnic were led by Argentina-born multi-instrumentalist, music producer, and a pioneer of the Rock en Español movement, Gustavo “Gus” Santaolalla, who today is perhaps better known as a film composer who has worked with some of the best filmmakers in the world, including Alejandro González Iñárritu, Walter Salles and Ang Lee.

He has created vast cinematic soundscapes for over a dozen feature films thus far, including 2000’s Amores Perros, 2003’s 21 Grams, 2004’s The Motorcycle Diaries, 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, and 2006’s Babel, the latter two earning him Academy Awards for Best Original Score.

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Santaolalla was born on August 19, 1951, in the bucolic locale of El Palomar, located in the Buenos Aires partido of Morón (no jokes please).

In interviews, Santaolalla says that his hometown was located about an hour away from the bustling city, further describing it as a place of “dirt roads and birds and insects and gardens and wonderful trees.”

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Santaolalla grew up with music, loving both the tango and the Beatles, and started playing guitar when he was five years old. By the age of ten was writing his first songs, and taking guitar lessons, although his teacher eventually quit because Santaolalla was learning by ear while pretending to read.

Two years later, he was playing electric guitar, and by age fifteen he was earning his first paycheck composing the music for a short film.

Santaolalla was also drawn to spiritual pursuits and for a time, as a young man, he even gave some thought to becoming a priest.

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Arco Iris

In 1967, he co-founded his first band, Arco Iris, which he describes as a “fusion of rock and Latin American Folk,” part of what was then known as “Argentine rock” (locally called Rock nacional).

In addition to making beautiful acoustic music, Santaolalla and the band were immersed in a yogic commune lifestyle, living in a commune headed up by a former model, Danais “Dana” Winnycka, and her partner, musician Ara Tokatlian.

There, Santaolalla practiced kundalini yoga and celibacy, became a vegetarian and he didn’t partake in either drugs or alcohol, living what he has described as “a truly monastic life.”

Arco Iris (which translates to “Rainbow”) even had a few hits, including “Mañanas Campestres” (“Country Mornings”), but more significantly, they also wrote and performed a ballet piece for choreographer and theater director Oscar Aráiz, who considered one of the initiators of contemporary dance in Argentina.

In 1975, the ballet piece — Agitor Lucens V — was presented in Paris, London, Rome and Buenos Aires.

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Gustavo Santaolalla in 1974

After a time, Santaolalla felt that the commune environment was too strict, and so he left the group in 1975, forming a new band called Soluna (with his then-girlfriend Mónica Campins).

At the time, being a long-haired hippie musician in Argentina was becoming increasingly dangerous due to the harsh civil prejudices in the country.

He has said he was jailed several times as a teenager: “Police would take over a bus and use it to crash a concert and take everyone to jail,” he told one writer.

“By the time I was twenty, I was pretty well known, and it marked me. They wanted to make my life miserable.”

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The following year, his native country underwent a violence-filled military coup, and tensions continued running quite high (no elected president had ever finished his term during Santaolalla’s young life), a period which came to be known as the “Dirty War.”

Since that time, as many as thirty thousand Argentine citizens have been “disappeared,” although more recently a lot of the individuals who were involved have been imprisoned in the last few decades.

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Still, it was a difficult time, and Soluna’s only album, Energía Natural, was recording during the height of this time of turmoil in Argentina, a period that was not conducive to creative endeavors.

So, in the summer of 1978, shortly after eleventh staging of the FIFA World cup football championship (held in Argentina from June 1-25), Santaolalla fled Argentina for Los Angeles, California.

L.A. had seemed like a better place to make music, although he knew no one there and had to start over from scratch.

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In an interview Santaolalla did years later with Edna Gunderson, the longtime music writer for USA Today, he said he was “appalled by the music scene” he found in Los Angeles at the time, telling her “I never wanted to sing in English or be a cover version of an Anglo band.”

Santaolalla: “Music in Argentina still had a counter-cultural vibe. Here it was Boston and Styx. Awful! But between The Ramones and the Sex Pistols, something new was starting. I cut my hair, got my skinny tie and founded Wet Picnic.”

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Wet Picnic (photo by Ivy Ney)

Besides Santaolalla, the synth-heavy new wave outfit Wet Picnic featured a talented group of international musicians: Australian Laurie Buhne (bass/backing vocals), American Robert Brill (drums) and keyboardist and fellow Argentina expatriate, Anibal Kerpel, who had arrived in Los Angeles separately.

Kerpel had previously been a member of the ’70s progressive rock group Crucis. He would become Gustavo’s longtime co-producer and engineer, their productive working relationship continuing to the present day.

Brill, meanwhile, had previously worked in Japan for three years in as a session musician.

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If you lived in L.A. at the time, you may recall that they were noted as one of the unheralded bands and often were one of the best opening bands in the city until they began drew sizeable crowds to their own headlining club shows.

As one music writer described the scenario at the time, “Every musician who saw this group wanted to be in it or form a group just like it.”

Santaolalla, by the way, did not like for his band to be called “new wave,” telling one interviewer that believed it to be “an obsolete term.”

Those of us (your humble author included) who saw the band knew it was just a matter of time before they’d have a record deal, which did eventually come about in 1981, courtesy of a Santa Monica-based start-up label, Unicorn Records, which had begun business, in 1980, as a subsidiary of MCA Records.

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Wet Picnic (photo by Ivy Ney)

That year, while they were recording songs for their debut in the spring of 1981, Wet Picnic also began composing the incidental score to She Dances Alone, a film directed by Robert Dornhelm and produced by Dino DeLaurentiis’s only son Federico DeLarentiis.

The film documented the life of Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. Actor Bud Cort portrays a documentary filmmaker profiling the dancer Nijinsky’s lay-nun daughter, 70-year old Kyra Nijinsky, who plays herself.

That relationship led to DeLaurentiis directing Wet Picnic’s video for “He Believes,” which we believe was filmed sometime in the spring of ’81.

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The track appears to lyrically tell the tale of a young man — we believe this is Gus Santaolalla, wearing pajamas with hearts on them! — who wakes up from a state of lusty dreaming and seeks to consummate a lusty dream-like affair with a gorgeous movie starlet.

The video’s storyline pretty much follows the same sordid path as the lyrics, following the PJ-wearing Santaolalla to a movie theater.

There, up on the screen, we see a quite buxom and apparently very naughty nurse who strips down to her unmentionables, straddling a hospital bed.

We’ll encourage you now to watch the video rather than attempt to describe what happens next.

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Tragically, the video’s director, Federico DeLaurentiis, died in a plane crash near Anchorage, Alaska, on July 15, 1981, where he was making a film about salmon. He was just 26 years old.

DeLaurentiis’s and David Lynch’s film Dune was later dedicated to him, as was She Dances Alone, which was screened in October of 1981 at the San Francisco Film Festival.

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Also in 1981, he began working on his own first solo album, the self-titled Santaolalla (1982), which broke new ground by incorporating the “Eighties” sound into “rock in Argentina” for the first time.

He was joined on the album by former Soluna bandmate Alejandro Lerner (who would later become a noteworthy singer/songwriter himself), Mónica Campins, and a rhythm section comprised of bassist Alfredo Toth and drummer Willy Iturri, who were two-thirds of the band GIT.

1981 also saw the release of Pensar en Nada, by Argentine folk legend León Gieco, who had flown to L.A. in October 1980 to join Santaolalla, who produced three songs for the album (it achieved considerable success in Argentina).

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Santaolalla with León Gieco and Charly García

He also began collaborating with, and producing tracks for, another great local L.A. band, the Plugz.

Santaolalla, and bandmate Anibal Kerpel, would both join the Plugz’s Tito Larriva and Charlie “Chalo” Quintana in the studio for recordings that appeared on their album Better Luck, released in December of 1981.

Santaolalla played bass, guitars, charango and co-produced, while Kerpel played keyboards.

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Better Luck is an excellent album — a couple songs from the album ended up being compiled for the Repo Man soundtrack in 1984 — and it’s also one that probably best audibly expresses the “primal” rock sound that Santaolalla describes to USA Today writer Edna Gunderson in this quote:

“Rock is primal and associated with rebellion, a great vehicle for expressing dissatisfaction with the world. If you want to communicate with your people, what better way to do it than in your own language and culture? I’ve always been interested in that energy. But it had to represent me and where I came from.”

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In 1982, Unicorn released the band’s five-song Santaolalla-produced EP, Balls Up, which unfortunately didn’t quite catch fire outside of Los Angeles, where the band remained best known.

In June of 1982, Billboard, a music industry publication, published a short review of Ball’s Up:

“The work of a transplanted Argentinian duo, this five song debut benefits from sly wit and flashes of more genuine musical sophistication than many of their new rock and techno-pop peers. If the vocals too often lapse into the sort of spoken asides that are becoming cliches in the genre, the lyrics almost make up for it, especially on ‘She Don’t Care’ and the risqué ‘He Believes.'”

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One of the more interesting anecdotes about the band — written by Unicorn Records, Inc. president Daphne D. Edwards — appears in print on the back cover of Balls Up:

“Salute to Wet Picnic for standing up against the conventional attitude of the music industry and not compromising their music, almost to the point of breaking up their band.”

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A little over a year later, however, in July of ’83, there was another Billboard article (“Wide Variety of Music is Planned for Cable TV in July”), written by Laura Foti, about the band’s appearance on “New Wave Theatre.”

Foti called Wet Picnic “The Discovery of the Week” (for the weekend of July 23-24) but carelessly or perhaps curiously identified them as being an “Australian Group.”

You can see Wet Picnic rockin’ out on “New Wave Theatre” with their song “Tension” — which one critic described as sounding “like a sci-fi soundtrack being layered over a folk balad that goes awry” — in the collection of the “Best of ‘New Wave Theatre’” performances, which we have streaming over on Night Flight Plus (and we told you all about “Tension” — of the the three songs they performed on the show — in this earlier post).

Unfortunately for all concerned, their record company Unicorn had run into some serious money problems after the release of another group’s album –Black Flag’s Damaged, released on November 16, 1981 — which the parent company MCA Records later determined it to be “Anti-Parent.”

Black Flag would later reissue the album on SST Records in 1984.

The Unicorn label went bankrupt in 1983.

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Santaolalla would eventually return to Argentina again, for awhile, before coming back to L.A., where he became a prolific producer of bands from Latin America, winning several Grammys as a producer (he’s also won them with a newer band, electro-rock tango collective Bajofondo, who he formed in 2002).

He has over his long career occasionally continued to release solo albums, five total thus far; besides Santaolalla (1982), his solo efforts include G.A.S (1995), Ronroco (1998), Camino (2014), and Qhapaq Ñan: Desandando El Camino (2015).

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Anibal Kerpel and Gustavo Santaolalla during the recording of Ronroco (photo by Alejandra Palacios)

The inclusion of “Igazu,” one of his popular songs from Ronroco on the soundtrack of Michael Mann’s movie The Insider — became the first step in what has continued to be an incredible career as a soundtrack composer.

Give it a listen and see if you recognize the track, which has also been used on Mann’s Collateral and numerous other films and TV shows, including HBO’s “Deadwood.”

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It would be impossible to list everything he’s worked on since his days in Wet Picnic, but we feel we should mention a few, including: his musical scoring for his first video game, the highly acclaimed, cutting-edge survival horror title The Last of Us (2013); his more recent original musical scoring and incidental music for popular TV show “Jane The Virgin”;  his scoring for the controversial Netflix series “Making of A Murderer”; soundtrack music for Walter Salle’s cinematic adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road; and, his collaboration with songwriter Paul Williams on a theatrical musical based on Guillermo del Toro’s film Pan’s Labyrinth.

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The 1996 BMG Argentina CD release of Santaolalla, by the way, contains all of the tracks from Wet Picnic’s 1981 EP Balls Up, as well as the Plugz’s title track from their great 1981 album Better Luck.

This too-hot-for-MTV first episode of “Hot Rocks” was world premiered at the legendary Studio 54, an event hosted by Connie Brighton, who was Playboy‘s Miss April 1982 (perhaps you remember her from her singular on-screen appearance in Smokey and the Bandit Part 3).

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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.

Get your butt on over to Night Flight Plus right now, where you can see the steamy 60-minute first episode of Playboy‘s “Hot Rocks,” featuring Wet Picnic’s “He Believes” and more uncensored videos, including Duran Duran’s uncensored “Girls On Film,” David Bowie‘s rarely seen “China Girl,” sexy videos by Queen, Doug and The Slugs, the Tubes, Marty Balin, Berlin, and Peter Godwin, and that’s just to name a few. Careful, “Hot Rocks” will singe ya!

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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.