“Radio 1990″: Lisa Robinson talks to Mick Jagger but not about the Stones’ controversial “Undercover of the Night” video

By on July 13, 2016

In this classic episode of Radio 1990 — originally airing on February 22, 1984, and now streaming on Night Flight Plus — Mick Jagger talks briefly with longtime “Night Flight” contributor Lisa Robinson, and we also get to see the controversial Stones video for “Undercover of the Night,” directed by the legendary Julien Temple.

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“Radio 1990″ was a 30-minute music video program (dubbed a “rock lifestyle” program at the time) that aired during the day on the USA Network from March 1983 until September 1986, and was featured as part of “Night Flight”‘s Friday and Saturday night weekly programming.

The show was co-hosted by Lisa Robinson, and Kathryn Kinley, a blue-eyed blonde-haired former theater grad and opera singer who was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas.

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Robinson did the interviews on the show, including this one with Jagger, which is apparently the second part of an exclusive two-part interview recorded earlier that month in New York City.

Jagger and Robinson mainly talk about the fact that Jagger was writing an autobiography at the time, with Robinson asking the Stones frontman if it’s going to be “sensational” before Jagger jaws on about it having a subjective point-of-view of his own life (no shit!), saying he’d actually like to write about cars and the 1950s, telling her “…All the books I’ve read about that have always been by very erudite music critics, and they’ve been interesting, but a lot of these people didn’t even live through the Fifties, you know, and they’re much younger, and I remember it really well.”

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As far as we know, Jagger’s autobiography was never published, although Lisa Robinson’s autobiographical There Goes Gravity: A Life in Rock and Roll was published in 2014, by Riverhead Books.

In that book, she writes that she didn’t think much of Jagger’s stage clothes (his outfits “didn’t work”) and she even mocks the way Jagger dances, but she also says she once gave him a pair of her underwear to wear for an Annie Leibovitz photo shoot.

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Here’s an excerpt from the book’s prologue that we found online:

“Even the Rolling Stones, with the worldly and urbane Mick Jagger, were from England, which is, let’s face it, the size of Rhode Island. All those English boys had really bad teeth, were slightly ingenue, and were enamored of American black music — a subject I knew well. And while it’s still hard to get people to believe this, not a one of them was as witty or smart as David Johansen of the New York Dolls, who came from Staten Island.”

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We really wish they’d discussed the Stones’ controversial 1983 video “Undercover of the Night,” which immediately follows the excerpted interview, as there’s much about it that we find interesting.

For instance, the song itself was nearly completely Jagger’s sole vision (although he shares a co-writing credit with Richards), and it’s one the band’s few political songs, which Jagger subsequently has said he was heavily influenced to write after reading William S. Burroughs’ Cities of the Red Night, a novel with references to “the disappeared” in South American countries like Chile and Argentina, where political prisoners were routinely kidnapped and taken away by officials from brutal military-run governments, never to be seen again (sometimes tossed out of helicopters into the ocean below).

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For the accompanying somewhat controversial and explicit video, the band turned to British director Julien Temple — director of the Sex Pistols documentary The Great Rock And Roll Swindle — who said the following in I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, by Rob Tannebaum and Craig Marks:

“I wrote the treatment for ‘Undercover of the Night” as a way of not doing the video. I was a punk rocker, and the Stones were regarded as jet-set traitors to the cause. The song was about the death squads then operating in Central America, and I wrote an extreme treatment about being in the middle of an urban revolution, and dramatized the notion of Keith and Mick really not liking each other by having Keith kill Mick in the video. I never thought they would do it. Of course they loved it.”

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The video’s big-budget storyline indeed has Jagger starring in multiple roles, as mustachioed South American businessman/detective helping a young woman follow her rock star boyfriend’s (also Jagger) kidnappers, with Richards starring as their leader.

The Stones’ Wyman, Watts and Woods are also seen in the background, behind their instruments or as masked abductors.

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These events are also seen on a TV set being watched by another couple, who flip around, channel surfing, seeing what we’ve been seeing (apparently to them it’s as if they’re watching a late-night movie), and they end up watching the Rolling Stones performing on an MTV-like channel.

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In a featured role as the young woman with the kidnapped boyfriend is actress Elpidia Carrillo, best known today for her performances in The Border (with Jack Nicholson), Beyond the Limit (opposite Richard Gere), Under Fire (with Gene Hackman), Oliver Stone’s Salvador (with James Woods) and in her lead role in the iconic action film Predator.

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Temple — who had also directed numerous other music videos by then, including those for David Bowie’s “Blue Jean”, Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come on Eileen” and Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” — wanted their “Undercover” video to look dark and gritty, at a time when most videos were saturated in color and brightly-lit.

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Richards reportedly wanted to know if Temple was up to the task, and even threatened him by flicking open his switchblade knife and holding it to Temple’s throat, telling him “You better not fuck up.”

The shooting commenced in two primary locations in mid-October ’83: Jagger and Richards shot scenes in Paris, France, on stage at the Bain-Douches Club, and then flew to Mexico to shoot narrative scenes in Mexico City and Coyocan.

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The video was ultimately considered too violent and banned by the BBC, a spokesman saying “It is exceedingly violent all the way through and we couldn’t consider it for ‘Top Of The Pops’, which goes out in the early evening.”

Appearing on Channel Four’s “The Tube” (on November 11, 1983, the day after the video was banned), Jagger said this:

“The song is about repression, it’s about violence. We’re not trying to dress it up and sell the record with advertising clichés. There’s not gratuitous violence in it at all. We’re not trying to glamorize violence. We’re trying to make something interesting that has a valid point.”

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An edited version was eventually aired on “Top of the Pops” and, in America, on MTV, but not before 9pm, due to the violent imagery, including a scene in which one man is shot in the back of the head, but the uncensored video appeared regularly on “Night Flight” and video clip programs.

“Undercover of the Night” was the first single released from the band’s album, on November 1, 1983, topping out at #9 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 after seven weeks on the charts, and at #8 on the UK Singles Chart (after 5 weeks).

The album, Undercover of the Night, charted at #4, breaking a string of eight consecutive Stones LPs to hit #1 since 1969 while selling over a million copies.

Watch “Undercover at the Night” — and other music videos by Elton John, Bob Seger and more — at Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, 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.