David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Queen & Elvis Presley Star in Delightfully Absurd Musicless Music Videos

Some­time in the last decade, as both YouTube and smart phones became our pri­ma­ry means of cul­tur­al trans­mis­sion, the iso­lat­ed vocal track meme came into being, reach­ing its sum­mit in the sub­lime ridicu­lous­ness of David Lee Roth’s unadorned “Run­ning With the Dev­il” vocal tics. His yelps, howls, and “Whoooohoooos!” pro­duced the very best ver­sion of that vir­tu­al nov­el­ty known as the sound­board app, and wel­comed many a caller to many a kooky voice­mail greet­ing. The iso­lat­ed track has since become a phe­nom­e­non wor­thy of study, and we’ve done our share here of por­ing over var­i­ous voic­es and instru­ments stripped from their song’s con­text and placed before us in ways we’d nev­er heard before.

Per­haps seri­ous analy­sis too shall be the fate of a goofy visu­al meme that also thrives on the ridicu­lous­ness of pop music’s pre­sen­ta­tion: the musi­c­less music video. The idea is a sim­i­lar one, iso­lat­ing the image instead of the sound: pop­u­lar videos, already weird­ly over the top, become exer­cis­es in chore­o­graphed awk­ward­ness or voy­ages into uncan­ny val­leys as we watch their stars pose, preen, and con­tort them­selves in weird cos­tumes for seem­ing­ly no rea­son, accom­pa­nied only by the mun­dane sounds of their shuf­fling feet and grunts, belch­es, ner­vous laugh­ter, etc. Take the par­tic­u­lar­ly fun­ny exam­ples here: Mick Jag­ger and David Bowie pranc­ing through the bizarre “Danc­ing in the Streets” video (orig­i­nal here); the mem­bers of Queen per­form­ing domes­tic chores in “I Want to Break Free” (orig­i­nal); Elvis Pres­ley squeak­ing and spas­ming onstage in a TV take of “Blue Suede Shoes”; Nir­vana mop­ing and sway­ing in that high school gym while a near­by cus­to­di­an goes about his busi­ness…..

Though these skewed re-eval­u­a­tions of famous moments in pop his­to­ry make use of a sim­i­lar premise as the iso­lat­ed track, the sounds we hear are not—as they some­times seem—vérité audio record­ings from the videos’ sets. They are the cre­ation of Aus­tri­an sound design­er, edi­tor, and mix­er Mario Wienerroither, who, The Dai­ly Dot informs us, “works from a sound library that he’s spent years amass­ing.” The results, as you will hear for your­self, “range from humor­ous to dis­turb­ing and every­where in between.” Musi­c­less music videos remind us of how sil­ly and arti­fi­cial these kinds of staged, mimed pseu­do-per­for­mances real­ly are—they only become con­vinc­ing to us through the mag­i­cal edit­ing togeth­er sound and image on cue and on beat.

Wienerroither began his project with the Queen video, inspired when he caught it play­ing while his TV was on mute. The moment, he says, was “a vital spark.” Since then, dozens of musi­c­less music videos, and TV and film clips, have popped up on YouTube (see a size­able playlist here.) One of the most awk­ward, The Prodi­gy’s “Firestarter,” helped rock­et the phe­nom­e­non into major pop­u­lar­i­ty. Imi­ta­tors have since post­ed musi­c­less videos of the Friends intro and Miley Cyrus’ “Wreck­ing Ball.” What can we learn from these videos? Noth­ing, per­haps, we did­n’t already know: that pop cul­ture’s most endur­ing moments are also its most absurd, that nos­tal­gia is a dish best served remixed, that the internet—a pow­er­ful force for good as well as ill—is often at its best when it is a pow­er­ful force for weird. Though the medi­um may be friv­o­lous, these are mes­sages worth remem­ber­ing.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lis­ten to Fred­die Mer­cury and David Bowie on the Iso­lat­ed Vocal Track for the Queen Hit ‘Under Pres­sure,’ 1981

Kurt Cobain’s Iso­lat­ed Vocal Track From ‘Smells Like Teen Spir­it,’ 1991

Hear Iso­lat­ed Gui­tar Tracks From Some of Rock’s Great­est: Slash, Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clap­ton & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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