Playing Favorites #4: “Rio” – Michael Nesmith (1977)

(originally posted 4/23/2007)


“Rio” by Michael Nesmith (1977)
Written by Michael Nesmith

I’ve never really understood why Michael Nesmith wasn’t embraced more warmly as a solo artist after the end of The Monkees. Maybe because he made such an issue of not wanting to be a part of any reunion projects for several years when nearly every band from the 60’s was launching reunion concerts. (Although he did join the surviving Monkees – after the death of Davy Jones – for a brief tour in 2012.) That’s not to say Nesmith wasn’t successful – he certainly was both as a musician and an innovator in music videos in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s. Some even refer to Nesmith as “The Father of the Music Video,” which isn’t quite accurate, but I’m willing to give Mike the nod.

I first encountered “Rio” as a music video thirty years ago on HBO. (You can see the video here if the embedding doesn’t work.) By today’s standards, it looks a bit cornball with wanna-be Carmen Mirandas, low-budget special effects and goofy comedic touches. Yet it’s a charming video, full of nostalgia, whimsy, and fantasy. Nesmith was no doubt influenced by the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film Flying Down to Rio (1933), its dances, sets, and carefree atmosphere. “Rio” is a throw-back to a simpler time with a simple concept – daydreaming of what it would be like to spend a little time in an exotic location, dancing the night away before coming back to reality.

I’m hearing a light from the window
I’m seeing the sound of the sea
My feet have gone loose from their moorings
I’m feeling quite wonderfully free
And I think I will travel to Rio
Using the music for flight
There’s nothing I know of in Rio
But it’s something to do with the night
It’s only a whimsical notion to fly down to Rio tonight
And I probably won’t fly down to Rio
But then again, I just might

I know I’ve talked a lot about the video, but since that’s how I first encountered “Rio,” it’s hard to divorce the music from the images. I guess that’s a large part of what the video revolution was about. You can certainly see in “Rio” one of the techniques that would be later used in countless music videos – the blending of fantasy and reality by character costume changes via camera cuts. Music videos soon progressed rapidly from Nesmith’s early efforts, but I don’t remember very many MTV videos that were as much fun as “Rio.” Even the last spoken lines of the video are fun:

Nesmith (playing a lighting man on a movie set): “Reno? Why Reno?”

Woman dancer: “Not Reno, dummy, Rio. Rio de Jen-er-o!”

“Rio” isn’t a great song, but it’s certainly fun. Sure, it’s only a whimsical notion, but sometimes that’s exactly what we need to get us through the day.

“Rio” appears on Michael Nesmith’s From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing CD and the DVD Elephant Parts.

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