serious male model in coat in studio

ABC vs Ultravox: Best trench-coat worn by a male singer in a 1980s video

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The 1980s are known for big hair, pastel clothing and lots of partying. Yet hardly anyone knows about the 80s penchant for trench coats in music videos.

Now I don’t mind a trench coat, particularly if it’s lemon-colored and tied at the waist in the style of a 1940s movie gangster. (For someone with the right height, physique and sinister smile trench coats look very stylish indeed.)

Which brings me back to the 80s trench-coat craze. Was it influenced by the brief Humphrey Bogart early eighties renaissance? After all, Bogart was the quintessential cynical detective equipped with a gun, sassy one-liners and a trench coat as he investigated the corrupt underbelly of Los Angeles.

Then there was Columbo: a popular trench-coat-wearing sleuth in the 1970s. Although his trench-coat always needed a good iron, his disheveled exterior hid a mind of supreme genius and tricked his suspects into thinking he was harmless. This clever ploy allowed him to steadily pick apart their alibis until they crumbled.

These two detectives appear to have influenced a generation of 80s rock stars.

ABC Martin Fry trenchcoat

Martin Fry, lead singer of ABC wore a trench coat in the 1981 video ‘All of my heart.’ Normally Martin wore gold, sparkly suits but not in this video. Instead, he wanders London streets, burning notes underneath train bridges and pausing to stare at the sky. Other times he lingers in a woman’s room sniffing perfume, examining broken shoes, fingering jewellery and pulling plugs out of power sockets that for some inexpicable reason bleed.

Is he a detective, a stalker or an electrician summoned to find the source of the bleeding wall?

Presumably, loitering on dark London streets and stalking women serves a purpose but it’s never clear. Even more perplexing is that the next time Martin stares up into the sky his three band mates, now positioned on the bridge above, stare right back at him.

How did they get on the bridge? Why are they staring at him? Where is the train? And does this mean Martin will stop sniffing women’s perfume and pulling plugs out of power sockets?

Dimly-lit streets also feature in Ultravox’s ‘Vienna‘. In this case, lead singer Mitch Ure wanders Vienna’s streets in a trench coat. He is soon joined by his band members, all of whom are also wearing trench coats.

Mitch and his mates appear to be investigating an unhappy dalliance as they skulk around a 1920s-themed dinner party. Next, Mitch watches a woman running down a theatre stairwell where she had recently been watching a play with her lover.

For some reason she shoots her lover as he follows her down the stairs, and as he tumbles to the ground she staggers into her husband’s arms. (At least I think it is her husband, but the video is unclear about who anyone is except for the band members. Even Columbo would struggle to work out what’s happening.)

As it turns out, Ure has no detective work to do because he is a witness to the murder, but it doesn’t appear to bother him either way.

While Vienna‘s more tantalisizing and mysterious ambience trumps Martin Fry’s perfume-sniffing, bleeding power socket storyline, Ure’s trenchcoat is no match for Fry’s.

No doubt, Fry’s height, good looks and sultry, upturned mouth add to the package and Ure’s shorter stature, weird moustache and ineffective detective work can’t compete.

So the winner of Best Trench Coat Worn by a Male Singer in the 1980s goes to Martin Fry.

Honorable mentions:

  • Fisher Z for the video So Long. In this clip a Humphrey Bogart lookalike wears a trench coat as he investigates the disappearance of the lead singers girlfriend.
  • Duran Duran; Simon le Bon is pretending to be a spy in the video for View to a Kill walks along the Eiffel Tower in a trench coat.
  • Dog Police with the aptly named Dog Police. Seriously weird video with dog people in trench coats
  • David Bowie: Liked wearing trench coats in many videos but special mention goes to Absolute Beginners.
  • Rick Astley: Never gonna give you up. Dances for several seconds in something that looks like a trench coat but probably a dodgy 80s imitation.

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Author: Sue Bell
Sue Bell is an entertainment writer and author of Backpacked: A mostly true story, Beat Street and When Dreamworks came to Stanley.