The Halloween season has officially begun here on Morgan on Media, and the Monday Music Video will be a part of it this year. Today and all throughout the month of October, the MMV selections will be among the best spooky-themed songs from the music video era. I know for some people September 30th may be just a tad on the early side — of course this is hardly the earliest I’ve started Halloween here, and some sites started a month ago! — but hopefully some monstrous music will get all the groovy ghouls and ghosts in the mood. So for the first MMV of 2013’s Halloween Haunters, let’s watch somebody watching Rockwell…
The real name of Rockwell was Kennedy Gordy — and that last name will be familiar to anybody who knows the history of Motown. Kennedy Gordy was the son of Berry Gordy, the founder and CEO of Motown records. The younger Gordy was estranged from his father in the early 80s, but wanted to pursue a music career. His father had never encouraged this pursuit, however, so both to get around his old man and to avoid accusations of nepotism, Kennedy went to Motown and recorded a demo under a stage name; the Motown employees suggested the name “Rockwell”, and Gordy agreed.
He had some help in the recording booth from a couple of childhood friends. Michael Jackson provided the vocals to the chorus, while Jermaine Jackson provided backing vocals. The demo was cut in 1983, and Berry Gordy approved signing the new artist, unaware at first that he was signing his own son.
It was a smash success, topping the Billboard R&B charts, and peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100; it would take the #26 spot on the year-end chart. The video follows the lyrics, and includes a haunted house theme and the occasional reference to old slasher movies — most particularly Psycho, as directly referenced in the song.
However, a follow-up proved difficult for Rockwell. His next single was an equally paranoid venture, “Obscene Phone Caller”. It reached #35 on the Billboard Hot 100, and also had a video in rotation on MTV. But after that, Rockwell disappeared from the charts, never placing on the Hot 100 again, nor having any videos achieve prominence after. “Somebody’s Watching Me” was accordingly placed on both the Top 100 One-Hit Wonders of All Time and of the 1980s by VH1, at #53 and #20, respectively.
When a man has a smash hit with a song that somebody is watching him, and then a modest hit about people harassing him, and then disappears, there is one inescapable conclusion. They got him. Rest well, Rockwell, whereever you are.