On the Beat

The Connells’ ‘ ’74-’75’ brings back the cast of the original video

For the past two decades, Raleigh has had a thumbnail version of the “7 Up” sequence of movies. But where that acclaimed British film series has been following a generation seven years at a time since 1964, the Connells’ video for their song “ ’74-’75” has had but a single then-and-now for its 16 subjects.

Until now.

As originally assembled by director Mark Pellington, “ ’74-’75” showed yearbook photos of members of the class of 1975 – most of them from Raleigh’s Broughton High School, alma mater of two members of the Connells – juxtaposed with shots of each subject filmed in 1993.

During the video’s initial run in 1994, we tracked down everyone from the video. And in honor of the 40-year anniversary of that class of ’75, we decided to extend the video’s timeline to the present. Take a look at our newly edited 2015 version:

More than two decades on, the subjects’ median age is now late-50s. Almost everyone still resides in this area. One subject died in 2013. Another three are disabled. Marriages have begun, ended and even (in a few cases) continued. Waistlines and hairlines have thickened and thinned. And children have been born, grown up, moved on to their own lives.

‘7 Up’ influence

The Connells first emerged in the late 1980s, part of a wave of college-radio guitar bands that followed in R.E.M.’s wake (Don Dixon and Mitch Easter, co-producers of R.E.M.’s first records, were also among the Connells’ producers early on). By 1993, when they released their album “Ring,” the Connells were well-established as one of the leading live draws across the Southeast.

“’74-’75” is a pensive ballad from “Ring,” selected as the album’s second single after “Slackjawed.” A longtime friend of the band, Pellington had also directed their psychedelic-flavored video for 1990’s “Stone Cold Yesterday” – and he was also one of the hottest video directors of the early 1990s, having done mega-hit videos including U2’s “One” and Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy.”

At that time, Pellington was also struggling with his father’s descent into Alzheimer’s. Having recently seen “28 Up,” British director Michael Apted’s then-current update on the “7 Up” series, Pellington decided to try something similar with “ ’74-’75.” The only reason songwriter Mike Connell had picked the numbers 74 and 75 was that they sang well within the song’s meter. But Pellington took the title literally, portraying the class of 1974-75 over time.

“Starting with this video, I went into a period where I was really fascinated with memory and identity, who we are and who we were,” Pellington said recently. “The melancholy, wistful feel of that song and the title led to the notion of a local high school class, then and now.”

For the setting, Pellington selected Broughton in the Connells’ hometown of Raleigh. Pairing class-of-1975 yearbook photos with footage shot in 1993, the original video covers half a lifetime, from fresh-faced teenage years to mid-30s.

Both song and video attracted a fair amount of attention in America, and the song was also on the soundtrack of this year’s made-in-North-Carolina movie “The World Made Straight.” But Europe was where “ ’74-’75” exploded into the Connells’ biggest-ever hit. It cracked the top 10 in 11 different countries, hitting No. 1 in Norway and Sweden and No. 8 overall on the continent-wide “Eurochart Hot 100.” The video remains a cult favorite in Europe, as well as an ongoing public-art project.

“I work for a Swiss company and a number of people I work with over there recognize the video,” said Buddy Bowman, one of the original stars. “But they’re more familiar with the remakes people do with their own pictures. It was on the Austrian charts for years.”

Squinting at future

Pellington’s crew did all the shooting for “’74-’75” in the fall of 1993, paying each subject $75 to stand in front of a backdrop. Some of the footage used was surreptitious, and some was shot with the subjects’ knowledge. Pellington guessed that “about 80 percent” of the final video’s footage came from when people didn’t know they were being shot. That may account for some of the pensive expressions.

“Much of the naturalism of people standing on display, looking unvarnished and maybe a little uncomfortable, came from the hidden nature of the way we photographed everyone,” Pellington said. “Then we’d also say, ‘OK, look at the camera’ – and they’d be ‘on.’ The most powerful moments juxtapose those. It’s almost visceral: ‘This is who I am and who I was.’ Everybody can relate to that. We were all once younger, skinnier.”

That also goes for the Greek chorus of “’74-’75,” the Connells themselves, who appear throughout the video as observers. Two decades on, they’ve changed, too. The band is a part-time occupation now for its members, which include Mike and David Connell and keyboardist Steve Potak from that 1993 lineup. Former guitarist George Huntley sells houses nowadays, while drummer Peele Wimberley freelances as a corporate audiovisual specialist.

“Even though the video didn’t show the band in high school, they were going through that sense, too,” Pellington said. “They were also getting older. So there were signifiers of events and time passing, like David (Connell)’s wedding ring. The band was squinting at their own future down the path, too.”

Perhaps we’ll try to convene everyone again in 2025 for the 50-year anniversary of the class of 1975.

David Menconi: 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMenconi

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