For one brief pop culture moment, Chris Isaak was the toast of MTV, back when the channel played videos.
The video, in which he and supermodel Helena Christensen writhed on a sandy beach as his hiccuping retro-rock ballad "Wicked Game" steamed up the scene, was in ultra-high rotation two decades ago.
The good news: "Wicked Games" became a top 10 hit and earned him a heap of MTV Video Music Awards in 1991.
The bad news: It became his only top 10 hit and that good fortune probably had a lot more to do with the scantily clad Christensen cooing, pouting and pursing her lips deep into the camera lens than it did with Isaak's singing.
(I know this from personal experience. When "WIcked Game" was released I was a very horny post-adolescent and can remember watching the video a couple hundred times. I can still recall every sultry move Christensen made but, to this day, do not know many of the words to the song.)
Such is the steady, status quo music and acting career that Isaak has maintained for the last quarter century. He has very quietly been once of the most handsome, engaging, trailblazing celebrities you will ever meet. He has often found himself smack-dab in the middle of a pop culture zeitgeist and everybody seems to adore him, yet Brad Pitt/Justin Timberlake-like super-stardom has constantly eluded his grasp.
Isaak has released 10 studio albums and dozens of singles over the years. Songs like "Heart Full of Soul," "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing," and "Somebody's Crying," are reminiscent of early sock hop rock n' roll and have become favorites of television and movie soundtracks. Aside from top 10 "Wicked Game," however, the highest chart spot Isaak has ever reached on the Billboard Hot 100 is No. 45.
And that's just the music side of his near misses.
On TV his self-titled, self-parodying dramedy on Showtime from 2001-2004 was one of the funniest series to run on premium cable. Few saw it though. Most were tuned into HBO and the monumental rise of The Sopranos.
At the movies he was in 1992's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which was released just as people stopped caring who killed Laura Palmer. He also played a SWAT commander in the thriller masterpiece, The Silence of the Lambs — a cameo few remember because psycho Dr. Hannibal Lecter was wearing a guy's face as a mask around the same time Isaak made his appearance.
Isaak has taken all these near-misses in stride and learned to pack the songs, the stories and the debonair swagger into (of course) one of the most overlooked stage shows in the biz.
Do yourself a favor and catch Isaak's concert on Sunday at the House of Blues. I guarantee that by the end you'll be asking yourself, "How come this guy isn't a superstar?
Chris Isaak, Sunday 8 p.m. at House of BluesTickets: $40-$75
Watch the infamous "Wicked Game" video: