12:28 a.m. - August 02, 2006
As I said, I am going to write something so the sadness isn’t on my site for days. Enjoy this, and Smed’s Corner will be back in a week.
On August 1, 1981 at midnight, a cable channel took to the airwaves. It may have been one of the most significant events in pop culture history. It was when MTV hit the airwaves for the first time.
Now, of course, for some this was or is the apocalypse. And now, MTV plays music videos about as often as the Pittsburgh Pirates have a winning record. But back in the day (MY day), MTV was all music videos, 24/7/365. I remember those days well, as they always played stuff that was new and different, mainly because they needed the content.
And of course, the VJs. I remember the order they were in, even. Alan Hunter was on in the mornings, then J. J. Jackson, then Martha Quinn, then Mark Goodman, and finally Nina Blackwood. On weekends, they kind of mixed it up.
(Geez, how lame is that? I can remember the VJ rotation from 1982. Sigh…)
To celebrate this milestone, VH-1 Classic is playing the entire first day of MTV on August 5 (they also did it on August 1), and since I’ll be in Arizona I have my TiVo set. But as a sneak preview, they played the first hour of videos over the weekend, and by gosh, I was there. So, here’s a look at the 13 videos MTV played in their first hour of broadcast back in 1981.
One thing that was disappointing, though. They didn’t show many of the VJ segments during that first hour at all, just a few snippets. It would be neat to see the music news and the whole thing. But they did play the old MTV theme, which actually rocked!
As they said at midnight on August 1, 1981: “Ladies and Gentlemen: Rock And Roll”
Video Killed The Radio Star- The Buggles. Everyone seems to know this was the first video shown on MTV. Not everyone knows that the song actually dated from 1979, and hit #40 on the American charts.
The Buggles were an electronic band from England, featuring Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes. They had some success in Britain, but then turned to producing and, believe it or not, joined Yes for an album and a final tour. Yes, that’s right; the dude in the Buggles was the lead singer for Yes for a spell. Later, Downes was a founder of Asia while Horn became a semi-famous producer.
As for the video, it introduced a lot of video clichés, with identical deadpan females singing the chorus, camera tricks, weird dissolves, and the keyboard player looking tough by standing between two synthesizers, with each hand on one of them.
You Better Run – Pat Benatar. This was a pretty straight forward video from the tough-as-nails singer. She was wearing black leather pants, and trying to look sexy and sultry, especially when she held her hands on her head for a while.
This was a cover of an old Rascals’ song, and hit #42 in 1980. Of course, since they didn’t have a lot of video clips, the fact that a bona fide American artist had made one probably made it a priority that MTV play this one.
This video also introduced the ‘ugly drummer’ shot, where the camera focuses on the features of a man distorting his face unnaturally while playing the drums. This was soon perfected by Loverboy.
(Katie asked, “Is this rock and roll?”)
She Won’t Dance With Me– Rod Stewart. I had never heard this song before, nor had I seen the video. Ick. This must have been an attempt of a follow up hit to “Passion”, and it features Carmine Appice on drums.
The song is pretty lifeless for an up-tempo tune. It’s just, there. Bleargh!
In the video, Rod is wearing a turquoise jumpsuit that has a diagonal zipper slash in it showing his chest. There are also three blonde babes that are isolated from the band, ‘singing’ the backing vocals.
I can see why this soon dropped from the playlist.
You Better You Bet – The Who. This is a standard black and white performance video, featuring the Who in the Kenny Jones phase. The song is pretty good, really, and it was a moderate hit (#18) in 1981.
As for the video, Pete Townshend looks drunk and bored. He’s doing all of his clichéd tricks, and has that ½ perm he used to wear and two day old stubble. I think Pete was trying to make up for the fact that Keith Moon was no longer around) John Entwhistle looks deadly serious, Kenny Jones looks boring (well, he IS boring) and Roger Daltrey is wearing a nice scarf.
The keyboard player’s hands are shown twice, but the only shot of him is from far away in the background.
Little Susie’s On The Up – PhD. What? Who? Oh, my, I had never seen this! Thank goodness. I need those 3 ½ minutes back. The plot is that ugly British lead singer and his date are getting ready, then attending a dance contest, and all of these wacky things happen, and there’s a crazy bald man giving ratings to them, and they win, and eat pickled eggs. The end.
We Don’t Talk Anymore – Cliff Richard. They WERE short on content, as they dug out a clip for this 1979 song (it hit #7, but still, it was two years old, and more adult contemporary than rock and roll).
It was a performance video that featured Cliff on a stage surrounded by dry ice, with a nice gold chain and a striped collar on his blue shirt. In the second verse, the band finally makes an appearance.
This video was the first to have the ‘infinite lead singer’ trick, as silhouettes of Mr. Richard were shown ad infinitium during one poignant moment of the song.
Brass In Pocket – The Pretenders. Ok, now we’re getting somewhere here. This was a big hit in 1980 (#14) but the video really made the song, I think. Chrissie Hynde is a waitress in a seedy diner, and in waltzes the rest of the band.
Hynde flirts with bass player Pete Farndon, while Martin Chambers and James Honeyman-Scott proclaims Ms. Hynde “special”. Then the girlfriends come in, and the jig is up. When the girlfriends arrive, Honeyman-Scott really looks like he’s making out with his babe.
The band and their girls go off in this huge car, while Hynde is stuck back at the diner. She’s special, but alone.
Time Heals – Todd Rundgren. Rundgren was on the forefront of video, for sure, but this one is a mess. It features a lot of odd stop motion, and like most of his solo records is quite overproduced.
He places himself in the midst of several surrealist paintings, and the effect is really disconcerting. Also, he uses some crucifixion imagery, and later is seen in a flowered jumpsuit. The song is fairly blah as well.
Take It On The Run – REO Speedwagon. A live cut of this monster (#5) hit from 1981. This was fairly contemporary and I’m sure MTV were glad that REO decided to make a concert video available.
Everyone’s got great 80’s hair, of course, especially the mop tops on Kevin Cronin and Gary Richrath. Cronin is playing acoustic, and really looks dorky when we see a shot of him playing during Richrath’s solo.
The thing, though, is that this sounds JUST LIKE THE RECORD! It’s live, stretch it out, do SOMETHING ELSE, would you?
Rockin’ The Paradise – Styx.. A performance piece, which starts out with Dennis DeYoung in his vaudeville outfit with a striped vest, red pants and big ol’ flower. Dennis has a lovely perm and ‘stache, too. Then a curtain opens, and Styx proceeds with the rockin’.
J.. Y. Young has shoulder pads on his jumpsuit, while the drummer is wearing a naval officer’s outfit (Why??). Tommy Shaw is playing my least favorite guitar in the world, a Gibson Explorer. (I just hate that shape!)
I noticed that these are the same clothes the band was wearing in the “Too Much Time On My Hands” video, so obviously these were shot on the same day. This song wasn’t a top 40 hit, but it was all over AOR radio.
When Things Go Wrong – Robin Lane and the Chartbusters. I had not heard this song, nor seen the video. It was a minor hit (#87 in 1980) but I do remember the name, because the Chartbusters is a great name for a band.
Ms. Lane has a nice voice, but the song is rather dull, and the video is duller. It’s shot in New England, by a rocky coast. She’s on a horse, then all of a sudden she’s in her room, sitting with a dude. They say nothing. He leaves.
He goes to a pub to get a crew for a ship. The ship leaves, and she’s still on the coast. The end. No, seriously, the end. What just happened?
History Never Repeats – Split Enz. This was a wacky video for a great song that unfortunately, didn’t chart here in the States.
The singer (one of the Finns, and I’m sorry, I can’t tell them apart. I’m lame) is in his bedroom and he sees himself on TV. Then the band is dressed as clowns and harlequins. Later, the band is in the bedroom while the singer is still on TV.
Ah, I’m not doing this one justice. It’s neat, and complicated, but the song rocks.
Hold On Loosely - .38 Special.. The final video of the first hour showed a concert clip from this poor-man’s Lynyrd Skynyrd. This was in a small club or soundstage, but it was a good performance by the band. I was surprised that this was just a #27 hit in 1981. I was sure it was all over the radio back in the day.
They have three guitarists. One, Jeff Carlisi, has talent even though he also is playing my least favorite guitar ever. Jeff Barnes basically took over as singer from Donnie Van Zandt, at least on the hits.
They also have two drummers, for unknown reasons. The drummers don’t play anything differently, they just play the same thing, basically. Oh, one will do a fill that the other doesn’t, but still, it’s the same!
The song sounds exactly the same as it does on the radio, except there’s no fade, and the solo keeps going on and on and on and on. The crowd is quite intriguing, since I think it was filmed on the band’s home turf.
At the end of the song, they show a picture of the album cover. This came from Wild-Eyed Southern Boys and the cover is a bit, well, sexist doesn’t really cover it. The band is shown around an open doorway of a bar, and you see the curvaceous backside of a lady (or a transvestite, we don’t really know, do we?) stepping up onto the curb from the street toward the open doorway. Basically the cover is all butt and legs. Nice. Thanks, guys.
There you go, the 13 videos that made history! Now, for the next week, go out and find these tunes! Or don’t, whatever turns you on...