April 1 – XTC Not So Fool-ish

Critics loved them, but on this day in 1989, they came about as close as they ever would to having a major breakthrough to make ordinary music fans do the same. XTC hit #1 on Billboard‘s Alternative Rock chart with “Mayor Of Simpleton” and would stay in that position for five weeks.

It was their first chart-topper on that list, but it is worth reminding that Billboard had only begun it a year earlier; it’s entirely possible some of their earlier hits like “Senses Working Overtime” and the controversial “Dear God” which did well on college stations might have also hit #1 had their been an official chart for alt rock. But then again, speculating that only brings to mind the fact that before about 1988, “alt rock” really was “alternative” to most Americans and hadn’t found a home on ordinary hit radio.

Either way, “Mayor of Simpleton” was catchy enough to bring the quirky English trio to the attention of many new fans. It was the lead single off their neo-psychedelic ninth album, Oranges and Lemons. It was an album Virgin Records showed surprising confidence in, given that they had famously battled the band for years after they had decided to stop touring in 1982 due to singer Andy Partridge’s fear of flying and stage fright. But for this one, they allowed the band to make a 60-minute album, released as a double LP but single CD and brought in rising studio star Paul Fox to produce. Fox had primarily worked with the Pointer Sisters before, but after this shifted towards alt rock a little, soon after working with Robyn Hitchcock, and 10 000 Maniacs. Of course, the hitch to that was they had to get XTC to California to record! Somehow, they did.

The album was bright-sounding and had clear ’60s pyschedelic rock and pop influences as well as World Music ones, and won them generally great reviews. For instance, Pulse declared “we can’t imagine anyone not liking (it) unless you’ve got a real problem with brilliant songwriting, personal yet universal lyrics, great singing and nifty guitar sounds.”

Mayor Of Simpleton”, with producer Fox adding some extra keyboards, seems to fit all of the above. Writer Andy Partridge said it began as a slightly reggae-sounding song, but they switched it up a little when they weren’t happy with that. He says it’s a “slight tip of the hat” to the Beatles “Good Day Sunshine.” Cheery and relatable, it was a smash on the growing number of Alt Rock stations around the continent (it was KROQ’s 14th top song of the year, the best showing for them to that point) and managed to crack the overall singles charts, albeit barely. It hit #72 in the U.S., #42 in Canada and #46 in their own UK. The band would go on to have one other Alternative #1, “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” in 1992.

The song and album had one unintended repercussion for music of the ’90s. Although they didn’t tour with it, since they were in the U.S., they did appear live on MTV. They played an acoustic set, which the network liked so much it gave them the idea for Unplugged!


June 2 – The Turntable Talk, Round 3 – MTV’s ‘Weird’ Star

Today we continue our third instalment of Turntable Talk, where we’re happy to have some fellow music fans and writers weigh in on music subjects. Hopefully you were able to take a look at our first couple of topics, Why we’re still talking about the Beatles, and then the Pros and Cons of Live Albums. Today, we start asking “Did Video Kill the Radio Star?” The Beatles began making music videos as early as about 1966, and Britain had a few TV shows featuring videos weekly in the ’70s but in the ’80s, the form took flight with the appearance of MTV and all-day videos in the U.S. Love ’em or hate ’em, they undeniably altered the music world as we knew it. So what are the thoughts on the music video? Today we have Keith from Nostalgic Italian, presenting one star he appreciated MTV helping along:

Kudo’s to Dave for picking some fantastic topics, and at the same time letting us participants “run” with it. The following are the instructions we were given:

We were told we ” …don’t have to write literally about the question, but we’re looking for your thoughts on all things music video – how much did MTV change the music of the ’80s? Since there were already British acts making videos regularly in the 70s, do you think it would have taken off in a big way even without the American MTV influence?  Did it kill careers… or make careers that shouldn’t have happened? Do you have favorite ones you still like to watch?  Do you miss the days when MTV (or Much Music in Canada, or European equivalents) ran music videos instead of reality TV and old reruns?   Really, approach it how you like, but I’m curious to get thoughts on the Video Revolution.

My Conundrum

There have been many people who truly believe that video killed the radio star. As a child of the ’70’s and ’80’s, I lived through the beginnings of MTV. When I think about music videos, there are so many that I will forever associate with the songs. For example:

  • Take On Me” – a-ha
  • Sledgehammer” – Peter Gabriel
  • Rhythm Nation” – Janet Jackson
  • Bad”, “Billie Jean”, “Beat It”, “Black or White”, and of course, “Thriller” – Michael Jackson
  • Vogue” – Madonna
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Nirvana
  • Buddy Holly” – Weezer
  • Weapon of Choice” – Fatboy Slim
  • Money For Nothing” – Dire Straits
  • Legs” – ZZ Top
  • Land of Confusion” – Genesis
  • Hot For Teacher” – Van Halen
  • Simply Irresistible” – Robert Palmer
  • Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” – Cyndi Lauper
  • Walk this Way” – Run DMC and Aerosmith
  • California Girls” – David Lee Roth
  • Got My Mind Set on You” – George Harrison
  • Stuck With You” – Huey Lewis and the News
  • Faith” – George Michael
  • White Wedding” – Billy Idol
  • Opposites Attract” – Paula Abdul

The list could go on and on! Those are just the ones that I pulled off the top of my head (and I am probably forgetting some big ones)!

The more I thought about it, I kept coming back to “Video killed the radio star.” Perhaps that is the case (as some proclaim), but I can think of one artist who made videos and it got him mainstream attention.

MTV Welcomes Weird Al Yankovic

According to Wikipedia, the discography of Mr. Yankovic consists of fourteen studio albums, nine compilation albums, eleven videos albums, two extended plays, two box sets, forty-six singles and fifty-four music videos. 

Those fifty-four music videos helped to take Weird Al Yankovic to the mainstream world. Let’s face it, the only place you could hear him on the radio was on the Dr. Demento Show, which was often aired in the worst possible time slot because of the crazy content. When Al ventured into the video realm, more and more viewers wanted to see – and hear – more of him!

Parody songs have been around forever, and very rarely ever got radio play. Novelty records were big in the ’50’s and ’60’s, and there were a few here and there in the ’70’s. When Al came on the scene in 1983, he took it to a whole new level, using videos.

1983’s “Ricky” is credited as being his first video. It was a parody of Toni Basil’s “Mickey.” It was a parody base on the TV show I Love Lucy. The video was shot in black and white and still looks great today.

From there, Al continued to use video to gain exposure on MTV. His next single was “I Love Rocky Road” which parodies Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll.” Instead of a greaser bar, it is set in … an ice cream parlor.

Al’s next video is really the one that really stands out as the one that moved him to a whole new level. Yes, he is a parody singer, but with the video for “Eat It” (a parody of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”), not only is the song parodied, but so is the video. Al’s video is literally a shot for shot remake of Jackson’s. Throughout the video, instead of switchblades there are rubber chickens and kitchen utensils, and gags for almost everything in the “Beat It “ video.

I can’t say whether or not the video is responsible for this, but the song won Al a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording in 1984. The video won for Best Male Performance at the 1984 American Video Awards!

From that point on, Al continued to make music videos for his singles. Art Fleming appeared in the “I Lost on Jeopardy” video, non-stop visual gags were plentiful in the “Like a Surgeon” video, and the James Brown “screams and shrieks” in “Living With a Hernia” were all more painful than soulful.

In 1988, Al once again parodied Michael Jackson. If I had to pick a “perfect” Weird Al parody video, it this would be one of two. Al won another Grammy Award for Best Concept Music Video for “Fat.” He even got permission from MJ to use the same set as the original video. Al’s makeup took three hours to apply every day and his fat suit weighed 40 pounds. Every time I hear the line, “Ding Dong, Yo!” I still crack up.

I mentioned that “Fat” is one of two “perfect” videos. The other would have to be the fantastic video for “Smells Like Nirvana” (a parody of Smells Like Teen Spirit). Al famously got permission for this parody from Kurt Cobain himself when he was performing on Saturday Night Live. In this Grammy-nominated video, Al satirizes Nirvana and the grunge movement, shooting on the same set as the original video and using the same actor who played the janitor (Rudy Larosa). Dick Van Patten has a cameo, which for whatever reason is extremely funny to me. Why Dick Van Patten??!! Someone said that Tony Hawk makes an appearance in the video, too. I’m not sure I know where.

Weird Al has certainly used music videos to his advantage. It takes a lot of creativity to write a good parody (I mean, come on, there are a lot of crap ones out there – just look on YouTube), but to take an already funny song and create a video that brings about even more humor, just enhances the song. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, Weird Al is a musical genius.

There have been many other great videos that have followed. To name a few: “Amish Paradise” (featuring Florence Henderson), “Headline News” (featuring The People’s Court’s Doug Llewelyn), “Gump” (featuring Ruth Buzzi and Pat Boone), “The Saga Begins” (the fantastic Star Wars tribute), “White and Nerdy” (featuring Donny Osmond and Seth Green), and so many more.

Yes, video may have killed the radio star, but it certainly helped boost the career of Weird Al Yankovic.

June 1 – The Turntable Talk, Round 3 – Growing Up MTV-less

Today we continue our third instalment of Turntable Talk, where we’re happy to have some fellow music fans and writers weigh in on music subjects. Hopefully you were able to take a look at our first couple of topics, Why we’re still talking about the Beatles, and then the Pros and Cons of Live Albums. Today, we are asking “Did Video Kill the Radio Star?” The Beatles began making music videos as early as about 1966, and Britain had a few TV shows featuring videos weekly in the ’70s but in the ’80s, the form took flight with the appearance of MTV and all-day videos in the U.S. Love ’em or hate ’em, they undeniably altered the music world as we knew it. So what are the thoughts on the music video? Today we welcome Christian, from Christian’s Music Musings, who grew up apart from MTV. He tells us:

Did Video Kill the Radio Star?

Thanks for inviting me back to “Turntable Talk”, Dave. I enjoy your series, and I’m happy to share more of my thoughts!

At first, I wasn’t quite sure how to approach the topic of ‘80s music videos and MTV. While the name MTV had been hammered into my brain since 1985 when Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing was all over German radio, my first exposure to music videos didn’t happen until early 1993 when I came to the U.S. At my parents’ house back in Germany, we didn’t have cable until the early ‘90s, so essentially missed the ‘80s MTV era.

When I finally had the opportunity to watch music videos on TV in the U.S., I ended up embracing VH1, not MTV. And for the most part, it wasn’t for music videos but for their Behind the Music documentary series, which I loved.

When to comes to music, to me, it’s always been first and foremost about melody, sound and musicianship. Lyrics tend to be secondary. Videos rank a distant third. I’m speaking in broad strokes now.

There’s no doubt in my mind that MTV and music videos have had a huge impact on the music industry. And as you’d expect, it’s a mixed bag. Initial criticism of the channel for largely ignoring artists of color was justified, though fortunately by the mid-’80s things started to change.

MTV kickstarted the breakthroughs of artists like Cindy Lauper and Whitney Houston; and of course, The Buggles whose Video Killed the Radio Star was the very first video played on the channel. MTV also boosted the careers of already-established artists like Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince.

Moreover, the channel had a role in popularizing genres beyond pop. For example, their heavy rotation of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit brought grunge to a broader audience. It also isn’t surprising that the compelling combination of audio and video helped music become part of Hollywood. It boosted the popularity of big ‘80s soundtracks like Flashdance (1983), Footloose (1984) and Top Gun (1986). I leave it up to you to decide whether that’s a net positive or negative.

During my reading that inspired some of the content of this post, I came across a series of interviews the PBS program Frontline conducted for a May 2004 documentary titled The Way the Music Died. I haven’t watched it (though it sounds interesting) but read some of the interviews. The following excerpts offer some additional perspectives I thought were worthwhile sharing:

Music journalist Touré Neblett: “I mean, Duran Duran — were they a great group? I don’t think so. I mean they had some great songs. I love “Rio,” I love “Girls On Film,” but this is not a great group. But they were one of the first big video groups that really thrived in the MTV era because they looked good.”

HITS Magazine co-founder and editor-in-chief Leonard J. Beer: “MTV is the most powerful force that’s probably ever happened in the music business. You can make a star overnight if they make the right video, and if the right magic happens. It also burns them out quicker. You know, you saw somebody like Pearl Jam who had the biggest videos on MTV for years and then all of a sudden they decided they didn’t want to be on MTV anymore because they felt it was hurting their long-term career.”

Entertainment Attorney Michael Guido: “I think MTV was the beginning of the end for the recorded music business, in that it solidified a mindset that exalted marketing over substance… It became only about a three-minute single and a visual image, and if you didn’t have the three minutes you were over…Once that corner was turned, we started on the path that has led us to this moment here, where kids are treating music as disposable.”

Music industry executive Danny Goldberg: “I think that the emergence of the music video has just expanded the palette of tools available to artists to connect with an audience. I know when I worked with Nirvana, Kurt Cobain cared as much about the videos as he did about the records. He wrote the scripts for them, he was in the editing room, and they were part of his art. And I think they stand up as part of his art, and I think that’s true of the great artists today. Not every artist is a great artist and not every video is a good video, but in general having it available as a tool, to me, adds to the business.”

Finally, I’d like to provide some thoughts about my favorite ‘80s music video. As I was thinking about it, the first videos that came to mind were Michael Jackson’s Thriller for its over-the-top mini horror movie production, Genesis’ Land of Confusion because of the amazing puppets of band members and various politicians; and a-ha’s Take On Me with its artistically compelling integration of cartoons and animations.

But, as I said before, when it comes to music, to me, it’s first and foremost about melody, sound and musicianship. With that priority keeping in mind as well, my favorite ‘80s music video is Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer, a song I dig to this day. Yes, it’s definitely a pretty busy clip that at times can even make you dizzy. Still, I love the way how it’s done.

According to this article from April 2016, the filming required Gabriel to lay under a glass sheet for over 16 hours! But he’s convinced it was all worth it, and that without the video the song wouldn’t have become a hit. Numbers don’t lie. “Sledgehammer” reached no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, knocking “Invisible Touch” by his former bandmates from Genesis off the top spot. The single also topped the Canadian charts. Elsewhere, among others, it climbed to no. 3 in Australia, Ireland and New Zealand, and no. 4 in the UK. Oh, and it also became MTV’s most played video of all time!

May 31 – The Turntable Talk, Found 3 – Video’s History Longer Than Rock’s

Today we continue our third instalment of Turntable Talk, where we’re happy to have some fellow music fans and writers weigh in on music subjects. Hopefully you were able to take a look at our first couple of topics, Why we’re still talking about the Beatles, and then the Pros and Cons of Live Albums. Today, we start askingDid Video Kill the Radio Star?” The Beatles began making music videos as early as about 1966, and Britain had a few TV shows featuring videos weekly in the ’70s but in the ’80s, the form took flight with the appearance of MTV and all-day videos in the U.S. Love ’em or hate ’em, they undeniably altered the music world as we knew it. So what are the thoughts on the music video? Today, we turn the table over to Lisa from Tao Talk, who gives a surprising overview of the long history of the format. She writes:

Turntable Talk 3 – Did Video Kill the Radio Star?

While growing up, listening to music was all about sound in our home and in my grandparent’s home. We had an AM radio and a small record player. My mom was the radio captain; we shared the helm for the platter choices, even if mom was the one who decided which platters were brought in to choose from. My grandparents had one of those long rectangular cabinet types of systems with a turntable inside. The cabinet served as a resonant speaker from what I remember. I remember lots of choices, including some 78s.

The visual aspects of music in the 1960’s were minimal for me. Yes, there were album covers to pore over, but these frozen images were only snapshots that did not do much to enhance the musical experience. Then came watching television music programs like The Lawrence Welk Show and Ed Sullivan, where the musicians performing and camera shots of the audiences appreciating them brought the music into two dimensions of sound and moving images. Television turned music into a shared experience for me. It wasn’t just me or just my family members who loved the music; the whole world was as excited about it as I was!

The television special musical appearances continued for a long while. I remember how staged the lip synching felt and how often the performers seemed uncomfortable yet excited to be given a chance to be seen by millions. Being heard, seen, and known meant there was a better chance their records would sell. Knowing that the powerful television producers decided who got a chance and what the musicians were allowed to perform made them feel like trick ponies that were making someone else very wealthy.

Music videos of taped musical performances began elevating them to the next level through creatively incorporating the concepts presented in the lyrics. Sometimes the band showed up almost as an afterthought, where the lyrics were the stars via imagery that might be costumes, props, animation, or forms of theater. Our ears, eyes, and minds became fully engaged in the experience.

Dave’s assignment for us this time is to write about music videos. I am not very knowledgeable on their chronology once MTV started – or what came before MTV. I went out to cyberia and discovered some interesting little tidbits about music videos from the distant past. What follows is a very brief history, where the source material is history.com at https://www.history.com/news/the-music-video-before-music-television.

In 1894, “illustrated songs consisted of photographic images painted in color and projected from glass slides, sometimes interspersed with silent moving picture clips” during Nickelodeon movie intermissions. In 1895, the first “music video” was filmed in Thomas Edison’s studio and was known as the “Dickson Experimental Sound Film.” In 1923, the first motion pictures with sound on film were presented. Many of them were “musical shorts,” “clips played before feature films.” In 1925, the Fleischer Brothers released a cartoon with “a bouncing ball that hopped over lyrics to encourage in-theater sing-alongs.” From 1940-46, “soundies,” “3-minute films featuring dance performances, designed to be played on machines in bars, restaurants,” etc. were popular. In the late 1950’s the French Scopitone was another “visual jukebox” that emerged. In 1959, The Big Bopper coined the term “music video” and made one for the song, “Chantilly Lace.” In the 1960’s The Beatles combined cinema with music in their two films, Help! and  A Hard Day’s Night. In 1974, Australian shows, Countdown and Sounds, prominently featured music videos; in 1978, the U.S. Video Concert Hall, played hours of unhosted music videos. In 1981, MTV premiered.

Looking at the above history, it seems strange to think that music videos have been around for over a hundred years already. I’ve always thought of them as a more recent phenomena that I was there at the beginning for. Not quite.

I know that MTV has fallen by the wayside as far as the source to watch music videos. I know when I want to see them, I go to YouTube or Vimeo or directly to a band’s website to see them. What would we do without the internet!

To conclude, I will list some of my favorite music videos, with links on some of the newer ones. You can find the rest out on your favorite music video platform.

All Peter Gabriel

Dire Straits MTV

Chris Isaac “Wicked Game” 

Dwight Yoakam ” Fast as You” 

Pearl Jam “Love Boat Captain” 

Fran Company 

Mitski “Washing Machine Heart” 

George Harrison and Friends from Concert for Bangladesh Beware of Darkness

Roy Orbison and Friends Black and White Nights

May 30 – The Turntable Talk, Round 3 – The Book On MTV

Today we have our second guest writer in our third instalment of Turntable Talk. That’s where we’re happy to have some fellow music fans and writers weigh in on music subjects. Hopefully you were able to take a look at our first couple of topics, Why we’re still talking about the Beatles, and then the Pros and Cons of Live Albums. Today, we’re askingDid Video Kill the Radio Star?” The Beatles began making music videos as early as about 1966, and Britain had a few TV shows featuring videos weekly in the ’70s but in the ’80s, the form took flight with the appearance of MTV and all-day videos in the U.S. Love ’em or hate ’em, they undeniably altered the music world as we knew it. So what are the thoughts on the music video? Today we turn the floor over to Deke from Thunder Bay Rocks, who grew up in Canada where there was no MTV…but music videos still were king. Deke writes:

Growing up in Canada we didn’t get MTV in the ’80s. (What we got was our own video station called MuchMusic). MTV was a big business when I was in high school as they played way more hard rock videos than what MM offered here in Canada.

A guy in high school had a huge satellite dish in the mid-’80s and various times during the year we would go over to his place to watch the debut showing of the latest Van Halen or Def Leppard videos. I still recall watching “KISS- Animalize Live and Uncensored” at his place the very first time MTV showed it. (early 1985) We were blown away by Canada’s MuchMusic even though it was good it would not show that kind of stuff. 

“Now look at them yo-yo’s, that’s the way you do it
You play the guitar on the MTV
That ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
Money for nothin’ and chicks for free”

I Want My MTV is the book put brilliantly together by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum who did over 400 interviews with directors, executives, producers, artists, VJs, and anyone else associated with the industry of MTV from its beginnings in ‘81 to the end of the music video era in ’92. 

The pic below sums it up perfectly…mtvbookpic1deke_InPixio

It’s crazy to think that MTV when it began its run on Cable TV( and even though it was based in New York) none of the NY cable companies would touch it. 

It was places like Tulsa Oklahoma and secondary markets that broke MTV, not the big U.S cities where all the main cable providers said that MTV would be done in a year.

It’s full of tons of great chapters as one chapter focuses on David Bowie calling out VJ Mark Goodman out on why MTV for not playing Black artists in 1983. Check it out  – Bowie tunes Goodman up. 

Michael Jackson basically changed that with the release of Thriller and “Beat It”..  MTV took the stance of playing only ‘Rock’ videos so they had said Jackson wasn’t rock… until all of sudden Eddie Van Halen was playing the solo on “Beat It.” Then MTV  basically said, ‘Yep that’s Rock, so add it to the rotation” Plus the time when umm, well read the excerpt below!mtvbookpic2dk_InPixio

Rap had the same problem as well getting onto MTV until the Run-DMC and “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith mashup broke down those barriers.

DMC tells the cool story of how they had Aerosmith’s Toys in The Attic in a crate with other records as they dug that drum intro which goes into the guitar riff. He says that when they would talk about the song they would only know it by Toys In The Attic Track 4 which was “Walk This  Way”. They had no idea that the band was called Aerosmith or for that matter, they had no idea who Steven Tyler and Joe Perry were.  They had no idea the title of the song. Run-DMC only knew the song as track 4!

The book tells how a contestant who won a Lost Weekend in Detroit with Van Halen was just that! Or, any guesses on what video Chapter 21 – “Whopping, Steaming Turd – the worst video ever made” – is about?

This is such a great read as it goes year by year. The MTV Awards became a yearly staple at MTV.  Funny how to read stories about how Madonna basically stole the performance that year (1984) and made her a household name. You can read about how MTV execs convinced Mick Jagger to say “I want my MTV” for $1. Or that the car on the cover of a ZZ Top album cost $250,000, so they put it in their videos to get the tax deduction! How video directors would all bid for the same jobs and at times it would get ugly between them. Better yet how about when Guns N Roses were the biggest band in the late ’80s to early ’90s. Axl had one of his friends hired at MTV to host Headbangers Ball. As Axl told his pal (Riki Rachtman) “You want the job at MTV? I’ll make the call!”


 Just read below as it pretty much sums up an 80s boardroom meeting at MTV:mtvboopic3dk_InPixio

Gene Simmons! LOL

This book is full of stories about rock stars, dwarves, models, and drugs. How MTV almost did not make it into a second season or for that matter the second-ever video as after The Buggles ” Video Killed The Radio Star” Was Played the screen went black.(in case you’re wondering Pat Benatar’s “You Better Run” was the second video played) The perseverance of the original creators of MTV (Bob Pittman, John Sykes-not the Whitesnake fella, and John Lack) was very instrumental in getting MTV into all the homes in the U.S.A.

I Want My MTV – amazing Read!

May 29 – The Turntable Talk, Round 3 – Not Everyone Wanted Their MTV

Today we begin our third instalment of “Turntable Talk”, where we’re happy to have some fellow music fans and writers weigh in on music subjects. Hopefully you were able to take a look at our first couple of topics, Why we’re still talking about the Beatles, and then the Pros and Cons of Live Albums. Today, we start askingDid Video Kill the Radio Star?” The Beatles began making music videos as early as about 1966, and Britain had a few TV shows featuring videos weekly in the ’70s but in the ’80s, the form took flight with the appearance of MTV and all-day videos in the U.S. Love ’em or hate ’em, they undeniably altered the music world as we knew it. So what are the thoughts on the music video? Today we have Max from Power Pop Blog giving his opinions:

For Dave’s question… how much did MTV change the music of the ’80s?

Video Killed the Radio Star… That was the first song played on MTV and it was pretty much dead accurate.

MTV changed music’s landscape. I was there when it launched, and I would stay up till 4 in the morning at a relative’s house because we didn’t have cable. Personally, I think it was a huge mixed blessing. When I listen to a song, I like to draw my own conclusions about what it’s about. You now had music videos that you couldn’t help but think of when you heard the songs on radio.

Some artists didn’t want to do videos for that reason. Bruce Springsteen was one of them. His first video was off the Nebraska album, and it didn’t even feature Bruce! When he did do videos, it usually was a live clip of him. He did make one for “Glory Days” that followed along with the song. The Replacements refused to do a regular music video and their career went down, but other artists gave in because they had to. Many were fun and they enjoyed it, so it worked for some artists.

I think it helped some artists greatly like Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Prince. Without MTV I don’t know if they would have been as big as they were. I have no doubt they would have been big but not as mega-huge. MTV helped push them over that line as well as others.

There are other artists like Duran Duran, Twisted Sister, Janet Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Whitesnake, and others that I think owed a lot of their success to MTV.

Hair metal flourished during this time. They made videos that guys liked to watch…even if I didn’t like a particular song, I was going to watch the new Whitesnake video.

Who didn’t pass the looks test? We probably will never know. Would Janis Joplin have ever made it in the MTV generation? I seriously doubt it.

I’ve talked about image but…to be fair…image has always been important in pre-MTV rock… but now music videos put a group’s appearance under the microscope like never before. In some cases, the music alone was no longer enough. While it used to be that you needed the talent to back up the looks, in the MTV era it was often the other way around.

Chrissie Hynde had this to say about MTV: I grew up in the late sixties… You know, AM radio then went into FM radio. AM radio was coast to coast and it was very regional. Every city had its own radio station and its own playlist! When MTV came along it all got filtered into one thing. It had to go first through a video – often a soft-porn video, because some of the artists knew that sold – and that became sorta dance music, I guess.

It wasn’t rock n’ roll any more. If you look at videos that were made back then, they look silly now. The pomposity of it. You can smell the money that went into it.”

There is some truth in what she is saying. They did end up with homogenization of the music…especially guitar-driven rock and roll as it went along. Heavy metal, new wave, and dance-pop did well on MTV. Regular rock and roll? Not as much.

I think of the Dead Kennedys song Get MTV Off The Air

How far will you go, how low will you stoop
To tranquilize our minds with your sugar-coated swill
You’ve turned rock and roll rebellion into Pat Boone sedation
Making sure nothing’s left to the imagination”

Lead singer Jello Biafra: “The way they were laying it down then was, ‘This is the way music is going to go. From now on, there is no point in even writing a song unless you know what it’s going to look like on TV.’”

As I said at the start. I have mixed feelings about MTV. Did I enjoy it? Oh yes, I did enjoy it. I was exposed to some music that I wouldn’t have otherwise. “Mexican Radio”, “Electric Avenue” , and so many more.  I’m sure of one thing. If MTV would not have existed, music would have been completely different in the ’80s. It was and is a cultural landmark that will always be there.

MTV took a lot of power away from radio stations. Artists now went to MTV to play their video. One stop shopping to get their music to a mass audience. This was when radio stations were mostly local and knew the city, they were in. From Toronto, Thunder Bay, Nashville, Austin, and Grand Rapids… they knew their audience.

This is where radio learned from MTV. Today radio is big monopolies with pre-made playlists for everyone. Always happy to play the same songs over and over. We have lost a lot of the local flavor in radio and MTV wasn’t the only reason but it played it’s part.

I think they had good intentions going in but like a lot of organizations with good intentions…they may have attained too much power and that leads to…in this case The Real World and MTVWNM….(Music TeleVision with NO Music) .

Video Killed The Radio Star…indeed.








May 25 – Were They MTV Faves? A-ha!

A-ha! It was a good night in 1986 for Norway’s most popular band. A-ha cleaned up at the MTV Video Awards, winning eight of the astronaut-shaped trophies in the third edition of the awards. Only Peter Gabriel the following year would win more in a year. While “The Sun Always Shines on TV” took a couple (for editing and cinematography) it was their creative and unique (for the time) “Take on Me” that drew the most attention and hardware, winning six including “Viewer’s Choice,” “Best Special Effects” and “Best Concept Video.” It did lose out to Dire Straits and their “Money For Nothing” however for the then-coveted “Video of the Year” as well as the “Best Group Video.” Curiously, neither group performed at the Awards show, unlike a list that included Van Halen, INXS, Genesis and Robert Palmer. All of them had probably noticed how much a performance on them could boost a career, as Madonna showed two years earlier. The show was a big deal at that time. 

The video with its mix of drawn comics and live action certainly helped the band gain notice over here – the song was the only #1 hit ever in the U.S. by a Norwegian act and helped the Hunting High and Low album sell upwards of 10 million copies worldwide. Most of us in North America heard little more from the photogenic Scandinavians, but they’ve remained immensely popular at home and some other lands. They’ve had eight #1 singles in Norway and earned a reputed $50 million in 2010 from sales of a greatest hits album and a tour in Europe. Meanwhile, they played a concert for almost 200 000 in Brazil in 2015 and even in Britain they’ve scored three gold or platinum albums and 14 top 20 singles, most recently in 2006 with “Analogue.

March 13 – MTV’s Unlikely Superstar

While we readily think of bands like Duran Duran and Culture Club having their careers “made” by MTV, one of the biggest career-boosts the video network ever gave was for an unlikely artist. On this day in 1993, Eric Clapton‘s Unplugged hit #1 in both the U.S. and Canada. Later Nirvana would also top charts with their album gleaned from the MTV show, but that wasn’t nearly as surprising as Clapton. After all, Clapton’s career pre-dated MTV by close to two decades, and he was not one of the aging artists who really jumped in to the deep end of ’80s video revolution , unlike say George Harrison or Paul Simon.

The concept of MTV Unplugged was simple and effective – take artists usually known for rock performances and have them play their songs in a stripped-down fashion using largely acoustic instruments. In Clapton’s case, he performed mostly using an acoustic Martin guitar. “Slowhand” did his set in England in early 1992, performing 20 or so songs for the crowd, of which 14 made the CD. It included quite a mix of material, including old Blues standards like Robert Johnson’s “Malted Milk” and Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me” as well as some of Clapton’s own songs, most notably “Layla.” and “Tears in Heaven.” The latter tear-jerker was written for his four year-old son who’d fallen to his death in 1991 and was released on the Rush soundtrack before Unplugged hit shelves.

It was quite a different sound for the rocker many consider the best rock guitarist of all-time, decidedly more laid back than some were accustomed to (although when you think about it, many of his familiar tunes like “Lay Down Sally” were anything but raucous rock numbers). Critics were of mixed opinions. Entertainment Weekly graded it A- calling it “A charmer…(with) just the right combination of intensity and giddy fun”.

Rolling Stone, in an article on his career at that point compared him to The Beatles and The Stones and thought this record “A delight because of its atypical focus” although noting it was a “mere shadow of his electric virtuosity.” Others like crusty New York critic Robert Christgau yearned for more rock and remembered wistfully his hard rock days “relegated to the mists.”

No matter what the critics thought, the public loved it. It ended up going diamond-status in both the States and Canada, 4X platinum in the UK and when all was said and done, selling well past 20 million copies , making it his biggest-seller ever and handily reviving his career which had been rather in the doldrums. The Grammys agreed as well. They gave it the Album of the Year trophy and picked the unplugged “Layla” as Best Rock Song, an award many might have thought it should have won 20 years earlier…when it was a rock song!

September 6 – Back When People Wanted Their MTV

Recently we looked at MuchMusic’s arrival in Canada and how that helped shape the musical tastes of the nation through much of the ’80s, just as MTV did in the U.S. Video was huge and influential back then, so it was to be expected that soon the format would have its own awards. MTV obliged, with the MTV Video Awards, beginning in 1984 (with The Cars winning the Best Video trophy that year, in case you’d forgotten.)

Recently Huffington Post astutely noted the “stature of the ceremony has declined” with declining attendance in person and the lowest ratings on record, three years running. Indeed, in 2020, Nielsen reported only 1.3 million people tuned in for them, down nearly 90% from the over 12 million who watched as recently as 2011. It failed to even make the Top 10 for specialty cable programs the week it aired. But it hasn’t always been that way. For awhile, the MTV Video Awards and their little “spaceman” trophy were a big deal to both the public and the industry. And they usually took place right around back to school time. Case in point, in both 1989 and 1990 they were held on this day at the Universal Ampitheater in L.A. to great fanfare and millions of eager eyes and ears. Arsenio Hall hosted both years. And in case you’re wondering, yes, that’s no misprint. The Awards were held on the same date, despite falling on different days of the week.

The ’89 awards in particular reflected the changing state of music, giving out trophies for best Heavy Metal video and best Rap video for the first time. Guns’n’Roses took home the former for “Sweet Child of Mine” while future movie star Will Smith took home the best Rap one under his Fresh Prince moniker for “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” Paula Abdul and Madonna – two of the hottest ladies on the scene at the time, commercially at least – each took home four awards, but for relatively minor categories like choreography or production. The big winner of the night was ol’ Neil…Young’s video “This Note’s For You” was the Video of the Year, although quite oddly it didn’t win the video for Best Video by a Male Artist. Elvis Costello took that home for “Veronica.” R.E.M. who would clean up two years later for “Losing My Religion” were given a nod for “Orange Crush” , the Best Post-modern Video. Rap-metal fusion band Living Colour won the Best Group Video and Best New Artist one for their “Cult of Personality.” And a cult of personality it was that night there. Mick Jagger presented an award, then had the Rolling Stones perform live. Madonna, who really made a name for herself and the Awards five years earlier with her stage performance of “Like a Virgin” was back, doingg “Express Yourself” slightly less controversially; Cher performed, Bon Jovi too and Axl Rose joined Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers to run through “Heartbreak Hotel.” Nielsen didn’t yet keep track of MTV’s viewers in the ’80s, so we have no definitive tally of how many people tuned in, but judging from the buzz and the uptick in sales of many of the artists right afterwards, it’s safe to bet “far more than 2019’s 1.3 million!”.

The ’90 Awards were more of the same. Once again it was a bit of a ladies’ night, with Madonna and Sinead O’Connor both winning three, though for Madonna it was her second-straight year of being nominated for Best Video unsuccessfully. Sinead grabbed that and the Best Female Video for “Nothing Compares 2U” while Don Henley took the male equivalent for the “End of the Innocence”. The B52s and their “Love Shack” were named the Best Group Video and they switched to MTV’s Australia affiliate to give Midnight Oil a Best Video there for “Blue Sky Mine.” And in the type of choice that doesn’t seem great decades down the road – the type of blooper most Awards shows in any entertainment field seem to have – Michael Penn got the nod for Best New Artist, over the Black Crowes and Lenny Kravitz to name just a pair. And once again, the stars came out for the show. Kim Basinger and Oliver Stone were among the non-musicians who trotted out to hand out trophies, while Janet Jackson (getting a “Vanguard Award” essentially for lifetime achievement at age 24), Phil Collins, INXS, Sinead and Faith No More were among the live performers.

It catapulted Dire Straits and Peter Gabriel to the level of sales and recognition they’d probably long-deserved, it also made a star out of Lita Ford and acted as a double-edged sword for the likes of Culture Club, vaulting them to superstardom but at the same time likely keeping them from getting the serious respect they deserved for the actual music they made. Like it or not, music videos shaped the soundtrack of the ’80s and around 30 years back, this week was their equivalent of Christmas morning.

August 16 – A True Blue Smash

It was a nice birthday gift for today’s birthday gal, Ms. Ciccone (she turns 63 today by the way)… Madonna scored her fourth #1 single in the States this day in 1986 with “Papa Don’t Preach.” It knocked Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love” out of the top spot and followed her third album, True Blue‘s first single, “Live to Tell” to the top.

The song had a somewhat more mature feel both in sound and lyrics than some of her previous hits. The composition borrowed from Vivaldi in the strings which open it, and of course the lyrics tell the story of an unmarried teen girl who finds herself pregnant and in trouble with her family besides being “in trouble.” Co-writer Brian Elliot came up with the basic idea after over-hearing some teen girls have a conversation about being pregnant and wondering if the mother-to-be should keep the baby or not. It just fit right in with my personal zeitgeist of standing up to male authority,” she explained, “whether it’s the pope, the Catholic church or my father and his conservative patriarchal ways.”

Indeed, if it was a different approach to songwriting than she’d shown before, it did follow along with her ways of creating controversy which she’d highlighted with her earlier hit “Like a Virgin” and wedding dress performance of it at the MTV Awards. The Catholic Church, which she was raised in, didn’t like the song and urged its flock to boycott her because “Papa Don’t Preach” was seen as advocating teenage and premarital sex. On the other hand, many liberal women’s organizations objected because by saying she was “gonna keep my baby” they thought she was speaking out against abortion. It’s a wonder it got to #1, and did so in the UK and Canada as well as her own country.

Then again, it is a pretty good single! Rolling Stone at the time thought the album only so-so but called the song “magnificent” and later, Slant would note “with (it), Madonna made the transition from pop tart to consummate artist.”

The consummate artist would score three more #1 songs before the decade ended and another four in the ’90s.