June 3 – The Turntable Talk, Round 3 – So Did We Need Our MTV…Or Just Want It?

Today we wrap up 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? 

Thanks to the five guests who gave us different takes on the “Video Revolution” of the ’80s…it was great to get different points of view. I have a few closing comments.

First, no one can doubt how much music videos shaped our listening, and viewing habits in the ’80s and ’90s, and with the biggest market, MTV was the main driver of that. Of course, as people like Christian and Deke pointed out, not everyone had MTV. In fact, I don’t think it was available anywhere outside of the U.S., at least in its heyday. But its success and the power of the music companies ensured similar stations would spring up in Canada, Australia and any number of other lands.

Lisa pointed out that the idea behind “videos” wasn’t new to MTV or the ’80s. The Big Bopper made one in the ’50s and there were video jukeboxes to play them in the mid-’60s. But they really hit the mainstream when MTV signed on. Oddly, Nielsen didn’t measure cable TV viewership in the early years of the station, so we don’t know how many people were actually tuning in at any given time because they found themselves saying “I Want My MTV…”, but it was well into the millions … mostly people in their teens or twenties, aka the main music-buying market. So it’s little wonder that what was popular on MTV was usually quickly popular in record stores and, because of that and Billboard‘s sales reports, on radio coast to coast as well. This likely contributed to the homogenization of radio in North America that Max pointed out (and which most of us, I think dislike) – the end of the free-wheelin’ local station playing new acts unknown in other cities and actually paying attention to listener requests. Instead we now have syndicated DJs in L.A. playing the same Lynyrd Skynyrd or Eagles track in 200 cities simultaneously and no room for innovation or offbeat music by and large. Hard to see that as an improvement, but also I think, part of an inevitable trend created by fewer and fewer large corporations buying up independent radio stations by the score and looking to maximize profit by reducing costs (such as program managers or round-the-clock disc jockeys.) How much MTV accelerated the trend is anybody’s guess.

As to how it shaped the sound of the ’80s, again it’s a debatable point since we have no control group of society without any videos, obviously! There’s no real dispute that music videos greatly helped some existing artists take their career to the next level (Peter Gabriel, Dire Straits, Michael Jackson…) and perhaps was the springboard needed to launch some big careers (Madonna, Duran Duran, A-ha…) but again, we have no way of knowing if they would have taken off on their own or not without the MTV bump. What is clear to me is that ironically, short-term gain resulted in long-term pain for some of those “video stars”. Duran Duran, Cyndi Lauper, Culture Club, even yes, A Flock of Seagulls, put out some very good records back then. And they were multi-million sellers, helped along by the oh-so-popular videos… “Hungry Like A Wolf”, “Girls on Film,” “Karma Chameleon,” “I Ran”, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” and so on. It made them household names quickly. But, it seems to me because they got noticed for their visual gimmick – the hair, the outfits, the makeup – people failed to take them seriously and in the long run, this may well have hurt their careers. I will boldly say songs like “Save A Prayer,” “Time (Clock of the Heart)”, “”She Bop,” “Wishing” , and others by those bands were songs which hold up very well and added a breath of fresh air to the old, slightly-fusty acts that had for so long dominated the airwaves. It even helped some of those like Queen and Styx go out on limbs and try something a little bit new. But many people still look down their noses and write off those acts automatically because they think “stupid-looking hair” or “just pretty boys in scenic locales” when they hear their names. That’s a bit of a shame. At their worst, they were unimaginative, offensively sexist or ridiculously over-the-top and drawn out. But, at their best they were creative, ground-breaking works of art on their own – think of how extraordinary “Sledgehammer” or “Take On Me” seemed when we first saw them. It’s not a huge stretch to understand why Godley & Creme went from making impeccable, boundary-pushing music with 10CC in the ’70s to primarily creating music videos for others in the ’80s – a lot of artists think visually as well as aurally.

In short, I think it was a fun part of the decade, and one that fit it well. Maybe it’s my age – in the ’80s I went from finishing high school to being a young, single guy out on his own. A fun time of change in life. And the ’80s really were a time of fun, experimental music, of breaking new ground. Not all of it was great, by any means, but at its best it meant some of the best music around. And videos were fun as well. I’m not disputing what some others have said – for instance, it robbed us of our own imagination when it came to what a song should “look” like (probably more of a problem when dealing with a Springsteen or Dylan song than Madonna’s “Borderline” or ZZ Top’s “Legs”) , it boosted some careers into the stratosphere that didn’t deserve it and it added to the problem of the unification of music being played continent wide. But now that we don’t have round the clock music videos on TV, we still have artists putting out flat out bad records who are stars, and we hear the same songs on every Oldies station from St. John’s, Newfoundland to San Jose, California. Honestly, I think the biggest surprise I have is how little music videos have really changed the world of music in the past 40 years.

I enjoyed watching Canada’s equivalent Much Music a lot in that decade, though I still spent more time listening to still-great radio stations and playing CDs and records. I saw some great , creative videos, saw some interesting interviews with musicians I loved and found out about some superb acts that seemed to even get passed over by radio. I heard “Pretty Persuasion” by REM once or twice on radio, but didn’t really become aware of them until Much Music decided the video for “Fall on Me” should be seen every hour on the hour for awhile. Others had the same experience later when “Losing My Religion” became MTV’s go-to in the early-’90s. How long would it have taken me to notice them if I had to rely on hearing their stuff that often on local radio stations?

Rubik’s Cubes, collarless neon-colored shirts, impossible hairdos, narrow leather ties, something new to hear every week…and music videos. The ’80s weren’t bad at all.

June 3 – Perry & Sherrie Journeyed Towards Top Of Charts

Journey needed Steve Perry for his input and his voice in the ’80s, but perhaps Steve Perry didn’t need Journey so much. Or at least that might have been his reaction on this day in 1984, when his first “solo” single, “Oh Sherrie” hit #3 on Billboard.

At that point, Perry was 35 and had been the voice of Journey for seven. He’d had a taste of success without them two years prior with his duet with Kenny Loggins, “Don’t Fight It” (which came out on a Loggins album and scratched into the American top 20.) So, in the downtime after Journey put out their Frontiers album, he went into the studio in L.A. with some ideas of his own and producer Bruce Botnick (who’d famously worked with the Doors) to help out. In place of the mates in Journey, he enlisted a number of talented southern California session musicians, like Bill Cuomo on synthesizers, Michael Landau on guitars and Larrie Londin on drums. Londin was a popular player who’d worked on a number of massive country albums in the ’70s but was working with Glenn Frey approximately simultaneously and in time would work with Journey itself. He even brought in Waddy Wachtel to do the guitar solo on “Oh Sherrie.”

Perry, as well as Cuomo, Randy Goodrum (who played electric piano on it) and Craig Krampf wrote the song together. The inspiration was Steve’s then girlfriend, Sherrie Swafford. She was said to be in the room as they began tooling around with it but fell asleep before they finished! If you’re curious about what Ms. Swafford looked like, it’s easy enough to see – she was the female star with Perry in the video for the song. (Given our Turntable Table discussion this week about the importance of music videos in the ’80s, “Oh Sherrie” is an interesting case study. With its false start involving Perry dressing like a king on some sort of movie set it was either a prime example of the excesses of the art form or a spot-on satirization of that.)

Oh Sherrie” got to #3 in the U.S. and spent two weeks at #1 in Canada, as well as hitting the top 10 in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It helped push the album, Street Talk,  to double-platinum status at home for him, by far the biggest success he had outside of Journey. Speaking of which, it’s quite possible the other members weren’t totally chuffed at Perry’s success. It apparently added to a lengthy break between albums for them and made them question his commitment to the band; he ended up quitting them in 1987 after completing their Raised on Radio.

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!”

WOW!

 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.

May 13 – 30 Million Sales Proved Band Name Inaccurate

One of the decade’s biggest and best records came out this day in 1985. Or strike that, one of the biggest and best CDs. Dire Straits  Brothers in Arms was recorded digitally on a 24-track Sony digital recorders, one of the first done that way. It was fittingly also the very first release to sell over a million copies on CD…which was the way the band intended it to be heard.

Producer Neil Dorfman said “one of the things I totally respect about (Knopfler) is his interest in technology as a means of improving his music.” Dorfman seemed to share those traits; the talented studio hand had previously worked as an engineer on Dire Straits great Love Over Gold, as well as albums by Diana Ross, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Tyler and Gary U.S. Bonds’ big comeback, Dedication. The LP copy of Brothers... actually had shortened versions of several songs, including the title track and “So Far Away” because the full 55-minutes wouldn’t fit. The album took the already popular band into the musical stratosphere, eventually selling upwards of 30 million copies. In Britain it was the biggest-seller of the whole decade and is in a virtual tie with Dark Side of the Moon for eighth best-seller of all-time. Having four top 20 singles off it there helped; in fact the fourth, “Walk of Life” was one of only a pair of songs they had that rose as high as #2 in Britain.  In Australia it is 17X platinum; in Canada it’s diamond status and spent 19 weeks at #1. There it was the third biggest-seller of 1985…and again in 1986!

Stateside, it hit the top for nine weeks and sold 9 million+ copies, thanks to the great music- and MTV fave video “Money for Nothing.” That song would be their only #1 single in North America. While the video was fun as opposed to sexy, the song itself owed a little to another set of popular MTV videos – the ones for ZZ Top’s Eliminator. Knopfler is said to have loved the guitar sounds they got for that record, and wanted something similar for “Money for Nothing.” They played around with different guitars, and mic placement in the studio, and when he tried using his Les Paul, a studio tech heard a great effect as Dorfman was moving mics around. He told him to hold it there, and they recorded it, resulting in the fuzzy sound we learned to know and love on the hit.

The album would win a Brit Award for Best Album and the Grammy for best engineering. Although it was recorded exceptionally and had solid songs, it’s not widely considered their best work. Melody Maker thought it well made but “it sounds just a bit too like the last Dire Straits album…which sounded like the beginning of a hugely successful and very lucrative plan to take over the world known as AOR.” Likewise, Rolling Stone said of it “record is beautifully produced with Mark Knopfler’s guitar work catching the best light” but noted the songs “aren’t as interesting as they used to be” . About three decades later, that publication would include it among the 500 greatest albums of all-time, liking how it “shows off Knopfler’s incisive songwriting”. Also years later, allmusic would give it a good 4-star rating, which is less than the predecessor, Making Movies though.

Although Knopfler adopted digital technology early, it’s worth mentioning that there is also a very old-fashioned, low-fi side to him. The striking cover of the album features a beautiful 1937 National Style O Resonator guitar he played on parts of it. After a 200+ show tour and appearance at Live Aid, the band was worn out and essentially broke up except for a few one-offs such as Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday party in London.

April 18 – The Eyes Of Pink Floyd

His art took the music world by “storm.” Today we look at a “behind the scenes” type personality who passed away last decade after quietly shaping the music world of our lives. Storm Thorgerson passed away from cancer on this day in 2013. He was 69 years old.

Thorgerson wasn’t exactly a household name. But he had a hand in some of the best-known music of the ’70s through ’90s and was even sometimes referred to as the “fifth member of Pink Floyd.” Not bad for a guy who said he didn’t know one end of a guitar from the other.

Thorgerson was a graphic artist who has made a number of rock’s best known album covers and some of the videos that brought the music to our ears through the TV screen. He grew up in Middlesex, England and went to a school I imagine a lot of our readers would have liked to have gone to. While he was there, Syd Barrett and Roger Waters both attended as well; his family and Waters knew each other and he and Roger played rugby together. Meanwhile, David Gilmour hung around as well and became friends with the others. Thorgerson remembers them as being a little unusual (Barrett especially) but “They’re not as weird as hell,” he told Guitar World, speaking in the present tense about their youth some fifty years earlier. “They have the usual set of passions, but they also have a drive and talent obviously.” And while he first was friends with Waters, he left little doubt as to whom he figured was the epicenter of Pink Floyd’s greatness later on. “I think Dave (Gilmour) lent them a sense of musicianship that helped them to be very successful,” he pointed out.

While the others took off to college and formed Pink Floyd, Storm went off to get a master’s degree in visual arts from the Royal College of Art. Once he completed that, he helped form a graphic arts firm called Hipgnosis, which did visuals for any number of clients. None more famously though than his friends in Pink Floyd. Not only did he create the majority of their album covers and associated art, including Meddle, Animals and most famously the iconic pyramid-and-prism for Dark Side of the Moon, he hung out with them so much the trio of Waters, Gilmour and Nick Wright included him in discussions when figuring out what to do with Syd Barrett when his behavior became detrimental to the band.

Gilmour and Storm became particularly close, with Thorgerson being the best man at the guitarist’s wedding. Gilmour says of Storm’s artwork, “his ideas are not linked to anyone’s idea of marketing… they are atmospherically linked to the music.” And upon his passing away, Gilmour spoke of Storm, the man: “(he was) a constant force in my life, both at work and in private, a shoulder to cry on and a great friend.”

As much as he was in with Pink Floyd and made our image of the “look” of that band, he didn’t limit himself to working on their LP covers. Through the years he did the covers for instantly-recognizable albums like AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds…, Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat, no less than 10 different albums for Alan Parsons including Eye in the Sky and Pyramid, as well as albums by 10CC, Bad Company, Led Zeppelin and later on, the Cranberries and Blinker the Star just to name a few. Although many were drawn or painted images, he said “I like photography, because it’s a reality medium” but adding “I like to mess with reality… to bend reality” with his designs.

Little surprise that such a visually-oriented guy would shift gears in the ’80s, when music videos came to the forefront. When Hipgnosis folded in ’83, he turned his attention to producing videos for most of the rest of the decade and came up with ones including Paul Young’s “Wherever I Lay My Hat”, Nik Kershaw’s hits “The Riddle” and “Wouldn’t It Be Good?”, Glass Tiger’s “Thin Red Line” and of course, Pink Floyd’s “Learning to Fly.”

Prog magazine now has an award given to the best packaging for a musical product. They call it the Storm Thorgerson Grand Design Award. Fittingly, Storm himself won the award in 2012, the last year before he passed away.

April 8 – The Turntable Talk, Part 6 – The Final Groove

Today wrap up the first instalment of a new feature at A Sound Day, which we hope to run from time to time throughout the year – Turntable Talk. In it over the past week, we’ve invited several other ardent music fans and bloggers to discuss one topic. To start off, a timely one : “The Beatles : why are we still talking about them 50(+) years on?”

Thank you all for reading these pieces this week, we hope you enjoyed the Turntable Talk. Thanks to Paul, Lisa, Keith, Max and Deke for taking the time to weigh in on why the Beatles are still relevant today.

I think the other writers got most of the relevant points. The Fab Four constantly changed their sound and led the way rather than followed trends. They had the good fortune of being surrounded by good people who guided their career well, like manager Brian Epstein and super-producer George Martin. All four of them were great musicians, and they strove to get better along the way. There were at very least three truly great song-writers in the group – John, Paul and George, and while Ringo might not have been at their level, he wasn’t a half-bad writer himself. For a long time, John and Paul at least kept their egos in check and worked well together (although many now see that they perhaps kept George from showing his true potential until late in their run). And they were prolific – 13 albums in about seven years plus lots of standalone singles too!

I add a few more thoughts to it. They were video pioneers. Not only did they make movies (but so too did Elvis years before them) but when they decided to quit touring, they were savvy enough to make promotional clips – what we’d now call “videos” – to show on variety shows and in record stores. Some of them were quite ahead of their time in the effects too, and soon other British stars like T-Rex, David Bowie and Roxy Music would do the same (years before North American artists seemed to take up the idea) but really, The Beatles were the first to embrace that whole-heartedly. Now, we may or may not think MTV and the video-age was a great thing (a possible topic down the road!) , but there’s no denying that videos really shaped the sounds of the ’80s and ’90s – would Madonna, ZZ Top or Duran Duran been as huge as they were had they not made videos and had an audience of millions tuning in to them? Doubtful, just as its doubtful we’d have arrived at that point when we did if the Beatles weren’t doing clips for “Paperback Writer” and “Strawberry Fields” over a decade earlier.

And that leads to another point – they decided to really get into videos when they decided to quit touring. That in itself was kind of revolutionary for a rock group. Most bands made their names back then largely by touring relentlessly. To decide to not do so at the peak of their popularity was more than bold, it was paradigm-shaking. Doing that let them spend a lot more time in the studio and make the masterpieces like Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road… after all, they had all the time in the world and nowhere to go, so why not take time really crafting something outstanding? Not to mention, with no thought of having to do the songs in concert, it let them really experiment with sound effects, over-dubbing and all those good things that would be very hard to reproduce on stage with just two guitars, a bass and drums. The idea of being a studio-only band never swept the music world, but some of the great records of the ’70s and ’80s came from bands that had the same sort of M.O. – Steely Dan, Alan Parsons Project , late-period XTC and so on. There’s certainly something to be said for the thrill of live music and seeing your favorite musicians play, but there’s always room for the mysterious craftsmen who plug away at making fantastic music that will never come to a stage near you. And the Beatles were the first to really dare to do so.

And, one more thing. Although the Beatles only were a going concern of note for about seven years (and about nine if you include the Berlin/Cavern Club years), they didn’t disappear when they broke up. Far from it. Between the end of the Beatles and the end of 1981, they tallied 35 more top 10 songs in the States, collectively, 13 of them #1s. If we looked as them as still-the-Beatles instead of four separate entities, it would be fair to say they dominated the ’70s even more than Elton or the Bee Gees did. And a number of those songs were pretty good too, ones that would have fit into the Beatles canon quite nicely – “Photograph”, “What is Life?”, “My Sweet Lord”, “Imagine,” “Starting Over,” “Live and Let Die,” “Maybe I’m Amazed”…and on and on. It seems fair to say from about 1964 through ’81, no other artists so shaped and dominated popular music. There is a reason so much good pop and rock music of the past few decades – the well-written, well-played songs – are described as “Beatlesque.”

All of those things help explain it, but really, it comes down to one thing doesn’t it? They simply created a lot of great music. End of discussion.