I will officially get nothing done today. As much as I have on my “to do” list, you won’t find me packing and purging or planning and plotting, you will find me in front of the TV. Watching MTV. What is a grown woman doing watching MTV? Why, watching videos of course. Old videos.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the legendary music television station. Once groundbreaking when it debuted with The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” video, today’s MTV is total trash but back in the day…oh back in the day.
It all started on Saturday, August 1, 1981 with the words, “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.” From there the original MTV theme song, which I can still hear in my head, was played over a montage of space-themed footage. What was dubbed as “the best of TV combined with the best of radio,” became an instant success.
Within two months, record sales soared and bands such as Men at Work and Human League, whose songs weren’t playing on the radio at the time, quickly had hits. Who can ever forget Colin Hay’s eyes as he sang “Who Can It Be?” It made stars of Devo, Hughie Lewis and the News, and Bow Wow Wow. And Tawny Kitaen and Whitesnake. It also put the font Kabel on the map, as it was used in left hand corner of every video, telling viewers the artist, song title, and album.
I remember it all like it was yesterday. The rocket ship open. The moon landing with an MTV flag. We’d all gather at my friend G. Calvin’s house between classes at OU and watch videos. Video after video after video. We’d never seen anything like it and we were in awe. There they were, all the bands and singers we loved, right on our TV and doing amazing and entertaining things. Rock on.
MTV is where I met Madonna. Her “Borderline” and “Lucky Star” videos changed my life. It’s also where many of us ‘80s girls learned to dance that goofy Go-Gos “swing your arms” dance move. But the Go-Gos. I mean. No one was cooler. Okay except maybe The Police in their haunting “Every Breath You Take” as Sting stared you down and played a STANDING BASS and Stuart gorgeously slammed the drums. U2’s black-and-white “Every Breath You Take” was equally haunting and brought us Bono’s amazing voice and muscles and The Edge’s amazing everything. Swoon.
MTV also brought the second British Invasion and bands from all over Europe made us say “wow!” Soft Cell (remember “Tainted Love?!”) and Madness were probably my favorites but they would probably cringe if they knew we used their hit song “Our House” as a sorority theme. Then there was “Flock of Seagulls” and their trendsetting hair as well as Aha, whose “Take On Me” video set the bar for creativity.
The videos themselves often didn’t make sense, but that was the beauty and intrigue of them. One of my favorites was Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Watching it now it’s totally illogical but the memories it brings back are anything but. The opposite holds true for another of my faves, the Rolling Stones’ “Just Waiting on a Friend.” To this day when I hear it, I think of my friends Penny and Christie and can envision the video of Mick, Keith and the gang meeting each other on the steps of what is probably a New York City walk up. Simple in its depiction of good friends and powerful in that it still reminds me of mine. Girls just want to have fun, right?
“Springsteen, Madonna, way before Nirvana. There was U2 and Blondie and music still on MTV.”
Bowling for Soup’s “1985”
The videos may not have been prolific but they were original. They were also mostly free of vulgarity, unlike today’s offensive grinding videos full of video whores and hate. Yes there was “Like a Virgin,” but how tame it was compared to today’s twerk fests. Something else they were free of was politics and activism. With the exception of “women power” videos like Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” or Robert Palmer’s stepford wife-like “Addicted to Love,” it was a love fest. I didn’t love Duran Duran, but I loved their “Hungry Like a Wolf” video. Who didn’t?! It was MUSIC television. Just music. Imagine that.
But it wasn’t only the videos that had us at hello, there were also the VJs: Martha Quinn, Alan Hunter, Nina Blackwood, JJ Jackson, and Mark Goodman. Martha was the cute and quirky one, Alan and Nina were the hotties, while JJ and Mark were just plain cool. They didn’t try too hard and we loved them all.
It’s funny to watch it all today. In the videos you see pay phones, shoulder pads, and bad animation. Think about it all you tweens and millennials though, it was like having YouTube on your TV 24 hours a day and playing only music videos. No dumb shows, no contests, no nothing…just the music and the artists you love all day every day. It was pure heaven. I want my MTV. How it used to be and just for today.