Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Broke at the Grass Roots

Before we get started today: I'd like to find out which features on this blog you find the most interesting, useful, and/or entertaining. If you're viewing this site with Firefox or Netscape, you will see a web poll in the right-hand column. (If you're using Internet Explorer, the right column most likely drops to the bottom of the page--but if you get Firefox, which is free and a vast improvement over IE, you can see things properly.) Click the feature you think is the best. If you'd like to express opinions about this blog beyond one click in the poll, e-mail me at the address in the right-hand column.

So anyway: The year was 1982. I had just moved to Dubuque. The cable company was expanding its channel lineup beyond 2 through 13, and so, in those days before cable-ready TVs, everybody had to get a converter. (The cable company scheduled the changeover for a period of several days and turned it into a jubilee, with live entertainment, free food, and prizes. It soon became apparent why--customers were required to stand in line for several hours to get their converters, and the company needed to do something to keep the crowd from turning into a murderous mob.) When I got mine, the first channel I wanted to see was MTV. A little-known fact about MTV is that it made its mark first in smaller cities like Dubuque. Space on cable systems in major American cities was expensive and hard to come by anyhow, but that wasn't the case in smaller towns. So MTV and its early signature artists--the vanguard of the Second British Invasion of the early 80s--broke at the grass roots first. The first MTV-made stars to tour the United States visited small-to-medium-sized cities, rather than jetting into New York and LA. Nothing was clearer evidence of the way MTV profoundly changed the way people consumed music.

All this is a roundabout way of mentioning that Pitchfork has compiled a list of 100 Awesome Music Videos. They aren't ranked in numerical order; neither are they a list of the "best" videos by some aesthetic judgment. But from a-ha to ZZ Top, the list does a fine job of capturing the broad spectrum of the first quarter-century of music video as an art form--good and bad. For an example of a bad 80s video, you can't do worse than Journey's "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)." What's most shocking about that one is that several people, from the band members to the video's director to the programming people at MTV, had to think it was cool--although it's hard to imagine now why they might have thought so then.

Speaking of bad 80s music (as we were, obliquely), Tampa has a superb web feature called "Stuck in the 80s," which we are adding to the blogroll forthwith. In May, the site published its list of the Worst Songs of the 80s--many of which are slam-dunk choices, a few of which are debatable. (Stuck in the 80s also features a regular podcast featuring 80s tunes and pop culture, so if that's your decade, go nuts.)

(Note: I originally credited the existence of Stuck in the 80s to Tampa Bay Online, but was corrected by Steve Spears at Tampa, and I've fixed it here. Sorry about that, Steve, and thanks for checking in to tell me about it.)


At 9:23 PM, Blogger Steve Spears said...

Hey, thanks for the shout-out. We love you too! Technically, we're not from Tampa Bay Online -- that's the website of our very-un-80s competitor. We're from, the official website of the largest newspaper in Florida (about 100,000 more each day than our competitor). We'd love to add you to our blogroll too.

Don't forget us when the annual Podcast Awards roll around July 1. Go to to vote for us.


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