Wednesday, August 02, 2006

History Repeats

Yesterday in the Capital Times, a feature story on the MTV anniversary included a list of the videos the channel played in the first hour. Here's the list, with YouTube links where available:

"Video Killed the Radio Star"/Buggles. This had been a modest hit on good old-fashioned radio late in 1979--which, given its sonic oddness, was quite an accomplishment. With its iconic images of video screens rising from a pile of old radios, if it hadn't already existed, MTV would have had to invent something like it for its first video.

"You Better Run"/Pat Benatar.
In which we could finally see the pout.

"She Won't Dance With Me"/Rod Stewart.
Balls-out rocker in which Rod does an itchy-dance on a headache-inducing polka-dot background, shirt open to the waist. Clearly, MTV expected people to watch without really listening too closely, given this line from the lyric: "Got a hard-on, honey, that hurts like hell/If I don't ask her, somebody else will."

"You Better You Bet"/The Who.
Probably the best song on the list, but MTV soon made clear that the song was no longer the thing. I am guessing this is the video MTV showed-- it's a concert clip recorded in March 1981.

"Little Susie's on the Up"/Ph.D. The most obscure tune on the list, but not a bad one. If you wanted to play one video that summed up the early MTV vibe--bands you've never heard of doing strange things on camera--"Little Susie's on the Up" wouldn't be a bad choice.

"We Don't Talk Anymore"/Cliff Richard.
Watching early videos inspires a certain nostalgia for those innocent days when dry ice seemed cutting-edge. However, I'm betting that the disembodied-head video effects and Cliff's nifty T-shirt seemed uncool even back then. Video aside, it's a good song, though.

"Brass in Pocket"/Pretenders. Finally, a video you will probably remember having seen--Chrissie Hynde as coffee-shop waitress, serving the other Pretenders.

"Time Heals"/Todd Rundgren. State of the video art in 1981, it combined computer graphics and live action. It's widely reported to have been the second video played on MTV--but clearly not if this list is right.

"Take It on the Run"/REO Speedwagon
and "Rockin' the Paradise"/Styx. MTV blasted to popularity in small- and medium-sized cities first, because it was easier to get cable clearances in those places than in major metropolitan areas. And once it became clear that MTV's audience was going to be comprised largely of white suburban kids, that meant REO and Styx until you couldn't stand it anymore.

"When Things Go Wrong"/Robin Lane & the Chartbusters.
Boston-area new-wave band with a great name and a videogenic lead singer. How could it go wrong? After much success on a local label in Boston, they signed a major-label deal and promptly got lost in the major-label promotional shuffle. After two albums and a live EP, they vanished for more than 20 years, before the inevitable new-millennium reunion.

"History Never Repeats"/Split Enz.
This may have been the first video to depict a singer lying in bed singing--but it wasn't the last. Split Enz became one of the first bands whose career was made by MTV.

"Hold on Loosely"/.38 Special. Not a band you remember as video pioneers--but it was a live performance by a respectable AOR band, so it got on MTV's air in the first hour.

If you have VH-1 Classic--on the satellite dish or high up on the digital cable--you can see a rebroadcast of MTV's first 24 hours this coming Saturday.

(This post has been slightly edited since it first appeared.)


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