Thirty years of MTV: Some stuff I've dug and some stuff I've hated with all of my soul.
Here's how stupid I am - I'm writing a piece on MTV's 30th anniversary and for a second I was stumped by how old I was when MTV started. I'm so stupid that I almost went to Wikipedia to look up the date, before I realized that I could just subtract 30.
In the beginning, the existing catalog of music videos was so small that MTV would play just about anything. Well, just about anything as long as you were white. So mesmerized were we by the channel that it hardly mattered to us that just about all of the videos sucked. The thing was that you never knew what was coming next. You'd sit through Asia's "Heat of the Moment" 27 times before you'd see something cool, but it was usually cool enough to make you sit through it another 27 times.
Back in the day, I was usually praying for a Madness video. Ask Gwen Stefani, Madness was the bomb. They were a sort of musical Monty Python collective and all of their videos were wonderfully visual, filled with odd dancing, and almost as funny as their music. Witness the historic "Nutty Train" in this video, which also featured the greatest introduction in rock history.
Madness: "One Step Beyond"
"One Step Beyond" is the place to start, but "House of Fun" and "Our House" are just as cool. "Our House" was so good that they eventually started airing it as if it were an Asia video.
They were so great they could even make Japanese Honda commercials cool.
Corey Hart "I Wear My Sunglasses at Night"
Here was the downside. Dude, wearing your sunglasses at night means that you are a dick, unless you are a jazz musician or Ray Charles and no, you are not excused from bumping into me and spilling my drink.
Around 1982, I went to the Geauga Lake amusement park in Ohio and someone there came up with the genius idea of playing music videos for people to watch while they were stuck in the long roller coaster lines. Sadly, they had only three videos: Corey Hart, Joe Cocker singing "You Are So Beautiful," and a commercial for Geauga Lake. I saw this horrible video 371 times that day. Its details are etched into my soul like the plague.
Journey - "Separate Ways (World's Apart)"
MTV will always talk about the genius stuff that they would eventually air like the Cars' "You Might Think," Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer," or my personal favorite, A-Ha's "Take on Me," but this Journey video was usually just about par for the course. Lame white band, wimp lead singer, hot chick strutting around in the background, maybe a half of a real dance move, and extended periods of pretending to be playing your instrument.
Yes, I said it. Journey was lame. Seriously, look at just how hard they are trying to be cool and just how little they are succeeding. Real guitarists just don't air guitar - because they're not supposed to have to.
I did sort of like Steve Perry's "Oh, Sherrie" because the girl in it was way hot. Her name was Sherrie Swafford and she was so beautiful that I suppose I can forgive her for dating Steve Perry.
Replacements "Bastards of Young"
In the early days, if you wanted to see good music on MTV it was always on late at night and then only on the show 120 Minutes.
There was a lot of skepticism in the early days from people who considered themselves serious musicians about wedding your song forever to visuals that you probably didn't have a Michael Jackson-sized budget to film. Thus, the Replacements' "anti-video" where they creatively just filmed an exposed bedroom speaker for four minutes or so. That was how stoners did it in the '70s and although they were drunks, that's how the Replacements intended to do it in the '80's.
Most bands like REM would go from refusing to be in their videos ("Fall on Me") to refusing to lip sync in their videos ("Can't Get There From Here") to being so "fascinated by the creative process" of film that they'd lip sync in their videos and do stupid dances ("Stand," "Shiny Happy People"). Proving once and for all that everyone eventually is forced to shake their ass on MTV.
Milli Vanilli - "Blame It on the Rain"
Hey, the Beach Boys never played on their albums. How long did you think it was going to take before someone tried to make a video with (supposedly) cool, hot looking guys singing to some ugly dude's vocal tracks?
People were massively offended by the fraud of Milli Vanilli. They wanted their money back. I was all like, "You didn't know that they sucked before that?"
Most absurdly, the Grammys wanted their awards back. Hey, you're supposed to be rewarding music. Someone sang on those tracks, where are their Grammys?
Tomorrow: MTV Discovers Black People