When Video Killed Radio Stars By Dwight Garner

Here is a pretty good article from the New York Times. Dwight Garner reviews the book, I Want My MTV. Here is the article:

When Video Killed Radio Stars

By Dwight Garner

Like almost everyone who was a teenager in the early 1980s, when the Music Television network first went live on cable, I wanted my MTV. I’d glue myself to the channel for hours, losing body mass, muscle control and self-esteem, the way my son gives himself over to video games today. MTV demanded that you linger in front of it for entire afternoons, because it tucked its few good videos amid so many horrible ones. You had to learn Zen couch potato patience.

Before MTV, scanning for new music on television was mostly a thankless task, even if you stayed up late, and stayed home, on weekends. There was “Saturday Night Live,” then as now hit or miss musically. There were the greasy, bell-bottomed bands on “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert,” many past their prime. MTV delivered not just new music, constantly on tap, but also a jumpy new visual aesthetic. Directors began editing footage the way Edward Scissorhands trimmed hedges.

It’s been said that the music you listen to when you first begin steaming up car windows is the music you want to hear for the rest of your life. This explains why I and so many people I know still cock our heads wistfully at songs by — and especially acoustic cover versions of songs by — iffy bands like Men at Work, Tears for Fears and Thompson Twins. It’s a generational cross we bear, and we’ve come to terms with it.

All of this is a prelude to saying that I’m smack in the center of the target demographic for “I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution,” by the music journalists Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum. The book is an oral history, like Jean Stein and George Plimpton’s “Edie: An American Biography,” and a volume this one more closely resembles, Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller’s excellent “Live From New York,” about “Saturday Night Live.”

If “I Want My MTV” is not nearly as riveting as those earlier books, it largely has the network itself to blame. MTV and its ancillary channels (VH1 and MTV2 among them) have parsed this history so often in shows like “Behind the Music” and “Beavis and Butt-Head,” and in specials like “100 Greatest One Hit Wonders,” that we’re painfully familiar with much of the material here.

Yet I read this mild narcotic of a book, which covers the network’s glory years from 1981 to 1992, pretty happily. It reminded me of those long days watching MTV, back when it still played videos. Reading this, you prop up your eyelids with toothpicks and stick around for the good bits.

MTV went live on Aug. 1, 1981. Many cable companies wouldn’t carry it, partly because of its rock ’n’ roll content, and in the early days you could watch it in Wichita, Kan., for example, but not New York City.

The channel didn’t really crash into the national consciousness until 1983. Bands that got their videos played that year became famous almost overnight. Every sentient straight male in the country developed a schoolboy crush on Martha Quinn, one of the first V.J.’s, fresh out of New York University and so cute she could make your cranium detonate.

The authors encourage their subjects to dilate on MTV’s precursors, including the director Mike Nichols’s use of Simon and Garfunkel in “The Graduate,” and the “Born to Be Wild” chopper-riding scene in “Easy Rider.” They deliver a corporate history of MTV and marvel at its cagey business model, seemingly borrowed from Tom Sawyer and his white picket fence: It got record labels and artists to make the videos and give them to MTV.

When MTV started, there were so few music videos extant that the network scrambled for content. Many early videos came pouring out of Britain, from acts like Duran Duran, A Flock of Seagulls, ABC, Joe Jackson and the Police, in a parade the early MTV executive Bob Pittman refers to here as “the second British Invasion.”

Most of these European performers were decidedly un-macho, the antithesis of longhair American bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Grand Funk Railroad, and they had an electric impact on young audiences. John Taylor, the bass player for Duran Duran, is eloquent about these early videos.

“They were dropping like bombs on the suburbs of Ohio and Texas, places that were so conservative,” Taylor says. “For people that were a little different — maybe they didn’t yet know they were gay, or didn’t know they were into art — the kinds of things that were on MTV were like life changers. All this stuff like Culture Club was the result of an underground, progressive, liberal, London art school sensibility.” Cheap videos gave way to expensive ones. The channel made international stars out of Madonna and Michael Jackson, who was the first black artist given substantial airtime on MTV. Hair metal arrived, with its attendant cleavage, firebombs and sodden double entendres. The authors deadpan: “Videos created ample work for Playboy playmates and for choreographers, dancers, mimes, animal trainers, pyrotechnicians, hairdressers, aestheticians, dry-ice vendors, coke dealers and midgets. (Midgets were a staple of music videos. Midget freelance work surely peaked in the ’80s.)”

This book is packed with mea culpas from rockers who had dreadful haircuts or made career-defining dreadful videos during the 1980s. About one of her videos, Patty Smyth says, “I had no idea it would look like an Off Broadway version of ‘Cats.’ ” Billy Joel says he got this order: “Dance around with a wrench in your hand.” Billy Squier’s career was ruined by his pastel outfits and giddy prancing in the video for “Rock Me Tonite.” The authors call this “the worst video ever made.”

Details like these pile up in “I Want My MTV.” Here are a few stray quotations, chosen almost at random: “I slept inside of a chandelier last night. What’s your excuse?”; “the cow flew out the back of the trailer”; “We fed Valium to a few cats and had them running around a table while we had a feast with sexy models and Playboy centerfolds, ripping apart a turkey”; “At one point I was drinking gin out of a dog’s dish.”

In the late 1980s bands began to run out of new ideas. MTV’s ratings sagged. Rap music helped for a while, creating in America what one record executive calls “the white homeboy nation.” In 1992 MTV had a hit with “The Real World,” an unscripted soap opera, and before long videos were a thing of the past. Today the network’s biggest star is Snooki.

There’s a lot of hand-wringing here about MTV’s current state. One of the network’s former executives, Abbey Konowitch, puts it pretty well, “MTV was the last national radio station.”

I don’t watch “Jersey Shore,” but I’m not among those who pine for MTV’s glory days. Most of the performers I care about still make videos, and many of these are lovely. You can track them down — as well as live performances, which are better than videos anyway — on YouTube.

VH1 still broadcasts a weekly “Top 20 Countdown,” which is worth taping. Good stuff sneaks in there, occasionally, by total accident. The experience of watching “Top 20 Countdown” is greatly enhanced by a bit of technology I didn’t have in the early 1980s: the fast-forward button.

One Hit Wonders of the ’80s: 1982 – Patrice Rushen

“Forget Me Nots” by Patrice Rushen

“Forget Me Nots” was a huge hit for Patrice Rushen, topping out at #23 on the Billboard pop chart on July 3, 1982, and reached #4 on the R&B chart and #2 on the dance chart. Rushen was nominated for a Grammy Award on the Grammy Awards 25th anniversary for Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. She had several songs on the R & B and Jazz charts, but this was her only U.S. Top 40 hit and ranked #86 on VH1’s 100 Greatest One Hit Wonders of the 1980s. The younger crowd may recognize the beat of the song from Will Smith’s 1997 hit “Men in Black” from the movie of the same name.

Patrice Rushen also has many ground-breaking achievements. She became the first woman to serve as head composer/musical director for the Grammy Awards and the Emmy Awards, and the first woman to serve as musical director for the NAACP Image Awards’ broadcast, an honor she held for twelve consecutive years. Additionally, Rushen has been the only woman to be a musical director/composer for the People’s Choice Awards, HBO’s Comic Relief and the only woman musical director/conductor/arranger for a late-night television talk show, The Midnight Hour.

But, as a solo artist, Rushen will be most remembered for her sole hit, “Forget Me Nots”:

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Daily Trivia – 11/2/11

Question: What breath-sweetening product was hyped in 1980s ads as “the gum that goes squirt“?


Last Question: In Halloween, how did Michael Myers escape from the hospital, at the beginning of the movie?

A. He posed as a hospital guard
B. He organized an inmate riot
C. He dug a tunnel out
D. He stole Loomis’s hospital car

Answer: D. He stole Loomis’s hospital car

On October 31, 1963, 6-year old Michael Myers murdered his 15 year old sister at their home in Haddonfield, Illinois. He was then sent to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium where he is placed under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Samuel Loomis. Then on October 30, 1978, and stole Loomis’s car and makes his way back to Haddonfield. Loomis then followed him to Haddonfield to try to prevent him from killing again….unsuccessfully.

The huge success of Halloween re-energized the horror movie genre, which included Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser, and Child’s Play, just to name a few.

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Remember That Song? – 11/2/11

Can you name the artist and song:

Take me as I am
Put your heart in mine, stay with me forever
‘Cause I am just a man who never understood
I never had a thing to prove


Last Song: “Miss You Much” by Janet Jackson:

I’ll tell your mama
I’ll tell your friends
I’ll tell anyone whose heart can comprehend

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One Hit Wonders of the ’80s: 1982 – Soft Cell

“Tainted Love” by Soft Cell

This is one of the biggest one-hit wonders of the ’80s, and maybe of all time. “Tainted Love” was originally recorded by Gloria Jones in 1965. But the English duo, Soft Cell, (consisting of vocalist Marc Almond and instrumentalist David Ball) made it a worldwide hit in the early ’80s. It was released as their second single. Their first was “Memorabilia”, which did not chart. “Tainted Love” was a No. 1 hit in 17 countries. In the U.S., the song took 19 weeks to enter the Top 40. It eventually peaked at #8 on July 17, 1982. It went on to set a Guinness World Record at the time for the longest consecutive stay (43 weeks) on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Soft Cell went on to score some more hits in the U.K., but they never charted again in the U.S. Almond and Ball amicably decided to end Soft Cell in 1984. Almond and Ball reunited as Soft Cell in 2001, with a series of live dates. They went on to release a new album in 2001, and issued a remix album in 2008.

Here is Soft Cell’s smash hit, “Tainted Love”:

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Remember That Song? – 11/1/11

Which Jackson sang these lyrics, and can you name the song:

I’ll tell your mama
I’ll tell your friends
I’ll tell anyone whose heart can comprehend


Last Song: “Thriller” by Michael Jackson:

You hear the door slam
And realize there’s nowhere left to run

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