Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Revised First Hour of MTV (1981)

Authentic pinback from the MFD archives.

The other day, Viacom relabeled the VH1 Classic channel (2000-2016) to MTV Classic. The "new" network skews to the '90s, so I don't have much use for it (when they start airing reruns of Remote Control, I'll check back). They did, however, re-air the very first hour of MTV, which I recorded and will now playback and "live blog" even though it's now 35 years after the fact (an unoriginal idea, I know).

Note: based on the following quote, I'm led to believe that what I watched was not the actual first hour of MTV, but rather the way it should have been aired. And for that, MTV, I say screw you and your revisionist history.

"The first hour of MTV was a total, unmitigated disaster. The VJs would announce, "That was Styx," right after we'd played REO Speedwagon. They'd say "This is the Who," and a .38 Special video would begin. Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong."
--Bob Pittman, MTV Executive

Top of the hour: stock footage of a space shuttle launch. Because they're launching a new network - get it? It segues into MTV promo familiar to most people my age. Voiceover from John Lack, MTV executive: "Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll." I want that rock MTV theme music by Jonathan Elias as a ringtone.

02: "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles (1979, peaked at #40 in the Billboard Hot 100). While I came to the Age of Plastic album in late '82, I would have had no idea who Buggles were when this first aired. Trevor Horn is a freakin' genius. The video doesn't have the instrumental tag on the end of the song, sadly.

05: MTV promo: "In the beginning, was the music. But there was no one around to hear it. As the population grew in numbers, music grew in popularity. Man invented the radio and the phonograph. Hi fidelity made quite a splash, but it was full stereo sound that made the explosion. Soon television came along and gave us the gift of sight but it was cable that gave us the freedom of choice. For a while it seemed there was nothing new on the horizon. Announcing the latest achievement in home entertainment: the power of sight, the power of video. MTV Music Television." Who wrote this crap?

06: "You Better Run" by Pat Benatar (1980, #42). I was never much for Pat so this is the first time I remember hearing this song. The video is simple, the band playing in a warehouse. Boy, was that idea ever used a lot. Could this have been the trendsetter? Pat was looking very pouty and leather-clad here, so good for that.

09: First appearance of a VJ, Mark Goodman. Inexplicably sitting next to a tennis racket, Mark extolls the wonders of this new cable channel. "Starting right now, you'll never look at music the same way again." He was right about that.

10: advertisement for The Bulk by Majestic, some sort of big loose-leaf notebook, followed by an ad for Dolby Noise Reduction

11: Alan Hunter introduces himself, wearing a button down oxford, an unbuttoned red vest, and an MTV pin back, followed by Martha Quinn wearing a low cut blouse over a miniskirt, JJ Jackson wearing what could only be described as a red leather Members Only jacket, and, last but certainly not least, the lovely Nina Blackwood, looking foxy in a beige sweater over a black jumpsuit. Loving these 80's fashions.

12: "She Won't Dance With Me" by Rod Stewart (1980). Like the Pat Benatar tune, this is the first time I've heard this one. Rod and the band seem to be doing their best Rolling Stones imitation and failing miserably. Again, this is just a performance video in front of a black background with white polka dots.

14: MTV promo before "You Better You Bet" by The Who (1981, #18). I'm very familiar with this one and it sounds like they've sped up the playback a bit. More performance video, but its smoky and filmed in black and white, so it must be artsy. They show a keyboard, but never the keyboard player, just the 4 group members.

*I returned to this clip later and determined that the original recording was 160 beats per minute while this video was closer to 170 bpm. I'd check out the other tunes, but then I'd have to watch the videos again.

18: Mark Goodman sitting cross-legged because he's casual cool. FWIW, Goodman was always my least favorite VJ.  He's pushing a MTV Dial position sticker for your stereo receiver so you can listen to MTV in stereo. I have to admit, the first time I heard stereo TV, I was blown away.

19: advert for Mountain Dew because teenagers need more sugar and caffeine. This is followed by a public service announcement for Interfaith Hunger Appeal.

20: REO Speedwagon promo for upcoming concert.

20: "Little Suzi's on the Up" by Ph.D. (1981). Who? At least it's a concept video instead of another performance clip.

23: "We Don't Talk Anymore" by Cliff Richard (1980, #7). I had this 45 single because it's a great song. The video is not as great as we get to watch Cliff dance and lip synch in some dry ice fog. Bonus points for the v-neck shirt and gold chain - I wore the same stuff around that time. If only I could have gotten my hair to flip some wings.

27:"Brass in Pocket" by The Pretenders (1980, #14). In which Chrissie Hynde, as a diner waitress, serves the other members of her band while lip syncing and looks lovely doing it. Then the band's women show up and the six of them leave the diner in a classic convertible Cadillac as Chrissie looks on telling them that she's special. And she is. Great song, great video.

30: MTV promo followed by "Time Heals" by Todd Rundgren (1981, #107). Like most Rundgren tunes, this is a wonderfully written song that not many people have heard. The video is fantastic by 1981 standards. Heavy concept with Rundrgren putting himself into all sorts of paintings, including those by Dali and Magritte.

33: "Take It On the Run" by REO Speedwagon (1981, #5). From the Live Infidelity concert video (available on VHS or Betamax). Like most concert videos of the time, the sound is terrible mix board stuff and the shaky handheld cameras aren't doing the band members any favors. That's a lot of hair up on stage. The guitar solo is almost note for note from the recorded version, which is a shame.

37: Ad for Chewels sugarless gum

38: MTV rocket promo, followed by Mark Goodman talking about his favorite sneakers while holding a blue coffee mug.

39: News feature about The Ramones by Bob McClain. What a newscaster voice! Using stock interview footage but none of the band's music, it's not very good.

40: Mark introduces "Rockin' the Paradise" by Styx (1981). A performance video in which Dennis DeYoung dressed like a carny, keeps playing to an imaginary audience while Tommy Shaw brings it. Song: B plus, video: D minus. The Paradise Theatre album was my favorite for several months early in 1981.

44: Ad for Andron fragrance by Jovan

45: Ad for Atari video games

45: "When Things Go Wrong" by Robin Lane and the Chartbusters (1980, #87). A video with a weak, loose narrative about a couple splitting up. Looks like it was filmed on the windy shores of England. Looks like things went wrong and they didn't bust any charts (too easy?). By far the worst song I've heard this hour.

48: MTV promo showing a montage of brief video clips

49: "History Never Repeats" by Split Enz (1981). A Finn brother sings from his bed while having odd visions in this concept video. Not the Enz's best song, but its not too bad and, by 1981 standards, the video isn't too bad although it turns into a performance video near the end.

52: "Hold on Loosely" by 38 Special (1981, #27). Love the song, but I'm not much for concert videos. In this case, I'm left wondering why there's a need for two drummers with two huge kits. And I thought there was a lot of hair in that earlier REO video.

56: "Like a Virgin" by Madonna (1984, #1). AHA!! I knew they were speeding up the earlier stuff. J'accuse! So, as a bonus, we get this 1984 video. That said, there's no Madonna like '80s Madonna so I'm gonna watch her sexily dancing on a Venetian gondola and writhing on a bed.

MTV had to play what few videos they had available to them at the time. Here's a reminder as to what was topping the Billboard charts on August 1, 1981.

Top LP
Long Distance Voyage
The Moody Blues
Hot 100
"Jessie's Girl"
Rick Springfield
Rock Album
Rock Track
Soul Album
Street Songs
Rick James
Soul Single
"Double Dutch Bus"
Frankie Smith
Disco Single
"Give It to Me Baby"
Rick James
Country Album
Fancy Free
The Oak Ridge Boys
Country Single
"Dixie on My Mind"
Hank Williams, Jr.
Adult Contemporary 
"I Don't Need You"
Kenny Rogers
Jazz Album
As Falls Wichita,
So Falls Wichita Falls

Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays
Spiritual Album
The Lord Will Make a Way
Al Green

Billboard, August 1, 1981, p. 41

Recommended for further nostalgic research:


  1. Little Suzi's On The Up later became a hit for Tesla around 1987 or so. I was blown away when I first heard the PHD version. Never knew it was a cover.

  2. I remember seeing a rebroadcast of those first few hours awhile back. Classic. I miss the days of all videos, all the time. Sigh. Still, thanks to MTV I found a lot of new bands I had not been hearing - which was great.