8/01/2006

Happy 25th Birthday, MTV!

MTV is now 25 years old - how time flies!

It seems like such a short few years back that we saw the likesPhoto Hosted at Buzznet of Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Martha Quinn, Alan Hunter and (the late) J.J. Jackson introducing the latest video hits. There's an interesting article on where they are now on The Orlando Sentinel's blog.

For those who don't know, MTV is the abbreviation for Music Television. The network was founded on August 1, 1981 as an operation of MTV Networks, with investments from such companies as Warner Communications and American Express. This cable television network was originally devoted to music videos, especially mainstream rock music. As it evolved, it became an outlet for a variety of different material aimed at adolescents and young adults.

MTV became available in most of the United States in the mid-1980s with the nationwide expansion of cable. The young network produced its first MTV Video Music Awards show in 1984. Since 1985, MTV has been owned by Viacom. The corporation has grown in its first 25 years, and today owns more than 50 channels in 28 languages and 168 countries.

The first music video shown on MTV was "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles from their album The Age of Plastic.Photo Hosted at Buzznet It was a good tongue-in-cheek start off, but if anything, video actually helped the radio listeners. You can view that historic video right here on YouTube. Wikipedia has an authoritative list of all the videos played on their first day, and it's interesting to see which stars are still with us today.

Six years later, MTV used similar humor when they launched MTV Europe on August 1, 1987.Photo Hosted at Buzznet The first video shown on MTV Europe was "Money for Nothing", by Dire Straits, from their international hit album Brothers in Arms. This song was about rock star excess and the easy life it brings compared with real work, and was supposedly inspired when lead singer Mark Knopfler apparently overheard delivery men in a New York department store complain about their jobs while watching MTV. He is said to have written the song in the store sitting at a kitchen display they had set up. Many of the lyrics were things they actually said. The groundbreaking computer-animated characters in the video were a key part of the video.

It starts with the memorable repetition of the line "I want my MTV" voiced by Sting. Dire Straits recorded this in Montserrat, and Sting was on vacation there and came by to help out. Knopfler and Sting wrote the lyrics, though Sting did not want a songwriting credit for this. It was only in later releases that his name appeared in the credits.

"Money for Nothing" won Best Video at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards.


Brothers in Arms was the first album to sell one million copies in the CD format, spending nine weeks at the top of the American charts. Since then it has sold over 25 million copies worldwide. The album remains on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

MTV's early format was modeled after Top 40 radio. Upbeat young men and women were hired to host the show and to introduce the videos. The term VJ (video jockey) was coined, a play on the term DJ (disc jockey), and many of the VJs eventually became celebrities in their own right.

Some of the early music videos in the '80s were crude promotional or concert clips from whatever sources could be found, but as MTV's popularity grew, record companies began to create increasingly sophisticated clips specifically for the network. It bears mentioning that some prominent film directors got their start creating music videos.

Some of the top video hits that MTV featured in 1981 were:

  • Fleetwood Mac "Tusk"
  • U2: "I Will Follow"
  • Andrew Gold: "Thank You for Being a Friend"
  • Devo: "Whip It"
  • Rod Stewart: "Tonight's the Night"
  • Pat Benatar: "You Better Run"
  • Phil Collins & Genesis: "No Reply at All"
If you want to see these and a lot more from their video vaults, just visit MTV's Broadband Overdrive site, then look for MTV Yearbook 1981. Also check out MTV's First Hour, where you'll find a feature entitled "Meet the VJs," featuring intros by Alan Hunter, Martha Quinn, J.J. Jackson and Mark Goodman, from that first day of broadcasting. They also have a special feature called A.D.D. Videos: 25 Years of MTV which is worth exploring if you want to go on a real rock music nostalgia trip. [Note: all of the MTV sites mentioned in this paragraph will probably require a broadband connection.]

A good number of rock stars of the '80s and '90s became household names because of MTV. Think of Duran Duran, The Clash, Madonna, Elton John and Bon Jovi and it's hard to not think of MTV. These days, Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson make extra time for MTV, and Madonna is still heavily dependent on the network to promote her music and tours.

So rock on, MTV, and let's hope that your next 25 will be as exciting and innovative as the first!

Update: I was advised by a friend that if I was going to mention The Clash, that I better not forget their 1982 hit "Rock the Casbah" (YouTube video here), which was heavily featured by MTV. It reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100.
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2 comments:

Money Miss said...

I cannot believe I've never watched MTV in my life. Too busy watching...other stuff.

Testosterone said...

Dude, how did you find that old "Rock the Casbah" video by The Clash? Had tried to explain it to some younger people a couple of years back and they looked at me like I was stoned. Then I find it right here on your MTV birthday tribute - thanks!

Now if I can only find Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" I'll be happy. Thanks again.