Monday, August 1, 2011

MTV At 30: The Greatest Think Ever Gone Horribly Wrong

By Gary P Jackson

On August 1, 1981, 12:01 a.m the world changed. Suddenly we weren't just listening to music, we were looking at it being performed as well. All day long.

Now to be honest, only a few thousand people saw the first day, but MTV had an incredible marketing plan that had people calling their cable providers screaming "I want my MTV!"

This even spawned a hit song and video from the Dire Straits:Money For Nothing

As a music loving guy in his twenties, MTV was it! Combining the best music of the day with the visuals was the greatest thing since sliced bread. It wasn't long before simplistic videos of "live" performances and laughable story lines were replaced with visually stunning video that truly rose to the level of high art. Sometimes the video matched the song, sometimes not, but it was always stunning, and entertaining. Oh, and fun.

These videos had an incredible effect on our culture. 

Then a funny thing happened. MTV, which had already started doing "party and dance" shows reminiscent of American Bandstand and Soul Train, discovered the "reality" show. By the 1990s, the "music" in Music Television was being seen less and less on both MTV and their sister station, VH-1, which was geared toward a more adult audience. It wasn't long before VH-1 Classic was launched just to have a place to actually play videos.

Now-a-days, throughout the various MTV channels, music has taken a backseat, and it has suffered.

The heyday of MTV saw great bands create great music. I know there was crap out there too, but the combination of music, being combined with an imaginative video, and the prospect of world-wide viewership of said video, had everyone bringing their A game. A lot of great music was created that still holds up, and still gets radio play. MTV made artists work hard to compete for precious air time, and the result was amazing.

The very first music video played was The Buggles Video Killed The Radio Star. This turned out to be prophetic. Many of music's top stars, as it turned out, had faces for radio, and simply couldn't get airplay on the hip new channel, and record companies started taking a band's looks into consideration, just as much as the music. Now this is human nature, but it's also where MTV started betraying the music, and it's responsibility.

You see, MTV had become one of the top places music was consumed and enjoyed. The music video was king. The impact on pop culture is immeasurable. Then all of a sudden, MTV stopped worrying about music, and went into the reality TV business. Oh, they still play music, but with less emphasis, the music has suffered.

I know every generation thinks the younger generation's music sucks. It's a given! But, as someone who has always appreciated good music, no matter who made it or where is came from, all I can say is what passes for music today is just sad. It's rare to hear anything new that's imaginative, exciting, or catchy enough to find yourself humming it during the day.

I blame MTV for a lot of this, for two reasons. First and foremost, when MTV usurped radio as the favored medium of music delivery, they had a responsibility to the music. Secondly, style over substance has taken over. The actual quality of the music has taken a back seat to who can simply be outrageous.

Looking back, MTV took the greatest thing ever, and made it unwatchable. Worse, they have hurt the music. Now all we have is memories of a time that was really fun and really creative. A time when the music mattered, and MTV delivered.

The first 10 videos played on MTV were:

"Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles

"You Better Run" by Pat Benatar

"She Won't Dance with Me" by Rod Stewart

"You Better You Bet" by The Who

"Little Suzi's on the Up" by Ph.D.

"We Don't Talk Anymore" by Cliff Richard

"Brass in Pocket" by The Pretenders

"Time Heals" by Todd Rundgren

"Take It on the Run" by REO Speedwagon

"Rockin' the Paradise" by Styx

For the complete list of songs played on day one click here.

Here's a neat compilation of the first 10 years of MTV and the creativity of the artists who performed:

For a really cool trip down memory lane, check out Dalekenbuck's You Tube Channel celebrating 30 years of MTV here.

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