August 1st, 1981, MTV debuts. It was a major breakthrough in cable television and for television as a whole. It crafted a generation and brought us new things and terms like music video, vee-jay and televised spring break! Come on, who doesn't love Ed Lover?!?!
Ironically enough, my family first got cable exactly 3 years to the day that MTV launched, on August 1st, 1984. I was 8 and on top of the world! I wasn’t the type of kid to stay inside and just zone out and watch music videos, or anything for that matter. I was very active, riding my bike, playing sports, just being outside. That and my mom would kick my butt outside and say don’t come home until the street lights come on. But I digress..
When I found out that VH1 Classic was going to re-air the first hour of MTV exactly how it aired back on August 1st, 1984 at midnight on August 1st, 2011, exactly 30 years later, I decided to record it and watch it. In doing so I also decided a running commentary might be funny.. Maybe you would like to read it? If so, continue to page 42. If not, go to page 19. (Choose Your Own Adventure books, anyone?)
Exactly at midnight they cut to Cape Canaveral where the Space Shuttle is getting ready to lift off.. 15 minutes of NASA scientists and engineers talking about the pending lift-off, what’s going to happen at what time, etc.. Seriously, 15 minutes.. This could have been severely shorted, by about 14 minutes and 50 seconds.. A 10 second countdown just before the Shuttle lifts off would have sufficed and I think would have been pretty cool.
In any event, after the shuttle’s engines start, a voice over came on to say “Ladies and gentleman, rock and roll” as it cuts out to the famous Neil Armstrong landing on the moon that they used forever, as well as the vertigo-inducing MTV logo switching colors at light speeds for about another minute while a voice over tells you all about what you are about to see. They made a big point throughout the entire program to tell you that it’s being broadcast in “stereo” and not high fidelity. To be honest, the sound quality was still pretty shitty.
By now, EVERYONE knows the first video ever on MTV.. If you don’t, look it up.. However when the 1st video ended following by about 10 seconds of absolute silence and blank screen, each VJ (Alan Hunter, Martha Quinn, JJ Jackson, Nina Blackwood and Mark Goodman) all come individually and tell the viewer(s) what they can expect to see from each of them, which was pretty much the same thing. Then, straight into the second video ever, Pat Benatar’s “You Better Run”. Nothing special, her band and her singing, dancing and playing in what looked to be a garage..
Then, the commercials kick in.. Being in advertising, I wonder what the cost was for a commercial on MTV the night it debuted? I mean it couldn’t have been very much.. Seriously, I wonder how I can find this out.. The first commercial was from a company called Majestic. They seemed to be pushing some sort of trapper keeper product. Nowadays kids just walk around with their ipods and cell phones. A trailer for the new Superman movie, Superman 2 was the next commercial. Man, those graphics were horrible, but probably cutting edge for 1981.
Rod Stewart busted out “She Won’t Dance With Me” as the 3rd video. He was wearing a lime green jumpsuit with his chest exposed. Really? This was fashion in 1981? Now by no means am I a fashion guru as I have the same multi-colored hooded flannel since I was a senior in high school. But come on, this thing was putrid. But it was Rod Stewart and when you’re with Rachel Hunter in the 80’s I guess you can wear whatever you want.
And then BAM! The screen goes blank again. I mean, nothing. It was like you get that Emergency Broadcast Warning that this is just a test screen, but without the warning or sound. Yeah, someone in the control room better get on that STAT!
The Who’s “You Better You Bet” was the next video.. Wow, that certainly is not Keith Moon. I think the Who should have taken a cue from the best band ever (The Mighty Led Zeppelin as if you didn’t already know) and gracefully called it quits when their engine died. Like Bonham, Moon was what made the Who go and when he died, they should have stopped. Also if they had stopped we would not have had to see Roger Daltrey in this video wearing a scarf. Was it cold where they were filming? Everyone else seemed to be normally dressed (for the early 80s).
Periodically, in between videos Mark Goodman would come on letting the viewers know about a Dial Position Sticker that they could order. Now, I believe he was talking about a sticker that you physically put on your fm tuner that would let you know what dial position MTV was at.. Not sure this actually took off.. Probably a little bit more like Teddy Ruxpin than Cabbage Patch Dolls..
After another annoying few seconds of dead air and gray screen, a Mountain Dew commercial comes on. Terrible song, but to be honest the can hasn’t changed much.. and I have a special place in my heart for the Dew as it got me through some very long days as I spent time in the NICU in Boston with my boys when they were born and then had to drive from Ayer to work a full day in Worcester and then back to Boston to visit and then home to Ayer 5 days a week. Do the Dew!
PH. D. “Little Suzie’s on the Up” was next. The Video started and it was 7 seconds before any audio came on.. I think there are some kinks that still need to be worked out.. I can honestly say it didn’t matter because I have never heard this song or have heard of this artist in my entire life.. and I consider myself pretty good at 80s music.. It did have a rather attractive blond in it though wearing the #69 on her back from a dance competition. I wonder if that was intentional..
Cliff Richard’s “We Don’t Talk Anymore” was next.. Very 70’s.. Think John Travolta’s video for “Let Her In” complete with a smoke machine and everything.. You Tube it if you have to. Pretty funny.
The Pretenders actually make a second appearance in the first hour with “Brass in Pocket. This song is one of my wife’s least favorite songs.. It’s like nails on a blackboard.. Kind of like if I hear Pink Cadillac by Springsteen or Main Street by Bob Seger. I have learned to be so quick at the radio when it comes on that they can barely get that twangy guitar riff out before I change the station. It’s the little things we do that count the most right?
Random thought: In the restaurant window where Chrissy Hynde works there is a big poster advertising Lucky Strike cigarettes.. What a difference 30 years makes..
Todd Rundgren’s “Time Heals” is next. Not exactly what I would think of when I hear Todd Rundgren’s name. He also used Salvador Dali imagery “melted clocks” when talking about time. Probably a little sophisticated for the audience watching.. Certainly would be for today’s MTV audience. Regardless, his Mork from Ork approved space suit I guess was cool in 1981. But he was dancing around (I think that was dancing) while the screen had what acid-heads call “tracers” so I’m not really sure what was going on.
Commercial for Chewels. Absolutely the most DISGUSTING gum I have ever had.. I would rather eat 50 pieces of the Fortune gum that usually got stuck in your teeth and lost its flavor after 2 minutes.. But those fortunes were awesome.. I got this fortune one time that said you will have a great day today.. Unfortunately I still got the crap kicked out of me at recess so I guess they weren’t that awesome..
Styx was up next with “Rockin Paradise”. Basically they took the “Best of Times” music and some of the lyrics as well and set it to some stage show. So after the beginning part it becomes a totally different song and they do this elaborate stage production. Why didn’t they just shoot a video for Best of Times if they were going to use the music and half the lyrics? After the stage show they just rock out, well as much as Dennis DeYoung and Tommy Shaw can rock out.. Tommy Shaw also of Damn Yankees fame with the 1 hit wonder with THE NUGE on High Enough.. Very underrated song of the early 90’s in my estimation.. but then again, no one really cares what I think..
It all comes together with a commercial for Atari. Loved it. It totally brings me back to my Intellivision days. Oh that was a game system all right. You had those little flimsy pieces of microfilm that came with each game. You slid them into the controller and that was how you knew what button did what. Ah, good times..
Robin Lane and the Chartbusters “When Things Go Wrong” from their self-titled album. Let’s move on.
After the video thankfully ends, there’s a little 90 second vignette about the Ramones. Not too bad, but lacked any real substance or information at all. Then, it shifts to Mark Goodman who proceeds to introduce the next video, Styx with Rockin Paradise. OOPS!!
And that’s how the first hour ended.. The funny thing is that they don’t even play any music videos any more. That’s reserved for their other properties like MTV2, MTV3, etc. Much like in “Dodgeball”, with ESPN8, “the Ocho” there might be MTV11, “the Onze” one day and maybe THEY will be playing videos. But I doubt it.
As I sit here being all nostalgic about something that happened 30 years ago when I was 5, I realize that 30 years from now my boys will be about my age and MTV will turn 60. Ugh, I feel old..