MTV 30th anniversary: 10 music videos the channel played on its very first day
MTV did, in fact, contribute to the shift from audio to video content. Since its launch, MTV has managed to revolutionize the music and tv industries
MTV became a household name in the '80s and '90s following its highly successful launch on August 1, 1981. Its first day on the air featured some of the most iconic songs from 1980, but it wasn't all smooth sailing. MTV, after all, was a rather ambitious, experimental project at the time, one that attempted to push for more video content as opposed to relying solely on the radio to help promote new music. But despite running into a few technical difficulties, the first 24-hour video music channel launched as planned, playing a total of 116 unique videos and helping birth 'the music video'. Since then, music videos have gone on the become one of the most important components of the music industry and MTV sealed itself as one of the most revolutionary channels to come into existence.
MTV's first day on the air, which included hits like Phil Collins' 'In the Air Tonight' and April Wine's 'Just Between You and Me', would later be rebroadcast on VH1 Classic in 2006 and once more in 2011 in celebration of the channel's 30th anniversary. Now, nearly four decades after it first launched, we revisit the first ten music videos that played on MTV's first day which helped usher in a new era for music worldwide.
The Buggles - 'Video Killed the Radio Star'
At exactly 12:01 am, MTV launched, rather ironically, with the video for 'Video Killed the Radio Star'. This track was specifically chosen to represent the channel's concept, which aimed to compete with radio as the primary mode for sharing new music.
Ranked as one of the greatest one-hit wonders of all time, the music video for 'Video Killed the Radio Star' opened with a young girl in front of a radio, with a black and white shot of Buggles member Trevor Horn singing into a radio-era microphone soon being superimposed onto the opening shot. By the first chorus, the radio blows up and with the second verse, the young girl is transported into the future where she meets Horn and model Virginia Hey, clad in a silver jumpsuit and lowered into frame wearing a clear plastic tube. Fellow member Geoff Downes, vocalists Debi Doss and Linda Jardim and Hans Zimmer also feature in the video, which was filmed in one day. Zimmer would later recall that the video drew harsh criticism even before it aired for its depiction of violence in the radio exploding scene.
In 2000, this video became the one-millionth video to be aired on MTV and in 2010, the video was used to mark the shutdown of MTV Philippines. Speaking about the video in an interview with People Magazine, MTV co-founder Bob Pittman once said it "made an aspirational statement." He added, "We didn't expect to be competitive with radio, but it was certainly a sea-change kind of video."
Pat Benatar - 'You Better Run'
Despite receiving several positive reviews from critics, including Billboard calling it a "strong follow-up to 'Good Lovin''", The Young Rascal's 'You Better Run' sadly did not live up to its predecessor when it came to chart performance. Nonetheless, many believed this song was the band at their peak, with AllMusic's Matthew Greenwald calling it "a classic garage rocker with a punkish energy [that] showcased the band's live chops to a great effect, as well as Felix Cavaliere's awesome soul-inflected vocals." Benatar's version didn't manage to chart any higher than the original, but its video did earn the second spot on MTV's launch day. Moreover, it was popular enough to be played twice.
Rod Stewart - 'She Won't Dance With Me'
It should come as no surprise that Stewart is on this list, considering his popularity back in the '60s and '70s as well as his new wave soft rock sound in the '80s that was all the rage at the time. But what's truly remarkable is that Stewart made a total of 16 appearances on MTV's first day with 11 of his videos being played, thanks to MTV opting to use a rotating system that allowed for more popular videos to play again throughout the day
The Who - 'You Better You Bet'
'You Better You Bet' was a huge hit upon its release in 1981 and it has since gone on to become one of The Who's most recognizable songs. It was also the last single from the band to reach the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 18. In liner notes posted to TheWho.net, member Pete Townshend shared the song, written about his then-girlfriend, was "a pop song, really, it's just a pop song." Hard to argue with that, since the super catchy and fun song would go on to air five times on MTV's first day.
Ph.D. - 'Little Suzi's on the Up'
The comical video for this track features keyboardist Tony Hymas on a 'roll-out' keyboard, lead singer Jim Diamond as a butcher who chops meat and dances with a pig with a number on it, much like one would see on participants at a ballroom dancing competition. We also see 'Suzi' getting her hair done and dancing with a hairdryer. The video continues in this vein getting odder and nonsensical as it moves along until the protagonists finally arrive at their dance, where they score a 10 and win. Their prize is a jar of pickled eggs, a running gag throughout the video. The hilarious video played three times on MTV's opening day.
Cliff Richard - 'We Don't Talk Anymore'
Released in 1979 just before Richard's 39th birthday and just as it was announced he would be awarded the OBE for his service to music, the singer dropped 'We Don't Talk Anymore', a song that truly cemented his comeback and helped him sail through the '80s and '90s. This single, in particular, was his biggest worldwide seller and its run on the Billboard Hot 100 extended so far past its release that Richard became the first act to reach the top 40 in the '50s, '60s, '70s, and '80s.
The Pretenders - 'Brass in Pocket'
The band's third single and the first to earn them mainstream success, 'Brass in Pocket' was named after a conversation about dry cleaning that member Chrissie Hynde overheard. Despite it later being a success, the song almost didn't see the light of day because Hynde wasn't a fan of it. In an interview with The Observer, she shared, "When we recorded the song I wasn't very happy with it and told my producer that he could release it over my dead body." Thankfully the song came out and Hynde remained unharmed.
Todd Rundgren - 'Time Heals'
'Time Heals' was one of two singles released off of Rundgren's ninth studio album 'Healing', which revolved around themes like spirituality and the human condition. Rundgren was no stranger to exploring such philosophical themes via his music, but this was his first time delving so heavily into it, with every track off 'Healing' focusing on these overarching themes as well as the album artwork being based on the Qabalistic Tree of Life overlaid by a treble clef, signalling the relationship between spirituality and music.
REO Speedwagon - 'Take It on the Run'
The video for 'Take It on the Run', taken from REO Speedwagon's 'Live Infidelity' home video release, was the first concert video to be aired on MTV. It was one of the few moments MTV faced technical difficulties during its first day, with the video being interrupted after 12 seconds. During these moments the screen went black and nothing but a 200 Hz tone could be heard before it cut back to the studio and the video.
Styx - 'Rockin' the Paradise'
'A.D. 1928 / Rockin' the Paradise' was the fourth single off Styx's 1981 triple-platinum album 'Paradise Theatre'. The single was released specifically to rock stations and peaked at number 8 on the Billboard Rock Chart. The track kicks off with 'A.D. 1928', a short, piano-led song by member Dennis DeYoung that quickly segues into the song 'Rockin' the Paradise'. The music video for the song would earn the tenth spot on MTV's first day on the air.