The 120 Minutes Archive Compiles Clips & Playlists from 956 Episodes of MTV’s Alternative Music Show (1986–2013)

In the first cou­ple years after MTV’s 1981 debut, the fledg­ling cable net­work more or less repro­duced the 70’s album-ori­ent­ed rock radio for­mat with video accom­pa­ni­ment, to the exclu­sion of a num­ber of emerg­ing pop­u­lar artists (a fact David Bowie bemoaned in ’83). In the mid-80s, the net­work diver­si­fied: Michael Jackson’s “Bil­lie Jean” broke the col­or bar­ri­er in 1984, and in the fol­low­ing years, the net­work moved toward edgi­er music with shows like Headbanger’s Ball in ’85 (orig­i­nal­ly Heavy Met­al Mania) and, a few years lat­er, Yo! MTV Raps.

In 1986, anoth­er show appeared that solid­i­fied MTV’s status—for a few years at least—as a gen­uine source for new, “alter­na­tive” music, before that term became an emp­ty mar­ket­ing word. Tucked away in a mid­night to 2 A.M. slot, 120 Min­utes ini­tial­ly “guid­ed view­ers through the late ‘80s col­lege rock land­scape, which was large­ly inspired by trends hap­pen­ing in the UK at the time.”

So writes Tyler at, who hosts the huge­ly impres­sive 120 Min­utes Archive, a recre­ation of the 27-year run of the two-hour music video, news, and inter­view show that broke many an “alter­na­tive” artist in the U.S. and gave many more a plat­form to pro­mote their music, caus­es, and per­son­al­i­ties. Enter the archive here.

I well remem­ber stay­ing up late, the vol­ume turned down as low as pos­si­ble so as not to wake the fam­i­ly, and catch­ing videos for the Pix­ies’ “Here Comes Your Man” (above) and R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World (As We Know It),” among so many oth­er bands art-pop, new wave, post-punk, indus­tri­al, etc. The show was like a video ana­logue to Trouser Press—and brows­ing the online data­base of that “’bible’ of alter­na­tive rock” will give you a good sense of 120 Min­utes’ breadth. Though it fea­tured a very healthy mix of hard­core, elec­tron­ic, and new wave music from both sides of the pond, the show often seemed to be dom­i­nat­ed by British bands like the Cure (whose Robert Smith once guest host­ed), Depeche Mode, the Psy­che­del­ic Furs, and (sec­ond from top) Big Audio Dyna­mite, Mick Jones’ post-Clash project, which Lou Reed dis­cuss­es briefly in the clip at the top from his 1986 stint as a guest host. (See sev­er­al more clips of his host­ing here.)

In the 90s, 120 Min­utes became a show­case for much more home­grown prod­uct as the “blender of post-punk, goth, indus­tri­al, and jan­gle-rock gave way… to a coa­lesced grunge move­ment” after the seis­mic debut of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spir­it” in 1991, with the likes of Mud­honey, Soundgar­den, the Dandy Warhols, and the Smash­ing Pump­kins tak­ing over for much of the British new wave. Those who came of age in the 90s will remem­ber the show’s host Matt Pin­field­’s obses­sive, rock critic’s approach to “the rise and fall of alter­na­tive rock.” Soon, the show became a heav­i­ly eclec­tic mix: Brit pop arrived (along with the bag­gy Mad­ch­ester of the Hap­py Mon­days, Stone Ros­es, etc.), and “post-grunge bands, left of cen­ter singer-song­writ­ers, west coast ska-inspired bands, and alter­na­tive hip hop acts” joined the playlist.

The mid-nineties seem like gold­en years in ret­ro­spect. Flush with cash, record com­pa­nies threw mon­ey at any­thing vague­ly Nir­vana-shaped, which enabled a num­ber of excel­lent bands and artists to break out of their local scenes and into larg­er stu­dios and stages like the trav­el­ing cir­cus of Lol­la­palooza. (The sit­u­a­tion also pro­duced a drag of deriv­a­tive, dumb­ed-down awful­ness.) Scroll through the playlists Tyler C has com­piled for 1994, for exam­ple, a year I fond­ly, most­ly, remem­ber, to get a sense of the range of artists and gen­res the show embraced by this time—from the ham­mer­ing indus­tri­al-met­al of Min­istry (above) to the hazy, ethe­re­al psych-folk of Mazzy Star (below). Post-Nir­vana “alter­na­tive rock” went so main­stream that the net­work even­tu­al­ly ran a com­pan­ion show every week­night called Alter­na­tive Nation, so named despite the fact that “alter­na­tive” came to mean pre­cise­ly the oppo­site of the out­sider sta­tus it had once described.

The boom times couldn’t last. As the mil­len­ni­um waned, so did the hey­day of alt-rock music videos. Real­i­ty TV and bub­blegum pop took over. “In the era of TRL,” writes Tyler C, “the future of 120 Min­utes on MTV was uncer­tain.” As MTV rel­e­gat­ed music videos—once its rai­son d’e­tre—to the mar­gins, 120 Min­utes became MTV’s “de fac­to rock show,” then moved to MTV 2, then off the air alto­geth­er in 2003 after a 17-year run. Then, as indie rock ascend­ed to pop­u­lar­i­ty, the show was revived for a 2003–2011 run as Sub­ter­ranean and again as 120 Min­utes until 2013.

Though Tyler C’s exhaus­tive archive con­tains few actu­al clips from the show, it does doc­u­ment 120 Min­utes’ entire his­to­ry, from its under­ground late 80s incep­tion, through the main­stream 90s, and into the sub­dued 2000’s, with playlists from each episode and, writes Buz­zfeed, “his­to­ries of what bands played, descrip­tions of tours the show appeared on, and anec­dotes where pos­si­ble.” You can watch full episodes of the show’s last cou­ple years with Matt Pin­field on MTV Hive (Many, like this one, broad­cast from New York’s Cake Shop).

The archive, Tyler told Buz­zfeed, res­onates with Gen X’ers because “it’s all about nostalgia”—and I can cer­tain­ly tes­ti­fy to that effect—and appeals to younger peo­ple “because that era of music in the ’90s was so impor­tant. It was the age of EVERYTHING alter­na­tive.” For those of us who lived through the decade, and who aged out of MTV’s demo­graph­ic around the time that Tyler aged in, it’s also an oppor­tu­ni­ty to catch up with lat­er sea­sons of the show we prob­a­bly missed. They may be as essen­tial someday—in their own way—as the ones we so wist­ful­ly recall.

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The First Live Per­for­mance of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spir­it” (1991)

Jim Jarmusch’s Anti-MTV Music Videos for Talk­ing Heads, Neil Young, Tom Waits & Big Audio Dyna­mite

The First 10 Videos Played on MTV: Rewind the Video­tape to August 1, 1981

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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