Watch 700 Videos Nostalgia-Inducing Videos from the Early Days of MTV

‘We’re gonna do for TV what FM did for radio’–Mark Good­man, the first ever MTV VJ.

When I was grow­ing up, MTV was that rare com­mod­i­ty. Not all cable providers had it, and those that did charged an extra fee to get it. That meant there were cer­tain kids in school that we were friends with just because their par­ents had it. (Sor­ry Tom, no hard feel­ings!)

This exhaus­tive (and some­times exhaust­ing) YouTube playlist offers 710 videos that were sta­ples of the chan­nel in its 1980s hey­day, right through the ‘90s when it slow­ly mor­phed into a lifestyle chan­nel and VH‑1 and then M2 picked up the slack of end­less­ly rotat­ing mem­o­ries.

Music videos had been around long before MTV. From Sco­pi­tones to the Bea­t­les’ pro­mo films for “Pen­ny Lane” and such, visu­als and pop music were nat­ur­al allies. And through the ‘70s and ear­ly ‘80s, music pro­grams mixed live stu­dio per­for­mances with videos often. But not 24/7 often. And not, as the the first VJs pro­claimed on August 1, 1981, in *stereo*. This was a big deal for a lot of peo­ple.

After intro­duc­ing the crew one at a time–Mark Good­man, Alan Hunter, Martha Quinn, J.J. Jack­son, and Nina Black­wood, all soon to become house­hold names–the first video rolled: The Bug­gles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.”

Ear­ly view­ers soon dis­cov­ered this how­ev­er: MTV didn’t real­ly have a lot of videos, and in that first year, cer­tain ones got played more than their pop­u­lar­i­ty deserved. (They seemed to play Saga’s “On the Loose” once every hour.) The oth­er thing view­ers noticed: there was a lot, a LOT of hard rock and Adult Ori­ent­ed Rock as they used to say in radio mar­ket­ing. After the new wave of the Bug­gles came Pat Benatar, Rod Stew­art, REO Speed­wag­on, Styx, .38 Spe­cial, April Wine, Ger­ry Raf­fer­ty. (To be fair, there was also The Cars, Split Enz (!), and The Pre­tenders.

And then there were the pre­dom­i­nant­ly white faces in all the videos. MTV was designed to appeal to rock fans and not, ahem, “urban lis­ten­ers”. Elec­tron­ic music, dance music, r’n’b, and oth­er gen­res were notice­ably absent. (It took pub­lic sham­ing by David Bowie and the unde­ni­able pop jug­ger­nauts of Michael Jack­son and Prince to change that.)

By 1982, the chan­nel had expand­ed for many rea­sons. One of them was the amount of bril­liant videos com­ing out of the UK, shot by direc­tors who seemed to real­ly get the poten­tial of the art form. Tim Pope, Rus­sell Mulc­ahy (who shot most of Duran Duran’s videos), and the duo of Annabel Jankel and Rocky Mor­ton brought in a knowl­edge of film his­to­ry, ani­ma­tion, and sur­re­al­ism to their videos, which com­ple­ment­ed the mix and match fash­ion of the New Roman­tics.

But on both sides of the Atlantic, artists were real­iz­ing the poten­tial of the visu­al ele­ment to their entire iden­ti­ties. Plus, there was mon­ey. Lots and lots of mon­ey. (Some of it even went to the musi­cians!)

As the ‘80s came to a close, MTV had changed music cul­ture for bet­ter and for worse. It had ded­i­cat­ed pro­grams to rap music, to alter­na­tive music, to heavy met­al, and turned Spring Break into a rite of pas­sage. And there were still some good years left in it.

Music videos are every­where on YouTube now, but atom­ized just like every­thing else. You forge your own path as you go down the rab­bit hole. They still have the pow­er to shock, like last year’s “This Is Amer­i­ca” by Child­ish Gam­bi­no, or unite the coun­try very briefly like “Old Town Road” by Lil NasX. But what is miss­ing, real­ly, is that rep­e­ti­tion. We all knew what Michael Jack­son looked like because “Bil­ly Jean” and “Thriller” were on our TVs all the time. Same with Madon­na. Now we know our stars from their social media, from their mag­a­zine spreads, from their live shows, and some­times, just some­times, from these lit­tle music films that used to be the cen­ter of the uni­verse.

Watch the com­plete playlist of 700 ear­ly MTV videos here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch David Bowie Take MTV to Task for Fail­ing to Play Music Videos by Black Artists (1983)

Watch Queen’s Drag­tas­tic “I Want to Break Free” Video: It Was More Than Amer­i­ca & MTV Could Han­dle (1984)

Michel Gondry’s Finest Music Videos for Björk, Radio­head & More: The Last of the Music Video Gods

David Fincher’s Five Finest Music Videos: From Madon­na to Aero­smith

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.