Hans Zimmer Was in the First-Ever Video Aired on MTV, The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”

More than four decades after its release, The Bug­gles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” is usu­al­ly cred­it­ed with more pop-cul­tur­al impor­tance than musi­cal influ­ence. Per­haps that befits the song whose video was the first-ever aired on MTV. But if you lis­ten close­ly to the song itself in The Bug­gles’ record­ing (as opposed to the con­cur­rent­ly pro­duced ver­sion by Bruce Wool­ley and the Cam­era Club, which also has its cham­pi­ons), you’ll hear an unex­pect­ed degree of both com­po­si­tion­al and instru­men­tal com­plex­i­ty. You’ll also have a sense of a fair­ly wide vari­ety of inspi­ra­tions, one that Bug­gles co-founder Trevor Horn has since described as includ­ing not just oth­er music but lit­er­a­ture as well.

“I’d read J. G. Bal­lard and had this vision of the future where record com­pa­nies would have com­put­ers in the base­ment and man­u­fac­ture artists,” said Horn in a 2018 Guardian inter­view. “I’d heard Kraftwerk’s The Man-Machine and video was com­ing. You could feel things chang­ing.” The Bug­gles, Horn and col­lab­o­ra­tor Geoff Downes employed all the tech­nol­o­gy they could mar­shal. And by his reck­on­ing, “Video Killed the Radio Star” would take 26 play­ers to re-cre­ate live. Pay­ing prop­er homage to Kraftwerk requires not just using machin­ery, but get­ting at least a lit­tle Teu­ton­ic; hence, per­haps, the brief appear­ance of Hans Zim­mer at 2:50 in the song’s video.

“‘Hey, I like this idea of com­bin­ing visu­als and music,” Zim­mer recent­ly recalled hav­ing thought at the time. “This is going to be where I want to go.” And so he did: today, of course, we know Zim­mer as per­haps the most famous film com­pos­er alive, sought after by some of the pre­em­i­nent film­mak­ers of our time. He and Horn would actu­al­ly col­lab­o­rate again in the ear­ly nine­teen-nineties on the sound­track to Bar­ry Levin­son’s Toys (whose oth­er con­trib­u­tors includ­ed no less an eight­ies video icon than Thomas Dol­by, who’d played key­boards on the Bruce Wool­ley “Video Killed the Radio Star”). By that time Horn had put per­form­ing behind him and turned super-pro­duc­er for artists like Yes, Seal, and the Pet Shop Boys. The Bug­gles burnt out quick­ly, but one doubts that Horn or Zim­mer lose much sleep over it today.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Watch the First Two Hours of MTV’s Inau­gur­al Broad­cast (August 1, 1981)

How Hans Zim­mer Cre­at­ed the Oth­er­world­ly Sound­track for Dune

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

Hear 9 Hours of Hans Zim­mer Sound­tracks: Dunkirk, Inter­stel­lar, Incep­tion, The Dark Knight & Much More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

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!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Jonathan says:

    The Plas­tic Age is an excel­lent album, and con­tains themes that “Video” explored. The com­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing of music, art, and peo­ple. It’s a gem. and is a high­ly rec­om­mend­ed lis­ten!

  • Victor says:

    Bug­gles did­n’t “burn out,” their mem­bers went on to oth­er great­ness. Horn has had a great career, as has Downes start­ing Asia and GTR, with fre­quent and cur­rent res­i­dence with Yes.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.