What We Learned From Watching MTV’s First Hour

MTV's first broadcast hour was proof, once again, that the '80s were really weird.

“Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.”

Those words launched a musical and pop culture revolution like none other in our lifetime when they heralded the arrival of MTV on August 1, 1981. For better or worse, it’s inconceivable to imagine what the past three decades would have been like without it. The world would never have experienced 120 Minutes, Remote Control, Liquid Television, Beavis and Butthead, The Real World, and on and on and on and on and on. Michael Jackson and Madonna would have been stars no matter what. But would their stars have shined as brightly without the pair being heavily rotated on the network? Miami Vice, a series which was sold to NBC on the strength of the two-word premise of “MTV Cops” could have never come to be. Then we would have been denied Glenn Frey’s “You Belong to the City.” And do you want to live in a world without that foreverjam? Because I sure as hell don’t.

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MTV has shaped and permeated all aspects of American life in ways that we have only yet begun to fully understand. Personally, I’m of the belief that the world is a much better place for the ways it helped expand the musical horizons of countless viewers (but then again, I created a blog dedicated to the fashion choices of Dave Kendall, so I’m hardly unbiased here).

I watched this first hour with rapt attention. Here’s what I learned.

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The video for “Video Killed the Radio Star” is absolutely terrifying.

Granted, I felt this more as a child then I do as the more or less grown ass man that I am now, but there is something about the alien-like appearance of The Buggles that, when combined with the general low-budget feel of this video, is disquieting. It’s also very troubling how the young girl is transformed into one of those weird space ladies who gets sucked away to an unknown fate in the pnuematic tube that has become her prison.

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One thing about this song that especially creeps me out are the lyrics “we hear the playback and it seems so long ago,” words that are a subtle and devastating reminder that life passes in an instant and it is later than we think. Ooh ooh.

Pat Benatar was a fashion icon from day one.

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The second video ever to air on MTV was Pat Benatar’s “You Better Run,” which some view as a sly jab at radio station owners from MTV execs who wanted them to know that the days of FM dominance were suddenly over. Ehh maybe, but my personal opinion is that they just kind of wanted to show off Pat’s killer stripey outfit. It’s no wonder so many girls at Ridgemont High were sporting the Pat Benatar look.

The first commercial ever aired on MTV was for a school binder.

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And I can’t think of anything that is less rock and roll than this.

Figuring out why anyone won’t dance with Rod Stewart in the “She Won’t Dance With Me” video.

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About as enjoyable as having your stomach pumped, this clip finds Rod the Bod cavorting amongst a stardrop that is seemingly made up of disused Wiffle balls as he sings about his inability to find someone to cut a rug with while wearing the type of turquoise jumpsuit that you’d find at a garage sale held by Crockett and/or Tubbs.

We do think you’re sexy Rod, we really do. But when your idea of dancing is just moving lamely back and forth and back and forth, not so much.

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The creation of Empire Records‘ Rex Manning was clearly influenced by this Cliff Richard video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rt_n09c9tF0

The highlight of this cheesy tour de force from the beloved English crooner comes at the 1:15 mark, when Richards’ oddly disembodied head begins singing to an infinity mirror of his torsos. Say no more, mon amour.

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I want to eat at the diner where Chrissie Hynde’s character works in the “Brass in Pocket” video.

This special (special!) video is an early story video for MTV, in which we see The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde playing a beautiful-yet-pensive waitress at a diner where she strangely is unable to make her, make her, make her customers notice. Actually, now that we think of it, in terms of the actual serving food part of her job as depicted in this video, she is kind of terrible. Good thing the singing thing worked out. (For more music videos partially set in greasy spoons, check out A-ha’s “Take On Me,” Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” Weird Al Yankovic’s “Eat It,” R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon,” and Radiohead’s “High and Dry”).

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The members of Styx as seen in the video for “Rockin’ the Paradise” look like they just came from their dead end jobs at the lamest ice cream parlor ever.

But when you can rock this hard, do you really need to make cool videos? Apparently not.

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The first-ever MTV news report described The Ramones as “sullen pizza addicts.”

At the 5:00 mark in the above clip, original VJ Mark Goodman (that hair!) introduces viewers to The Ramones in the weirdest, most quasi-dismissive way possible. It was the first time MTV dropped the ball on showcasing how brilliant a band truly was, but it wouldn’t be the last…

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Chris Cummins is a writer and comics historian who wants people to upload Dave Kendall-era episodes of 120 Minutes to the Internet for posterity. If you do so, contact him on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion to let him know.