MTV Turns 40: Here Are The First Ten Videos They Played
The cable network had only a few viewers when they debuted back in August of 1981, but they soon became a cultural icon. Here's a look back at their opening day.
Even though viewership was low, most everyone knows that the first song played on MTV was 'Video Killed The Radio Star', the song that ushered in the era of the VJ by the Buggles.
But what were the next nine songs played by MTV on their first day.
While some of the artists were well established (The Who, Rod Stewart and REO Speedwagon), others were brand new and barely known. Some would become household names (Pat Benatar), others would never be heard from again (PhD).
Song 2 -- "You Better Run" -- Pat Benatar
While Benatar had been a staple of rick radio, her uniquely trendy style propelled her to superstardom for the rest of the '80s at least. This video showed off her talents as a female front person.
Song 3 -- "She Won't Dance With Me" -- Rod Stewart
Sir Roderick was a pioneer of videos, having done a few in the late '70s for play on British TV and shows like 'Don Kirshner's Rock Concert'. This retro rocker made us remember that Rod was still one of the best showman in the rock era, and recalled some of his songs with the band Faces.
Song 4 -- "You Better You Bet" -- The Who
The Who was another band who made the most of the video era. While they had lost their edge after the death of wild man drummer Keith Moon, the new version of the Who capitalized on the good looks of lead singer Roger Daltrey, who now displayed an air of sophistication.
Song 5 -- "Little Suzi's On The Up" -- PhD
MTV's very reason for existence was to get airplay for bands that were being ignored by tight playlisted radio stations. PhD was such a band. This song didn't quite break well for the British band, although Tesla would have an American hit with hit five years later in 1986.
Song 6 -- "We Don't Talk Anymore" -- Cliff Richard
While MTV execs wanted to promote new artists, they knew the key to getting early viewers was by playing familiar songs. Longtime British pop star Cliff Richard, like a lot of British groups, had already begun making videos, so this top 10 US hit fit in and got the network some ready made fans.
Song 7 -- "Brass In Pocket" The Pretenders
Here's a band that was tailor made for MTV's early incarnation. They had an interesting sound and even more interesting looking lead singer in Chrissie Hynde. This song was another familiar tune to the audience, having been a hit in 1979. But it was a brand of new music that was having a tough time getting through on rock radio. MTV would change that.
To say MTV was a huge boom for female bands would be an understatement. The aforementioned Benatar, the GoGos, the Divinyls, and later the Bangles were on the cutting edge of using their creativity to get more airplay.
Song 8 -- "Time Heals" -- Todd Rundgren
Rundgren was another creative genius who knew how to take advantage of the video format. He was also someone who pushed the boundaries of the radio formats of the time, and the early years of MTV were a perfect time for him to shine. In this video, Todd puts himself into great works of art, while using some early CGI technology to play with his face.
Song 9 -- "Take It On The Run" -- REO Speedwagon
While Rundgren and some other bands were willing to get into some weird effects on thier videos, good old standard rockers like REO, who had just released their blockbuster album "Hi Infidelity", were content to show video footage of their concerts. This would be good for the first couple of years of MTV, but later, pushing the envelope would be required to garner attention.
Song 10 -- "Rocking The Paradise" -- Styx
Another staple of rock radio, Styx, was always into theatrics during the Dennis DeYoung era, some might say to their detriment. Their Paradise Theater album pushed the limits of the concept album, and showed their willingness to experiment, even as their career was in overdrive. Notice how MTV, now known for its debuting cutting edge bands like the Cure, relied on classic rock favorites to get out of the box.
And if I make make a note before I go: while the Buggles predicted their demise, radio stars are still with us (barely), and it was VJs who have gone the way of the dodo bird, overtaken by kids on TikTok doing things like dancing and catching Karens yelling at grocery store clerks. Sorry, Martha Quinn.
So do you remember the names of all five of the first VJs on MTV?