August 1, 1981: MTV hits the airwaves.
You know the first video, “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles, everyone knows that. If you really want to impress people in bars, you should know the first five songs: 1. The Buggles, 2. “You Better Run” Pat Benatar, 3. “She Won’t Dance With Me” Rod Stewart, 4. “You Better You Bet” The Who (also the first video played twice) and 5. “Little Suzi’s On the Up” Ph.D. (I was just kidding, it won’t impress anyone if you know that, not even Martha Quinn.)
It was certainly groundbreaking television and it changed music at least for awhile. You still had to be good, but it didn’t hurt your odds if you looked like Duran Duran.
It was an astonishing change to rock ‘n roll, which had been around for roughly 25 years to that point. (Imagine that, rock n’ roll has been around a lot longer post MTV than before it.)
There was about as 12-year stretch from MTVs beginning where it was almost impossible to hear a song and not think of the video. There was endless debate about whether that hurt or helped music. Some said it helped cement the artist’s vision, others felt a song should conjure up its own images. In the end nobody really gave a crap because it was like arguing about what flavor of popsicle was better. In the end MTV did very little to change whether or not a song was any good or not. (Billy Idol’s “Cradle of Love” and Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do” being huge exceptions.
Inevitably MTV grew into a massively huge conglomerate, with reality shows (that are about as real as a Robert Palmer video) awards shows and shows about pregnant 15-year olds. Or something. I don’t watch it anymore. They don’t make it for me, I’m 48. But there was a certainly a time when I wanted my MTV.