Reading through I Want My MTV, a recent book by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum, I learned that being an MTV Executive was nearly as much fun as being an actual rock star. While MTV turned an audio medium into a visual one, they managed to alert young people to the fact that there were new bands out there, something the kids wouldn't learn from commercial radio where it wasn't unusual to feel like you'd stumbled into a world where stations were apparently designed to make you hate music.
Anyhow, why not list some of the fine, fine groups -- and some not so fine -- that appeared regularly on the channel in its early years? Surely, this list will make you want to watch some music!
24) Blotto: Lucky for this Albany, NY band, they had a video for their song "I Wanna Be A Lifeguard," because MTV needed videos to play and they didn't care a whit who it was, as long as they could get ahold of it. The world needs more Blotto.
22) Run-DMC: It's no secret that MTV didn't really know what to do with rappers. Surely, the kids didn't want to see or hear this stuff. No commercial potential. But if Run-DMC were paired up with Aerosmith, a hard rock band from the 1970s who were down on their luck, to perform the 1975 'Smith track "Walk This Way," well, who wouldn't want to hear that? Besides, hip-hop and old Aerosmith fans? At that point, there were more kids who weren't fans of hip-hop and/or Aerosmith to make this a surefire hit!
20) Twisted Sister: The P.M.R.C. understood that left unattended, Twister Sister would force men to wear women's clothes and heavy amounts of make-up. However, by drawing attention to the evils of the Twisted Sister, the P.M.R.C. ensured our kids would survive and never fall down that slippery slope where sex with farm animals is all but guaranteed. Easy for you to scoff. You don't have a "hot goat" in the family.
18) U2: Bono would be the King of England if his Irish ancestry didn't chuck that dream. Instead, he had to settle for being the singer in a rock 'n' roll band, so it's up to him to make that seem more important than it is. Check! Long before Obama figured out that "Hope" thing, U2 were on it like teenagers on mullets. Don't you hate positivity?
16) Aerosmith: By the mid-1980s, Aerosmith were back on top with the help of Run-DMC dusting off their ages-old "Walk This Way" tune. From there, they were on their own. Well, not exactly. Professional songwriters were brought in to help the group write something people would sing in arenas the world over and it worked. "Dude (Looks Like A Lady)," "Angel" and "Rag Doll" all charted and proved that Desmond Child, who co-wrote two of the three, was one of the 1980s most successful artists without leaving his office.
14) Winger: Sure, Beavis and Butthead made fun of these guys and their loser friend wore their T-shirt, but, AHEM, MTV had to play the video in the first place in order for the joke to make any sense. I have a soft spot for bands who are unfairly weighted down with the sins of the many. I mean, there's always...
12) Heart: At least they had the hair! Though the video age perverted the images of the many bands who struggled to adapt, Heart actually excelled at polishing up their sound and their look. Ann Wilson has a voice that can move mountains and that's all that matters in the end. Had she performed better material with less mannered productions, I would've liked them better, but they likely would be living in their cars.
10) The Replacements: The "videos" they made for their 1985 album Tim featured a stirring shot of a stereo speaker. For "Bastards of Young," the speaker is kicked over, while for "Left of the Dial" it is not. MTV didn't care much for them. I can't understand why.
8) George Michael: George Michael, not the kid on Arrested Development, left Wham!, taking success and money away from Andrew Ridgeley, who has been linked to Bananarama's Keren Woodward. Michael is considered one of the world's best-selling music artists, which is slightly askew against new artists, since no one buys music anymore and money is mostly worthless. Dude, have you seen my bunker?
6) A Flock of Seagulls: It's been said their album was actually very good. But if any one group is said to symbolize the lack of substance of the early MTV movement, it's these exciting-hair boys. Unfair, completely. "I Ran" may be the one song everyone knows them by. But we should all have one song that people love as much as this one.
4) Duran Duran: I sometimes wonder what the 1980s would've been like had it not been for MTV. Could radio have held on and promoted the likes of Asia until we all surrendered? Or would young people the world over demand something more? Metal always had its devoted army who were used to being ignored, but pop fans thrive on a music's pop-ness. I remember the excitement in a young girl's eye when DD were mentioned. And I remember the scorn of the alternative crowd. Can't we all just get along?
2) Michael Jackson: It's said that Michael Jackson broke the color barrier at MTV. What he really broke were all the rules. He made videos more expensive and detailed than had ever been seen before and he did it with a reliance on old school show business tactics of shock and awe and sharp choreography. Then there was the music, which was a relentless push of hooks and a mix of pop and R&B that proved kids still wanted to dance, despite the continued stiffness of hard rock bands who lost the groove. Absolute power corrupts, however, and Jackson likely would've benefited from being less popular. He might be alive today.