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Saturday, December 2, 2023

The Launch of MTV: “Individuals’s ‘Really feel-Good Hub'”

It is arduous to imagine that on August 1st, 41 years may have handed for the reason that preliminary launch of MTV within the US. And whereas the Cable channel would finally develop into immensely standard and influential, initially, it wasn’t. The truth is, for the primary yr it was solely proven in a really restricted quantity of markets (with it not even being obtainable in New York Metropolis – the place the channel was based mostly – till lengthy after its launch).

However as soon as it lastly made its approach into most houses, the shift within the music trade was obviously obvious (and proved long-lasting) – MTV was now the main tastemaker regarding introducing new artists and selling already-established ones, plus offering up-to-the-minute information, tour dates, and finally, would affect trend, promoting, and even politics.

To mark this anniversary, under are excerpts from one in all my books, MTV Dominated the World: The Early Years of Music Video, which particulars the channel’s preliminary launch, its immensely catchy theme track (performed on the high of every hour), and its gradual construct to success.

JONATHAN ELIAS [Co-writer of MTV’s theme song]: That was written solely for the MTV theme. There have been a whole lot of issues John [Petersen] and I had been writing for the MTV theme on the time. Some I wrote by myself, and a few I wrote with him. They had been ten, twelve-second small items. So for a few weeks, we had been simply writing a bunch of issues, throwing them in opposition to the wall. This was one thing that was pre-scored. We hadn’t gotten the movie of the moon touchdown but. And admittedly, I would not have recognized methods to synch it up again then, anyway. I did not also have a 24-track again then. I feel I used to be working off of a half-inch TASCAM deck. We went into this low cost little studio with a few mates and simply knocked out a bunch of these items. They weren’t polished studio gamers … we weren’t polished studio gamers, John and I.

We did not make sufficient cash to pay anybody. All the blokes obtained 50 bucks or 100 bucks to play it. There was no cash concerned on this, as a result of none of us thought it was going to quantity to something. I feel in these days, they had been paying a thousand {dollars} a brand. You get a author’s share [each time the song is played], which has been extraordinarily profitable through the years. It was humorous getting a thousand {dollars} … and turning into an icon. But it surely gave you immediate credibility within the business market, which is what I went on to do, and turning into a rock producer. One of many bands I produced later was Sure, who had been previous burnouts, even they knew the MTV stuff. Nobody knew it will develop into an icon, particularly me. I feel all of us had been like, “Wow, a thousand {dollars}!” In these days, a bunch of us had been residing in a loft in Manhattan on seventeenth Avenue, between Fifth Avenue and Broadway, which was the costume jewellery district. It was no man’s land once I was there, ’80/’81. It was surprising, and like a whole lot of stuff you do in your profession, some issues stick, and a few do not.

BOB PITTMAN [MTV CEO]: In case you return to the early promos, it was all about perspective. “Do not watch that. Watch this!” It was all kind of parodying different TV and MTV. Visually, the man I employed to be the pinnacle of the on-air look was Fred Seibert, who I employed from radio. And one in all Fred’s nice contributions was, earlier than MTV, all people reduce their video first, after which they rolled music below it. Fred and his guys reduce the audio observe first after which reduce the video to the beat of the music. Now, that would appear fairly primary at the moment, however imagine it or not, it wasn’t again then.

Again then, everybody was doing the kind of Star Wars logos—massive chrome logos popping out of a star-field, beginning small and turning into massive—and we did not have the cash to do any of that. So Fred was the one who stated, “As an alternative of attempting to do an inexpensive model of what all people else does, why do not we provide you with a complete new model that we will do cheaply, however as a result of there isn’t any level of reference, we’ll by no means look low cost. We’ll look modern.” And, certainly, we had been. We broke all the principles on the time of design—logos cannot change, they’ve to remain in the identical place, the colours cannot mutate. And we modified the brand coloration on a regular basis, moved the brand on a regular basis. It was animated. Fully new method, and other people picked up on that as an method.

ALAN HUNTER [MTV VJ]: When it got here time for the precise launch, all of us obtained right into a bus in Manhattan—as a result of they did not have it in Manhattan—and we needed to exit to a little bit restaurant/bar out in New Jersey [The Loft] to look at the precise kick-off. So we obtained on this bus, we obtained totted on the market, [and] there have been tons of of MTV employers and members of the family. My coronary heart racing a mile a minute. We had all been ingesting fairly closely the entire night time lengthy, and we needed to wait till 12:01/midnight. And at that time, the rocket blasted off, and it was drop-dead silence within the room. The man stated, “Women and gents, that is rock n’ roll,” or regardless of the line was. The rocket blasted off.

The humorous factor was the order we had been to seem on digicam was I feel Mark, Nina, JJ, Martha, after which me. I used to be speculated to be the final man. However the folks out on the technical middle in Lengthy Island that do the importing of all of the video footage—that actually load the tapes into the machines— they loaded the tapes backwards, so I used to be the primary one to come back on! That is the trivia query, “Who was the primary VJ on MTV?” That might be me, but it surely was speculated to be Mark Goodman. So after the Buggles got here on [the first-ever video played on MTV was the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”], all of us simply checked out one another and stated, “Holy shit! This may simply get massive … if we will final.” After all, the following day, all of us needed to get to work. In order that was fairly painful the following day, I will inform ya.

GEOFF DOWNES [The Buggles, Yes, and Asia keyboardist]: We had been advised that “Video Killed the Radio Star” was used because the “launch observe.” I feel it was extra in hindsight. It was simply one thing that they chose on the time. The impression began to progress as time glided by. However no one knew that this MTV channel was going to be fairly vital.

NINA BLACKWOOD [MTV VJ]: It wasn’t simply the VJs. It was all people that labored on MTV. The workplace folks, the fits, the crew. After which the time got here— that notorious rocket—that also offers me butterflies in my abdomen. When that rocket went off, we had been simply … I’ve by no means skilled every little thing like that. It was like a collective child being born. There have been tears, hugs, screaming, simply such wonderful vitality. It was simply an “Oh my God … it is actual!” feeling.

ALAN HUNTER: The opposite attention-grabbing factor in regards to the channel that so much folks did not perceive is we did not have any commercials the primary yr. MTV was actually not promoting any advert house, as a result of nobody needed to purchase. The filler was inventory footage of astronauts floating in house. And folks thought that was nice. “Wow, no commercials, and this interstitial materials of cool graphics and simply house folks.” After which a couple of yr into it, once we began promoting advertisements, folks would come as much as us within the streets and say, “MTV is promoting out.” I am similar to, “No … they’re simply attempting to make my wage!”

I do not know what the others had been making. I will not quote a determine, however my solely standards for job was to get as a lot cash as refrain boy makes on Broadway. That was my dream. I lived in an condominium on fifty fifth and Broadway. I used to look out down Broadway and dream about being on Broadway some day. I needed to be in musical theater. If I might simply make 550 bucks every week, which was the going union charge for an fairness actor, that will be simply nice. If I might make that, I am dwelling free. I made higher than that. However I used to be not getting wealthy on MTV for the primary yr or two. I renegotiated my contract with them a yr into it. We prolonged issues, and I began doing so much higher. However I will inform you … we had been just like the early sports activities stars. We performed arduous, we obtained a whole lot of fame, and we began the entire enterprise of MTV. However we didn’t get pleasure from large salaries.

NINA BLACKWOOD: We did not have a complete lot of movies. I feel the quantity was about 300. I appear to recollect round that quantity. Which, once you’re operating a 24-hour video channel, you burn by means of these fairly rapidly. I keep in mind a whole lot of Rod Stewart, Pat Benatar, the Buggles, Nick Lowe, Carlene Carter, Aldo Nova, Iron Maiden, Lene Lovich. [Lovich] was one of many first folks I ever noticed a video of, and I simply beloved her. I feel we had been enjoying Blondie initially, “Coronary heart of Glass.” Once we play one of many songs that we performed again then on Sirius, it simply all comes flooding again.

ALAN HUNTER: Everyone else had dropped no matter job that they had, however I saved my bartending job a month or two into the gig. I actually went and taped the present in the course of the day, after which I would go to a spot referred to as the Magic Pan—it was on 57th and Sixth Avenue—and I had a nighttime bartending job. I did not let go of it to start with. I do not know why. I simply thought, “We’ll see how this MTV factor works out.” So about possibly two months into it, I used to be mixing a daiquiri, and this man was sitting on the bar, two sheets to the wind, me. He stated, “You look acquainted,” and it nonetheless did not daybreak on me. He stated, “Aren’t you ‘Mark anyone,’ on this music channel?” And it dawned on me that he was speaking in regards to the gig I used to be doing in the course of the day. I corrected him, and stated, “No, I am Alan Hunter.” Just about, the following day or two, I put my discover in and give up the job, as a result of I assumed, “I do not need to be right here making drinks whereas persons are checking me out.” It was sort of arduous to let go of that gig. I used to be going to be an actor, if not a TV host, so for me, I took a diversion in my profession. I feel I made the suitable selection.

KATHY VALENTINE [The Go-Go’s bassist]: What stands out so much to me is MTV used to throw these massive events, New Yr’s events. It was an enormous deal. For just a few years, it was simply the spotlight of the yr. They had been wonderful, nice events. There was one in New York that was actually cool. I keep in mind being there with John Belushi. I simply keep in mind getting a message at my lodge [from Belushi]—”Are we on for tonight?”—and going collectively.

ROBIN ZORN [MTV producer]: My favourite New Yr’s of my complete life was the primary New Yr’s live performance. I used to be an affiliate producer within the truck, and I keep in mind, at one level, folks stated, “Robin, go on the market and see who’s there.” It was the primary time we did a New Yr’s present. We did not know if we’d get anyone there. And I keep in mind I walked exterior, and John Belushi was simply stoned out of his thoughts, sitting at a desk together with his head on the desk. I used to be all excited, like, “John Belushi’s right here!” And, in fact, he was stoned, and we could not even get him on digicam.

Additionally about that first New Yr’s present, I used to be liable for holding us on observe time-wise. We needed to hit 4 midnights. The primary midnight was proper on, the second midnight was a little bit off, and the third and fourth we weren’t even near being midnight. Once more, it was MTV, so we simply had the VJs announce that it was midnight. That was very typical for us. We had been approach off, and but, we had been on the air going, “Yeah, Pleased New Yr, it is midnight on the market on the west coast,” and in the meantime, it wasn’t midnight. We simply flew by the seat of our pants.

ALAN HUNTER: MTV stuffed an enormous void. And it was not like all these different applications. It was on as folks’s “pleasant firm,” in any respect hours of the night time, for school dorms or housewives within the morning. That was folks’s “feel-good hub.”

Greg Prato is a longtime AllMusic contributor. MTV Dominated the World: The Early Years of Music Video tells the entire story of the channel’s formative period, and is on the market as paperback, hardcover, Kindle, and audio variations.

MTV Book

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