MTV turns 30 this summer. If there's anyone out there still hoping the "M" will someday once again mean something...you might as well give up. There would only be hope if MTV could produce anything in the reality genre that DIDN'T get ratings. They could put a camera on a rock and said rock would be on the tabloid covers the following week. The sad truth is that MTV's reality shows have achieved true cultural significance time and time again, while their rare attempts at anything else bomb. MTV is the #1 destination for reality watchers and that's unlikely to change.
If that fact wasn't crushing enough, this should burst your bubble completely: say MTV switched back to 24/7 music videos tomorrow. Would they be showing Poison and AC/DC, like they did decades ago, or would they air Justin Bieber every 10 minutes? I think you know the answer. You can't have it back. Not the way it was.
Five years ago I ranked the Top Ten Best Videos of MTV's First Day (August 1, 1981). That list was judged based on VH1 Classic's rebroadcast of the videos available that day. I thought that was the closest I would ever get to seeing MTV Day One. Guess what -- it wasn't.
There's an actual recording of the first moments of MTV out there.
The Holy Grail of tape trading, and I finally found it. It starts from Second One and spans the first four hours. It's good quality too -- it's no eleventh-generation bootleg; the video and sound are great. Armed with the real thing, I am now about to re-review MTV's first day, and who's sticking around for the ride? YOU!*
* If you're using a Flash-incompatible browser like the one on the iPad, and cannot see any of the thumbnails below, consider your lack of access to these amazing videos your punishment for listening to Steve Jobs.
THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES
The second video ever shown? "You Better Run."
"Take note. If you do something that doesn't make sense, just keep doing it and it eventually turns into a running gag." --Garfield and Friends
Afterward, all the original VJs introduced themselves for the first time, ending with Mark Goodman, host for the first few hours. "Starting right now," declared Mark, "you'll never look at music the same way again." At least not for a while.
"We'll be right back." The VERY FIRST SPONSOR for MTV wasssssss........
"The Bulk." A 3-ring binder that expands so wide, you can fit your tennis shoes into it! Here's visual proof! Just don't get it angry. You wouldn't like the Bulk when it's angry.
This was followed by a trailer for Superman II, and a promotion for Dolby Labs. The distortion in the middle of the Dolby ad happened every time it was shown; the problem was theirs.
Mark Goodman returns, and sits silent and cross-legged, staring at the camera for five seconds until he gets his cue way too late. "Aren't those guys the best?" he starts out with. What guys....the Dolby guys? I guess they're pretty cool.
MTV plays Rod Stewart's "She Won't Dance With Me" and The Who's "You Better You Bet" before returning to Goodman. "....ON MTV," he starts out by ending with. It's going to take a while to get these kinks smoothed out.
Mark announced that there was a way to watch MTV in stereo, but it's not the way you're thinking of. This was 1981. No cable system was capable of transmitting a stereo signal yet. Instead, you had to own a special hookup that would relay MTV's sound to your living room silver-finished stereo system, broadcasting over a radio frequency. To help you mark that frequency, Mark offered to give everyone watching a free MTV Dial Sticker. "It doesn't glow in the dark or anything, but it's very handy."
MTV's third-ever block of videos included PhD's "Little Susie's On The Up" (see the original Top 10 for more on that), Cliff Richards' "We Don't Talk Anymore," The Pretenders' "Brass in Pocket," and "Time Heals" by Todd Rindgren. Then the Dial Sticker Schpiel was repeated again, word for word. It'll be appearing a lot.
After "Rockin' Paradise" by Styx, another ad break is brought to us by some kind of perfume that promises to make you absolutely irresistable through science (pheromones actually, most likely pig pheromones like all the other attempts at this). As a half-naked couple does some kind of interpretive dance lit by neon tubing, the announcer claims the stuff "transmits POWERFUL BANDS of FRAGRANCE ENERGY."
Happily, the ad following that one is for ATARI! Joy!
Next in the playlist: "When Things Go Wrong" by Robin Lane and the Chartbusters. I'd never heard it before, but it's good.
Mark Goodman continues his search for the perfect opening line. "Not only am I real excited that my favorite sneakers could be here with me tonight, but, ah, we are all really excited here at MTV to be bringing you the BEST MUSIC, ALL DAY, EVERY DAY." Now that he's warmed up, Mark gets to the real news: MTV is more than music! It's music NEWS too! All throughout the day you'll periodically be getting short reports on the goings-on of your favorite bands! "To start us off, Bob McClane gives us a new look at The Ramones."
Oh man, Riff Randell better be in here somewhere....
She was there! Well, naturally. Riff would never miss a Ramones gathering, no matter where on Earth it was.
Reason You Will Never Be Cooler than Riff Randell #474: she's such a hard rocker, she appeared on MTV on its very first day, in its very first news report. And she blew her school up.
They cut back to Goodman as he's turned around and seemingly doing the bathroom dance, but he quickly composes himself. "Well, it's time for MORE great music. I guess while the Ramones rock the country, Styx rocks the paradise." They fade out to, not the video they already showed, but an ad for The Movie Channel. There's been at least one thing wrong with every Mark Goodman appearance so far. I've counted.
MTV returns after the break with "History Never Repeats" by Split Enz, which I should have included in the original Top 10. "Hold on Loosely" by 38 Special is next, followed by "Just Between You and Me" by April Wine and "Sailing" by Rod Stewart.
Goodman introduces "Inside Line," or fast fat-free music news. The first news is actually about the debut of a movie, but it's the cult animated film "Heavy Metal," and metal's a genre of music, so it technically counts...
Iron Maiden performs their self-titled song; REO Speedwagon performs "Keep On Lovin' You" (bleah), and Goodman makes MTV's very first mention of a "One Night Stand" contest. Folllowed by.....WOW!!!
MTV then accidentally showed a video without tags. All I can do is display the man's face. Does this guy look like someone you know?
"Message of Love" by The Pretenders is next, which is awesome. Then "Mister Briefcase" by Lee Ritenour, which is....weird. Then "Double Life" by The Cars, which....isn't weird enough. This is Ric Ocasek here; he should be wearing gigantic funky sunglasses and popping out of a girl's bathtub.
Goodman introduces a fluff piece on record collectors. "You might think records couldn't be as valuable as baseball cards, but some first printings of Beatles records can sell for five hundred dollars or more." Yeah, Mark, but any item that has such historical significance will be worth money, and there weren't many vinyls in the early 80's that qualified. We never find out what else was valuable in 1981, because the entire piece broadcasted without sound. Gremlins eight, MTV zero.
Robert Palmer sings "Looking for Clues." Next is a band called "Shoes" which sings a song called " Too Late." After that, Stevie Nicks asks you to stop dragging her heart around. Then a video starts without any picture at all, and it's quickly taken off the air and replaced with something called "Surface Tension."
To refresh your memory, Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" is that song with the greatest saxophone solo ever. Does anyone honestly care about the rest of it? Whenever it plays on the radio I'm tapping my foot impatiently waiting for the saxophone to kick in. It feels like two songs mashed together, because the solo doesn't fit tonally with the lazy vocal parts. But that's some good sax.
Goodman reappears at the end of "Baker Street" and says "If you think those guys look wild now, you should have seen them four years ago!" Once again, he's talking about somebody else.
Our time is short, and the notable mistakes are fewer from here, so here's a quick glance through the rest of the lineup...."I'm Gonna Follow You" by Pat Benatar starts abruptly, then "Savannah Nights" by Tom Johnston, "Lucille" by Rockestra (a 50's-style bopper), Styx appears again with "The Best of Times," Carly Simon gets "Vengeance," Iron Maiden's "Wrathchild," Blotto's "I Wanna Be A Lifeguard," Rod Stewart's "Passion," Elvis Costello's "Oliver's Army," two videos without tags, Juice Newton's "Angel of the Morning," Rock Pile's cover of Elvis's "Little Sister," "Hold on To The Night" by Bootcamp, "Dreaming" by Cliff Richard, "Is It You" by Lee Ritenour, "Tusk" by Fleetwood Mac, "He Can't Love You" by Mike Stanley, "Tough Guys" by REO Speedwagon, "Rapture" by Blondie, "Don't Let Go The Coat" by The Who, "Ain't Love a Bitch" by Rod Stewart, "Talk of the Town" by The Pretenders, "Can't Happen Here" by Rainbow.....and as if it was intended as a signoff before the recording stopped, "Thank You For Being A Friend" by Andrew Gold.
Thank you for being our friend, Music Television. Thank you for originally being a force for good, not evil. MTV may be only 30 but it went over the hill years ago and ages more hideously every year.
For those of us who weren't there, hard-to-find discs like this are the only glimpses we can get at a golden era....from a time before iPhones.
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