Monday, July 31, 2006

A Past Gone Mad #5

It’s MTV’s 25th birthday tomorrow and to celebrate, VH1 Classic are broadcasting the entire first 24 hours of MTV’s output from August 1st 1981. As an appetizer this past week they’ve also been showing the first hour* as a stand-alone show at regular intervals. Now every child knows the first video played on MTV was Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star,” but what were the second, third, fourth, eleventh promos played? Well let’s just say it wasn’t an auspicious start.

Pat Benatar, “You Better Run”--drab soundstage, band-playing-as-live job, Pat doing her feisty chick thing.
Rod Stewart, title i forget-- same band as “Dya Think I’m Sexy” (the Japanese bassist who endearingly gets really into the disco walking B-line breakdown bit, the drummer with the unfortunate mustache) but this is more of your standard blues-tinged Rod horror. Soundstage/
as-live but with polka dot background for a bit of visual excitement.
The Who, “You Better You Better You Bet”. Compelling awful song, a feast of lyrical embarrassment (“and I look pretty crapp-ay sometimes”, etc). Video = dull soundstage as-live job, but black-and-white for what, an arty touch?
Ph.d. “Little Susie on the Up”. Who they?!? The first proper filmed video since Buggles--motorbikes, ballroom dancing at the Palais...
Cliff Richard, “We Don’t Talk Anymore”. Great song (actually quite Hall & Oatesy) but dull-ish if nicely spangly backdrop type affair.
Pretenders, “Brass In Pocket”. Filmed/semi-narrative (Chrissie as lovelorn waitress), quite cute (sings “I’m speshul, so speshul”, band members at table point to “special” on the menu), classic example of video forever tarnishing the song with specific images. (Did you know that the gorgeous gobbleydegook bit that sounds like “deterleenin” is actually “Detroit-leaning”?)
Todd Rundgren, “Time Heals”. Figures he would be a “video pioneer”. Excruciating clever-clever (for its time) special effects-y affair based around Dali and Magritte paintings--one of the most abysmal crap song/pretentious video combos ever. The singing is also dreadfully off-key.
Styx, “Rocking in Paradise”. A stage set but more stagey than most as this is Styx in their “paradise theater” rock-goes-show-tunes phase. Painful to watch, especially
the singer’s tight-crotched protuberance and Freddie Mercury aspirations.
REO Speedwagon, “Take It On the Run”. Live footage.
Robin Lane & the Chartbusters.Sub-Steve Nicks AOR-plod, but with a bizarrely high-budget video with a vaguely French Lieutenants Woman nautical period theme: yokels with tankards in taverns, seafarers, actual genuine galleon with sailors clambering in the rigging, cliffs, stormy seas, forsaken and shawl-clad singer on rocky promontory staring wistfully into the surf crashing on the breakers, etc. Plain sonic fare garbed in costume drama glad rags.
Split Enz. Also filmed, fairly clever for its day, although i can't remember anything about either promo or song except that there was a pronounced Yes/Genesis vibe to the tune concealed inside its New Waveyness, and indeed Split Enz actually started as proggers then jumped ship. which might explain why their (and Crowded House’s) melodies are so unpleasant, sort of wavering on the edge of melodic beauty but always falling short or to the side of it
38 Special. Live footage. Radio-pasteurised erstaz Allmans, right down to the two drummers and the hats (although perhaps those come more from Skynyrd). (I once bought a Molly Hatchet album after a friend described a Butthole Surfers song we saw them do at Lollapalooza as "kinda Molly Hatchet". Big mistake).

And that’s where I couldn’t take it any longer… but yes, a really inauspicious beginning and you can see how those videogenic/promo-savvy/glam-literate New Popsters really arrived in the nick of time... if MTV had carried on like that first hour it surely would have surely joined the great graveyard of botched and aborted cultural innovations.

* except not exactly as it was originally broadcast, some of the original veejays appear now and then but it’s framed by current VH1 Classic presenter Lynn Hoffman … now there's something quite odd about this woman, a disconcerting quality of anachronesis made flesh, cos she's like a retro-veejay: a calculated reversion back to the days before veejays (post-grunge) were chosen for their real-ness or for having a smidgeon of personality, instead she has that old skool TV presenter fakeness/blandness... she and fellow vh1 veej Eddie Trunk emit exactly the same modulated level of perky enthusiasm for everything they're introducing/interviewing , whether it’s a solo album by Smithereens frontman Pat Danizio or Joe Cocker or Gang of Four.... she particularly has that forced brightness of the American radio host (which is her pre-VH1 background) but rendered with facial expressions too.... the effect is either anachronetic or animatronic, i can't quite decide

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