Video Killed the Radio Star

My husband and I don’t argue very often. A typical disagreement goes something like this:

Him: “You’re pretty.”
Me: “No I’m not.”
Him: “Yes you are, and I don’t like it when you question my taste.”

Aside from the proper pronunciation of “Boise”, the merits of stinky olives, and whether or not muffins need butter, one of the only other points of contention between us has been about MTV. He had it and watched and I didn’t. When this subject comes up, things can get pretty heated:

Him: “It’s just like that one music video by…”
Me: “I’ve never seen that.”
Him: “Yes you have. Everyone has. It’s the one that…”
Me: “I’ve never seen it. How many times do I need to remind you that we didn’t have MTV growing up?”

(Sorry you had to witness that. It can get super intense.)

In an effort to heal the rift between us, this week I tried to catch up a little bit on what I’ve missed. There’s no way to watch everything and it’s been a busy week, but I did put in some solid research hours watching 80’s music video after video after video.

The most boring to me were the videos where they literally just turn on a camera and sing at it. I’ll forgive this approach in Video Killed the Radio Star because it was the first video ever broadcast on MTV. Give them time, I thought, they’ll learn. But Every Breath You Take, Wanted, Dead or Alive, and Stray Cat Strut? All just as boring.

Some artists try to shake it up a bit by changing the background a little as they stand and sing, like Simple Minds and Simply Red.

so simple.png

I’m curious about which came first – these two videos or I Spy books? Because one had to be inspired by the other.



Then there was the dancing. It almost seems like Cyndi Lauper and the guy from Midnight Oil took Awkward Dance classes with Elaine, but I’d much rather watch awkward dancing than that 80’s sway that Rick Astley, Bruce Springsteen and Courtney Cox have going on. Watching that reminded me of junior high dances.

Speaking of Rick Astley, I feel I must speak out against the recent trend of high-waisted pants. Do we really need to live through that atrocity again? Every time I see someone wearing those, I feel like I’m at Bayside High with the cast of Saved By the Bell. Just Say No.


Watching videos of songs I’ve only heard on the radio, I realized I had always heard the words wrong. It’s not the first time this has happened – I remember when I found out that Pebbles song was “Do you wanna ride in my Mercedes boy?”and not (what I considered to be the superior lyrics I had mistakenly heard), “Do you see the writing on the faded wall?” This week, I learned it’s actually, “Oh, oh, here she COME, she’s a maneater.” I always sang “comes” but watching Hall (or is it Oates?), I could see quite clearly that there is no s at the end of the word. Also, how did I never hear that part in Here Comes the Rain Again where she sings very clearly, “Here it comes again, hoo hah.” (at 3:48) I’ve probably heard that song a thousand times in the last 30 years. How did I miss the hoo hah?

It’s amazing what kind of memories were triggered this week. Since I’ve seen so few music videos, when I watched one I was familiar with, I could remember exactly where I was when I saw it. That Eurhythmics video I saw at a hotel in California, the Thriller video we watched at the neighbors’ house, and that Run DMC video that came out the same time we got our first Nintendo.

As I rewatched the few videos I have seen, I wondered why I never noticed certain things before. Why is that dude in the Fine Young Cannibals video wearing a pillow? Is it because he falls down a lot? And watching those Robert Palmer videos again, I’m really starting to wonder if those girls even know how to play those instruments at all. Could they be there just for decoration? And really, how did we not know about George Michael?

wake me up.gif

Several videos reminded me of others I have seen. I’m pretty sure Whitney Houston hired some of those “Choreography” dancers from White Christmas for her How Will I Know?  video.


The very lame video for Hungry Like the Wolf reminded me a lot of an equally lame Katy Perry video.

Simply Red’s If You Don’t Know Me By Now reminded me of David Brent’s If You Don’t Know Me By Now.

And Land Down Under reminded me of every dumb movie any of us ever made with our cousins when our uncle got the family’s first video camera. So bad, but cute. But really bad.


Of course, there’s nothing quite as cute in a bad/sad way as the videos trying to be really transgressive. Since the production value during that time was always sketchy, these videos come off looking a bit like that one girl who suddenly started wearing black nail polish and lipstick in 8th grade trying to reinvent herself – just a poorly executed cry for attention. That’s how Eyes Without a Face and Like a Prayer came across to me. “Look at me! Aren’t I just the worst! Look! Look! I just did something naughty!” They both just made me laugh uncomfortably and ask, “What were they thinking?”

On the other hand, Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer is just as effective now as it was then at totally freaking me out. I probably think it’s cooler now than I did then.

Watching so many videos this week made me feel like I was watching teenagers work through their awkward stage. I’m not sure if it’s because the genre was new and they were just trying things out and deciding how to define themselves, or if I felt that way because this music was the soundtrack to my own awkward teenage years. I’m kind of glad my parents were strict about what we were allowed to watch. I have a feeling some of those videos would have really messed me up. And I was weird enough as it is.



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