Welcome to Retroman40's World!

Early MTV Videos

Top 10 Early MTV Videos (Updated September 2012)

In their 2004 (has it really been that long?) hit “1985”, the group Bowling for Soup includes the line “and music still on MTV.”  The fact is that for several years after its debut on August 1, 1982, MTV really did stand for Music Television and was essentially a 24 hour music video station.  I honestly believe that the early years of MTV showcased some of the best music videos ever made.  Of course their playlist wasn’t particularly deep in the early days which meant they also played just about anything they could get their hands on as well as playing popular videos to the point of overplaying them.  I feel so strongly about this that I am compiling my list of the best 10 early MTV videos.  By “early”, I mean released prior to 1985.  This coincides roughly with the first four years of MTV.

Before we get into this, perhaps a little back story is needed; I have two very fond memories of the early days of MTV.  The first involves college and the second involves the Coast Guard.  As a senior at the University at Buffalo, I moved into a house on Lisbon Avenue with four other guys in January 1982.  Naturally we had to have cable TV and of course we spent a lot of time watching MTV since frequently we didn’t have the money to do much else.  Remember that in early 1982, MTV had been around well less than a year and they didn’t have an extensive playlist.  Sometimes on a Friday evening if we were bored we’d play a game where we’d each pick a video and who ever picked the video that was played first won and wouldn’t have to pay for beer that night.  My selection was always the same – “Centerfold” by the J. Geils Band.  Of course we made our choices before turning on the television.  It was surprising how many times one of our picks was playing when we turning it on.

Fast forward a couple years; while I was stationed on the Coast Guard Cutter Ironwood from 1985 to 1987, I would put a six hour tape in my VCR before leaving for the ship in the morning and just record six hours of MTV uncut including commercials and commentary.  I would typically have five of six of these tapes in reserve before we would depart on a long trip that I would store in the drawer under my rack in my stateroom.  I would start breaking them out for the crew after a week or so, particularly if we hadn’t spent much time tied up somewhere.  I was always amazed to see how many members of the crew would sit on the mess deck or in the crew’s lounge watching this stuff (sometimes over and over).

Of course, MTV has evolved into a lot more than in those early days.  I am just happy to have the original living “VJ’s” still hosting the 80’s on 8 on Sirius-XM Satellite Radio (one of my favorite stations).  I do miss J. J. Jackson (RIP) as he was one of my favorites.

I should add that I consider this a “living” list and I certainly reserve the right to edit and even put in new videos.  Some of my memories from those days may be a little fuzzy if you know what I mean.

That said; here are my top 10 early MTV Videos (in no particular order):

Centerfold – J. Geils Band (1981):  This may be, check that, IS my favorite MTV Video of all time.  Whoever conceived and directed this video “got it”.  This video is typical of many early MTV videos in that it features the band performing the song in a non-performance venue (in this case a high school classroom).  I have to believe that the popularity of this track has a lot to do with the almost constant exposure this video got in the very early days of MTV. This song originally appeared on the 1981 album “Freeze Frame".  The song spent six weeks a top the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1982.

Shadows of the Night - Pat Benetar (1982):  An incredibly elaborate mostly non-performance video that featured a young Judge Reinhold (as a pilot) and Bill Paxton (as a German radio operator). Both were relative unknowns at the time.  I read in her 2010 memoir “Between a Heart and a Rock Place”  (which by the way I highly recommend for any fan) that her lead guitarist (and long time husband) Nick Geraldo (a.k.a. “Spider”) was really opposed to doing and videos but gave in.   I know I’m glad!  I think to this day that Pat Benetar was one artist who really benefitted from the exposure that MTV provided.  The track is from the 1982 Album “Get Nervous”.

Our Lips Are Sealed – The Go-Go’s (1981):  I’ll openly admit I had a celebrity crush on Belinda Carlisle at the time (and still do for that matter).  The video is a mix between a stage performance in a small club and cruising around in a convertible.  I don’t know if it was on purpose, but the video is roughly edited.  I remember seeing the Go Go’s on Saturday Night Live very early in their career and the actually lack of polish made them appealing to me.  I have also read Belinda Carlisle’s  2010 book “Lips Unsealed” and it provided a great deal of insight into her life as well as the band.  This track appeared on the groups self titled 1981 debut album.

867-5309/Jenny – Tommy Tutone (1981):  What wasn’t to love about this one?  I wish I had that phone number.  I always dreamed about an attractive young lady passing me a note with her name and number.  This video is another mix of stage performance and acting out the lyrics.  I've read that years later singer Tommy Heath actually claimed that it was a real number and the band wrote in on a bathroom wall in a hotel as joke.  The track was released as a single from the album Tommy Tutone 2.

I Love Rock and Roll – Joan Jet and the Blackhearts (1981):  The grittiness of this video instantly caught your (well at least my) attention.  My daughter performed this song at a school talent show and wowed the audience.  This is another example of a song that’s popularity can in some part be traced to the heavy play it received in the early days of MTV.  This song was originally done by the Arrows in 1975 The track is from the 1981 album fittingly titled “I Love Rock and Roll” and was released as a single (it was number one on the Billboard Hot 100 from March 20 through May 1) in January 1982. 

Take On Me – A-ha (1985):  I liked this video the first time I saw it.  Considering the year, the animation is quite good and the transitions between real life and animation are handled quite well.  The technique used is called “rotoscoping” where pencil sketches are made over each frame to achieve the desired result.  They didn’t have supercomputers to do the rendering in 1985 so 3000 frames were done by hand.  I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Scandinavian (in this case Norwegian) groups. The girl in the video, Bunty Bailey was dating one of the members, Morten Harket (who also performed in the video) at the time.  According to Wikipedia she now works as a children’s dance instructor in the UK.

Rio – Duran Duran (1982):  I don’t know why, but there is something about this song that I liked from the get go. Let's just call it a guilty pleasure and leave it at that.  I don’t think I was alone in my feelings. This video was an early, if not the first example of what I call the “hot chick” rule where videos featured extremely attractive young ladies.  In this case the hot chick is a supermodel named Reema Ruspoli who appeared in body paint and foiled the dreams of the performers.  According to what I could find out she went on to marry an Italian prince.  The video was actually filmed near Antigua in the Caribbean. This track is from the 1982 album fittingly titles “Rio”.

Too Much Time on My Hands – Styx (1981):  Truer words have never been sung.  The video combines acting the lyrics with live performance footage.  The bar scenes are great as are the faces the band members make during the performance footage. Sadly one of my favorite musicians of the time, drummer John Panozzo passed away in July 1996 at rather the young age of 47 from complications (gastrointestinal hemorrhaging) from this exact lifestyle.  May he rest in peace as we hoist a cold one (just not too many) in his honor.  The song is from the 1981 album “Paradise Theatre”.

99 Luftballons – Nena (1984):  Anti-war  protest songs are nothing new, but there is something haunting about a song that talks about a war starting over a complete mistake and how there are too many hair triggers and people with itchy fingers.  There are both English and German versions of this song.  You don’t have to understand a word of German if you watch that version to “get it”.  The German title translates to 99 Toy Balloons (or literally Air Balloons).  The English version of the song is from the 1984 album “Nena”.

Goodbye to You – Scandal (1982):  This is purely a performance video.  The song wasn’t really a big hit only reaching number 65 on the Billboard chart.  The video and just the energy made this a great one.  Just like with Belinda Carlisle, I also had a bit of a celebrity crush towards Patty Smyth in those days.  According the a 1985 Wall Street Journal report (chronicled in the excellent 1991 book “Hit Men”) the whole band never made much on any of their songs due to crazy contracts with record promoters.  The song is from the 1982 self titled extended play record (“EP”). 

Website Builder