Pop and rock music stars including Duran Duran, Culture Club, A Flock of Seagulls, Dire Straits, Billy Idol, Michael Jackson and Madonna have much to thank MTV for.
Now some of the music industry’s biggest names have paid homage to the US channel, which transformed the industry with its focus on promotional videos and came to define a generation, on its 40th birthday.
MTV debuted on August 1, 1981, as a 24/7 operation and grew to become a star-making machine with its focus on videos produced to put musicians’ material in the spotlight.
While streaming and short bursts of music on social media have reimagined music, many see MTV – reportedly a joint venture between Warner Communications and American Express – as the standard-bearer.
Huey Lewis, of the US band Huey Lewis and the News, quoted in the Los Angeles Times, said: “The market is so fragmented today. You can’t have a hit now like we used to. Because then, everyone was focused on one thing at the same time. Everyone was watching MTV.”
Artists benefiting from the channel including Michael Jackson, with his mega-budget video for the hit single Thriller, and Dire Straits with Money for Nothing.
Kevin Cronin, of REO Speedwagon, told the paper about the band’s video for Keep on Loving You: “The video is mostly our band performing, but it also features this beautiful model playing the subject of the song. And at the end of the video, you finally see the shrink, and she’s this gorgeous woman wearing a pair of black-rimmed eyeglasses, her hair up in a bun. She takes off the glasses, lets down her hair and, yes, she’s the same model from the video. It was the biggest cliché.”
Pop star Billy Idol said: “If you came out of punk, you were invested in creating your own image. I wanted my image to be as edgy as it could be while still getting on TV. For my videos I borrowed a lot from old silent horror movies, like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. There were a couple of black-and-white Boris Karloff images I took from a horror book I had. There was one where he’s on an altar with tons of crosses around him, and I just ran with it for White Wedding. I thought, let’s do that but in colour.”
On the first artist he saw on MTV who made and impression on him, he told the Los Angeles Times: “Prince. His whole image was fantastic. The raincoat and the rubber stockings? He was built for MTV.”
Cronin said: “For me it was David Coverdale in that famous Whitesnake video with Tawny Kitean (Here I Go Again). We were just finishing an album at the time and starting to think about the music videos. I was just like, ‘Guys, there’s no way that I’m going to out-cocky David Coverdale’.”
Idol added: “Artists like me weren’t getting a fair shake on the radio, so it helped to break us. But eventually, a lot of artists got in big with Pepsi or someone, and they could afford to spend a million dollars on a video, and it started to get a bit boring. Then reality TV took over. It was all going to end anyway.”
Kathy Valentine, of US band the Go Go’s, said: “MTV was your friend; it was the soundtrack to everything.” Lewis added: “Having everyone tuned in to that one station, watching those videos day and night? That was an amazing time.”
For more stories from where you live, visit InYourArea.