Showing posts with label MTV. Show all posts
Showing posts with label MTV. Show all posts

Sunday, July 22, 2012

I Want My MTV

I've actually been doing a fair amount of reading lately, and finally had gotten into John Irving's Last Night in Twisted River when I suddenly interrupted it to plow through another book I found at the library: I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum. I had been meaning to pick up the 600-page oral history when it came out in paperback, but when I spotted it on the shelves at the Beverly public library, I couldn't resist. And it was a great ride that I plowed through in about a week.

The book covers the period of 1981, when MTV first launched, to 1992, when videos were giving way to the Real World and other non-music programming. As with the best oral histories, the authors weave in interviews with hundreds of folks to tell the story of MTV, from the executives who got it off the ground to the musicians whose videos were featured to the models who appeared in Robert Palmer and ZZ Top videos. And then are some great stories about coke-addled stars, debauchery in the MTV offices and the crazy backroom dealings that were involved in getting the station on the air and on cable systems. It also examines the back story behind many famous videos, good and bad, such as Billy Squier's "Rock Me Tonite," which effectively killed his career because of its decidedly unmacho dance moves.

My own experience with MTV is a mixed bag. I had seen plenty of videos while living in Toronto in the late '70s and early '80s. MTV launched in August 1981 while we were still in Canada and the city we moved to in Washington state a few months later didn't have MTV on its cable system (at that point, it wasn't on many systems at all). When we moved to New Hampshire a few years later, there was still no MTV. It arrived in Kingston in late 1985, at which I point I was already in college and could only watch it when I was home...because our dorm TV didn't have cable (and at that point, neither did the few of us who had our own TVs). My MTV viewing increased exponentially when I moved off campus in 1987 for my last two years at UNH. There were also regional all-video stations like Boston's V66, which I discussed in detail on the podcast last month with Eric Green, who's directing a documentary about the short-lived station (check out parts 1 and 2).

I watched it a fair amount after graduating because there were still videos, as well as shows like Remote Control and even the first few years of The Real World, and later Beavis and Butt-Head. By the late '90s, rap rock and boy bands had taken over the music scene and my MTV viewing dissipated to almost none; the station had gone to almost zero music content in the 2000s, relegating all that to MTV2 and VH1 Classic and going with reality fare like Real World, Road Rules, Punked, Jackass and countless other unscripted shows. I had no interest in any of that crap and I stopped watching. Of course, there's a whole generation of kids who have grown up on those shows so MTV lives on in the form of Jersey Shore et al.

As for rock videos, they're still made but certainly don't have the kingmaking power they once had. You can find just about any video ever made on YouTube for free now. And MTV realized early on it couldn't generate consistent ratings and attract big advertisers by just playing videos 24 hours a day. It's a business, after all. But those early years were a lot of fun, and I Want My MTV is a great inside look at the phenomenon. Two remotes up.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Completely Conspicuous 231: Rock This Town

Part 1 of my conversation with filmmaker Eric Green as we discuss his documentary about V66, the short-lived Boston music video channel. Listen to the episode below or download it directly (right click and "save as").

Show notes:
- Recorded in Cambridge, Mass.
- V66 was on the air from 2/85 to 9/86
- Eric's documentary is called Life on the V

- UHF station that reached throughout New England
- Cable still hadn't reached many towns
- There were other music video shows including Friday Night Videos on NBC
- Videos had been around for awhile but didn't catch on until MTV arrived
- V66 introduced a lot of new music, played diverse styles
- We both watched it as kids
- Run DMC's "King of Rock" was most requested song on V66
- Boston bands were given more attention: Del Fuegos, Til Tuesday, New Man
- Ex-radio guy John Garabedian started V66
- Station did non-music programming like sports, weather
- MTV began adding different programs in late '80s
- Eventually, V66 was sold to Home Shopping Network
- Something like V66 could never happen today
- Eric worked at Fuse, the video station out of NYC
- Began making documentary in 2008
- Did many interviews with former V66 staff, as well as viewers
- Collected footage from fans
- Talked to musicians inspired by the station
- V66 teamed up with local radio stations on events
- To be continued

- Bonehead of the Week

The Walkmen - Love is Luck

Beachwood Sparks - Sparks Fly Again
King Tuff - Bad Thing
Superchunk - Misfits & Mistakes
Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!
The Walkmen song is from the album Heaven on Fat Possum Records. Download the song for free at Epitonic.

The Beachwood Sparks song is on the album The Tarnished Gold on Sub Pop. Download the song for free at Sub Pop.

The King Tuff song is on the band's self-titled album on Sub Pop. Download the song for free at Sub Pop.
The Superchunk song is on the EP Leaves in the Gutter on Merge Records. Download the song for free at Epitonic.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blog Clicky Clicky. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Lonely is the Night

The music industry is littered with the corpses of careers that at one time seemed destined for greatness and then either just fizzled out or crashed and burned in spectacular fashion. An artist who saw his career go down the tubes almost instantly is Billy Squier, who for a few years in the early '80s was kicking ass and taking names, so to speak.

Squier was a Wellesley, Mass., native who bounced around the music scene throughout the '70s until his band Piper debuted and made some noise by opening for KISS (the bands shared the same manager). I'm unfamiliar with his Piper albums, but they're considered to be fairly good. Squier went solo in 1980, but it was his second album, 1981's Don't Say No, that propelled him into stardom with the monster hit "The Stroke." I was a 13 at the time and can testify that song was absolutely HUGE on rock radio that year. We all thought it was about masturbation, but supposedly it was a critical shot at the music industry's insatiable desire for hits. Whatever the case, the song was terrific.

Unfortunately, the video is unavailable for embed on the YouTubes, but here's the song:

Don't Say No had several radio hits on it, including the Zeppelin-esque "Lonely is the Night," "My Kinda Lover" and "In the Dark" and the album made a splash on the brand-new MTV channel that all the kids were watching (except me, because we didn't have it in Canada; but in the Toronto area, we did see the videos on CityTV's "The New Music" show, which was around way before MTV debuted). Squier was able to deliver the hard rock the boys liked while also providing the catchy hooks and good looks that the girls dug. It was a winning combination.

His next album, 1982's Emotions in Motion, did nearly as well. He had big hits with "Everybody Wants You" and the title track and was opening for Queen before headlining his own shows. Up-and-coming act Def Leppard opened for Squier in the Boston area in early '83. He was a definite heavy hitter.

So it was with great anticipation that his fourth album, Signs of Life, was released in the summer of 1984. The first single, "Rock Me Tonite," was a synth-laden song that hit #15 on the charts, not quite at the level of some of his previous hits but still fairly solid. But it was the video that forever changed Billy Squier's life. Choreographed by Kenny Ortega of "Dirty Dancing" (and later "High School Musical") fame, the vid has Squier prancing around his bedroom in a pink tank top and looking a tad too wussy for some of his hard rock-lovin' fans. The video definitely was trying to appeal to the ladies, but I know for me, it totally just seemed like he was going for a wider mainstream audience (aka pop fans) that I didn't care about. And frankly, the whole thing was pretty ridiculous. See for yourself:

Squier suddenly lost all the momentum he had been building for close to a decade. Radio stopped playing his new material. MTV stopped playing his videos. And just like that, one of the rock powerhouses of the early '80s was gone. Squier himself has pointed to that video as leading to the demise of his career, and there have been several video roundup shows that have poked fun at it as one of the worst videos ever.

Sad thing is, if he had gone with a live treatment of the song, he would have had little to no problems. Like this performance on SNL, which only had a small amount of prancing:

Squier released a couple more albums in the '80s, but the only splash he really made was in 1989 with "Don't Say You Love Me" (featuring the uber-stupid rejoinder "...just say UHHHHH!"), which was on the MTV and got a lot of rock radio play around here. It sounded like classic Squier and the video was full of hot chicks and Squier trying to look tough, but it was only a minor reprieve:

He never really did anything of note again and eventually started releasing blues albums on indie labels. Squier has had a bit of a renaissance in recent years after rap artists like Run DMC, Jay-Z, Dizzee Rascal and Kanye West all sampled Squier's 1980 song "The Big Beat." Squier resurfaced in the news a few years ago when he and his neighbor Bono got into a dispute over fireplace smoke getting into Bono's apartment in Central Park West; ah, the problems of the rich. In addition, he joined Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band for a few tours and this summer, the 30th anniversary reissue of Don't Say No was released. So at the very least, Squier should be living comfortably thanks to royalties. But I'm sure a day doesn't go by that he doesn't think about what might have been...if he hadn't released that damn video.

Fix Up, Look Sharp:

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Daddy Needs a Drink

Gotta admit, I'm moving a little slower today. We were down in Joisey this weekend for Matt and Tricia's annual "midwinter blues" party; we shipped the kids off to Tricia's parents to spend the night. It was a good time. There was a good bunch of folks there, most of whom were enjoying the chance to socialize without their kids around. The drinks were flowing freely; I even did a shot of Goldschlager, which I hadn't had since the mid-90s. Unfortunately for us, we had to hit the road early because Hannah had a birthday party to attend in the early afternoon, so there wasn't much opportunity to sleep off the hangover. Hence the fuzziness of the brain.

Actually, I feel fine, especially now that we're home. I was able to get a 14-mile run in yesterday through the state park near Matt's house, although the hills were tough. Next week, I'm supposed to do a 17-miler.

Pockets of congestion:
  • Even if you're not a hockey fan, you should check out this clip from the press conference announcing the hiring of Cliff Fletcher as the interim general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Go to the 4:45 mark and watch one of the weirdest things I've ever seen. While Fletcher is speaking, team president Richard Peddie mouths the exact same words that Fletcher is delivering. Obviously, the remarks were prepared and they went over them, but it looks like he's a ventriloquist or something. As if they needed any more help to become the laughingstock of the league.
  • Here's an artifact from days gone by: Somebody uploaded three hours of video from MTV circa the fall of 1983. Not just the videos (including Night Ranger, Sammy Hagar, and Huey Lewis and the News), but VJ Mark Goodman yapping and the commercials, too. It's nothing like what you'd see on that channel today, obviously; it's kind of like the video equivalent of an AOR (that's album-oriented rock if you're unfamiliar with old radio formats) station. Very mellow, no programming other than videos and the occasional contest promo. Here's part 1 of 2 (thanks to Idolator for the tip). We didn't get cable in my podunk NH town until late 1985, so I wasn't yet able to watch MTV at this point; I occasionally saw it at a friend's house in a different town. I only saw music videos on shows like NBC's Friday Night Videos and local fare like Hot Hit Video, a daily show that ran in the afternoons on Boston's Channel 7, and V66, a Boston-based video channel that went on (and off) the air in the mid-80s. We could only get it with rabbit ears, so the picture wasn't very clear, but I remember seeing cool stuff like The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?" and U2 videos before they were huge. Good times.
  • I've been thoroughly enjoying season 5 of The Wire, which sadly will be the last. This season introduced the world of journalism into the show's incisive look at Baltimore. Some have complained that the newspaper stuff isn't as interesting as the gritty crime part of the story, but it all intertwines. Show creator David Simon, a former Baltimore crime reporter, has masterfully incorporated the struggles of the big Baltimore daily to cover the city while dealing with budget cuts and corporate interference. As a former news guy, I can relate to this stuff, but I think it's an important angle for anyone to consider. If you haven't seen this show yet, I recommend renting the first four seasons on DVD because there are so many characters and storylines that you'll be lost if you just start with season 5. It's well worth the time investment.
  • Speaking of the boob tube, Lost is back this week with the first of eight new episodes. Originally, the plan was to air 16 consecutive weeks of the new season uninterrupted, but that was before the writer's strike got in the way. Eight shows have been completed; hopefully the damn strike will end so we can see the rest after this long wait. At ABC's Lost home page, there's an 8:15 (the flight that crashed was Oceanic 815, get it?) clip that recaps the show for folks who haven't seen it since last spring. Check it out.