I Want My MTV: Video Killed The Radio Star by The Buggles - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

I Want My MTV: Video Killed The Radio Star by The Buggles

Pictures came and broke your heart.
On Saturday, August 1, 1981, at 12:01 a.m. Eastern Time, MTV began broadcasting with footage of the first Space Shuttle launch countdown of Columbia (which took place earlier that year), cutting into the actual launch of Apollo 11. As the spacecraft headed skyward, the channel began in earnest with the words...
"Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll."
The phrase was followed by the original MTV theme song, a vivid rock tune composed by Jonathan Elias and John Petersen, playing over the American flag changed to show MTV's logo shifting between different textures and designs.

As we approach the fortieth anniversary of that event, let's look back at the first music video to be played on MTV (which at the time was available only to homes in the New Jersey area) - Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles. Given the song relates to concerns about, and mixed attitudes towards 20th-century inventions and machines for the media arts, could there have been a more apt choice of track?

What you might not know is that although Video Killed The Radio Star is synonymous with Trevor Horn and his new wave/synth-pop group The Buggles, they weren't the first to record it. The Buggles began life in 1977, first consisting of Horn, Geoff Downes and Bruce Woolley, who together all wrote Video Killed the Radio Star in an hour of one afternoon in 1978 together in Downes' apartment located above a monumental stonemason's in Wimbledon Park, London.

At this time the group were unsigned but Downes' girlfriend, who worked for Island Records, managed to get an early demo of the song, featuring Horn's then-girlfriend Tina Charles on vocals, played to executives there, securing the Buggles a recording contract. Shortly after, Woolley left the group to form his own band, The Camera Club (which featured Thomas Dolby on keyboards), and recorded his own version of Video Killed The Radio Star for The Camera Club's debut album English Garden.
Despite being released as a single, Woolley's version failed to gain an audience. The Buggles version arrived on September 7th 1979, topping the charts later that Autumn in the UK, Australia, Japan, France, Spain and many other territories, as well as becoming a U.S. Billboard Chart Top Single Pick in November 1979.

As was often the case at the time, the music video to accompany the song was recorded after the single's release, with Island Records stumping-up £20,000 (approximately $50,000) for the production, a decent figure for the day, especially given that it was a debut single by an unknown group. Shot entirely in one afternoon, the video features both Horn and Downes and begins with a young girl sitting in front of a radio. A black-and-white shot of Horn singing into a radio-era microphone is then superimposed before th radio blows up as the track reaches the first chorus. In the second verse, the young girl is seen transported into the future, where she meets Horn and a silver-jumpsuited female in a test tube. A very literal interpretation of the song.
The man behind the camera was Russell Mulcahy. Having recently relocated from his native Australia, Mulcahy had founded the innovative music video production company MGMM (alongside Brian Grant, Scott Millaney and David Mallet), and had previously been responsible for the promo for XTC's Making Plans For Nigel, among others. Mulcahy asked his fellow antipodean Virginia Hey, a friend who was a model and aspiring actress (and would later star as Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan on the TV show Farscape), to play the silver-jumpsuited female from the future. She was lowered via wires into the large clear test tube, which became the hardest shot of the entire video shoot, taking about 30 attempts to get it right. In the video there is a shot of the tube falling over, which Mulcahy later claimed was not meant to make the final edit.
Briefly visible in the video, around the mid-point (and in the gif above), is Hans Zimmer, seen in a cut-scene wearing black and playing the keyboards. Never officially credited at the time as actually performing on the single, but close friends with Trevor Horn, Zimmer later recalled that after the video premiered on Top of the Pops the BBC received several complaints from viewers due to being "'too violent' because we blew up a television." Not because a little girl was perched on top of the exploding televisions...
It was a very different time!

In hindsight it's easy to see why this is a perfect track and visual accompaniment for the launch of MTV, but given that Video Killed the Radio Star had only made number 40 in the Billboard chart over eighteen months before the cable channel's launch, at the time it might not have been such an obvious one. MTV co-founder Bob Pittman explained the choice of opener...
"Video Killed The Radio Star made an aspirational statement. We didn't expect to be competitive with radio, but it was certainly a sea-change kind of video."
Although MTV slowly shifted its programming, broadcasting fewer and fewer music videos since the turn of the Century, on February 27th February 2000, Video Killed The Radio Star marked another milestone for MTV, by becoming the one-millionth video to be aired on the channel.
The track's legacy is so much more than it's association with MTV. As noted above, it was a global number one, hitting the top of the charts in 27 countries. In Mulcahy's native Australia, Video Killed The Radio Star remained the country's biggest selling single for 27 years! Today, Video Killed The Radio Star remains a staple radio track (oh, the irony) and it's video has amassed in excess of 37 million views on YouTube. Perhaps even more notable, given that the internet has often been attributed to the decline in traditional broadcasting, in mid-2020 the song became popular among TikTok users as a trend to revisit celebrity death conspiracies, and across the internet when a deepfake of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin singing the song went viral on multiple social media sites.

Perhaps a remake titled Streaming Killed The Video Star is a possibility?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad