Looking Back At Music Videos [part 3]

The humble L-750 made hundreds of tapes of music videos possible in my Record Cell

[…continued from last post]

MTV And The Second British Invasion

By the third year of MTV it was the new force to be reckoned with in music. It was kingmaker to all of the bands of the Second British Invasion, which lasted from early 1983 until some time in 1984. The influx of head-turning British musical acts that got anywhere from a foothold to the keys to the kingdom in America was a pretty long list. How many of these bands would have had a chance without music videos and what was a national “radio station” pumping them to all four corners of the USA in glorious stereo?

  • Culture Club
  • Duran Duran
  • Eurythmics
  • A Flock of Seagulls
  • The Fixx
  • ABC
  • Adam Ant
  • Bananarama
  • The Human League
  • Dexy’s Midnight Runners
  • Thompson Twins
  • Madness
  • Big Country
  • Thomas Dolby

I’m guessing it would have been all Journey/Styx/Kenny Rogers…all the time. The early 80s might not have happened as we understand them. It was all down to the confluence of new technologies and established media hierarchies [and their upstart disruptors] colliding together in a period that saw US Top 40 music …get a little better for a year or two. By 1984 it was largely returning to the status quo on MTV.

The Mainstream Fights Back [And Wins…because…$$$]

That was down to established US superstars exerting their privilege and making videos as well as these upstart Brit acts! I can recall the pomp and circumstance that accompanied the first Bruce Springsteen video [if we conveniently forget the existence of 1982’s “Atlantic City” which was Bruce-free] as directed by slumming B-list director, Brian DePalma. It was not much to look at but it was Brooooooce and MTV plastered it duly across their playlists for months on end. Videos like these were positioned as events, and MTV had “World Premiere Videos” that had a special bumper before the video was shown to pump up the hype. From that point it was barely a hop, skip, and a jump to the MTV Exclusives that the label actually paid for. Prior to this, the videos were a free promotional tool paid for by the labels and given to all and sundry to disburse as widely as possible. Now the A-list acts had their upwardly spiraling video production costs subsidized by MTV. Payola, always a factor in the music industry took little time to insinuate itself into the world of music videos.

And by 1984, the days of cheaply cheerful music videos were being muscled off the tube by increasingly expensive productions that began to eclipse the production budgets of entire albums. In an unparalleled instance of hype, Michael Jackson made the first $1,000,000 [or close enough to it…] music video for the title track to his “Thriller”‘ album. After that it was a “game over” scenario. The big money elite of music now were commanding budgets that the small fish could not compete with. MTV skewed its playlists towards the money, naturally. The days of film students learning their craft by making a video for a friend of a friend’s band… and then get it on MTV prime time, had receded to a small, slim-to-none niche. A line in the sand was crossed with “Tell Her About It,” the Billy Joel music video that was the first all-union shoot in music video. But it was too late to help the union movement in America, then under explicit attack by the former president of the Screen Actor’s Guild, Ronald Reagan.

So the Wild West moment of music video was over and done with by 1984. New Wave had most of the nails hammered shut in its coffin by that time. By 1985 it would be a memory. Meanwhile, I now had hundreds of music videos in my “collection.” An L-750 tape could record three hours in ßeta II speed. That added up to about 50 music videos packed onto a tape. I swapped them with my friends who were also building their “collections.” The weird thing was, that apart from the [negligible] cost of blank tape, this type of collecting was “free.”

The was my exact 2nd Sears ßeta VCR – made by Sanyo with Hi-Fi Stereo

The Future Will Be S-T-E-R-E-O

By 1985, I had worn out my first VCR, and upgraded to a new Hi-Fi Stereo unit. This new technology allowed stereo with an 80 dB dynamic range to be recorded on the tape. Positioning the headroom as better than FM [50 dB] and just below CD quality [90-95 dB]. The stereo feed on MTV became more important than ever, but the sound quality of the FM simulcast was always noisy. Here’s how MTV brought stereo TV to the masses before the MTS Stereo standard. You had to split the cable signal and feed the coax into the antenna terminals of your stereo. MTV was somewhere high up in the unused portion of the FM dial. Around 103 kHz if I can remember correctly. You would listen to the Stereo audio on your tuner that accompanied MTV on your TV. Crude, but that’s all there was.

So I was taping about 20-30 videos a week by this time. And getting Hi-Fi stereo meant that I was looking out to “upgrade” many of my music videos with a stereo version. I think I was on tape 48 then the change was made. I was aware that MTV added about 50 clips a week, but many of these were unseen. One of my tricks when I got a new pack of videotapes, was to tape three hours of MTV in the dead of night, when the “interesting” stuff was played [if ever]. I would review the tape the next day and not on the counter where any videos were that I wanted to save and then tape around them, taking care not to come within a minute or two of taping over a valued music video.

Music Video Friends For Life

I was the second among my circle of friends to get a VCR. Dave had been the first with a VHS deck and home video camera rig [way pre-camcorder – it had to be tethered to the VCR to record and you never had enough light] used for the family’s Children’s Christian Puppet Theater work [yes, really]. Dave was the one who had taped that “Passing Strangers” video on Hollywood Heartbeat back in 1980 so we could buy a bag of sour cream and onion Doritos® and head to his house after high school and watch that clip…until we had enough.

Chasinvictoria was also a ßeta guy who got his VCR some time after me. We might swap music videos every now and then, but one day in 1985, I was working at my part time job at the university newspaper. The classified ad manager was short and wanted some staffers to put personals in to fill the page. I usually demurred but this one time, I filled one out. It went something like this.

“Wanted: music video traders to swap music videos. No HM. No Rock.”

My one single, personals ad ever

I only got one phone call in response, but it was a doozy. That was how Mr. Ware entered into my sphere back in 1985 and we’ve been good friends for 37 years now. The drummer in his band was a student ay my college and passed the ad on to him. Mr. Ware had some amazing clips to trade since he was friends with Ron Kane. Ron was exceptionally connected and was an alpha music video trader with resources at the limit of what was possible back then. Trading sources around the world. Access to systems transfers. He even had a satellite dish! Just what Much-Music, the Canadian equivalent to MTV showed was mind boggling! So not only did Mr. Ware and I keep each other up to date, and I enjoyed Mr. Ware spending a Friday night trucking his VCR over to my place every now and then to load up on some music videos which we would watch together as we dubbed copies. A fun night for music geeks! I then got on the receiving end of things from Mr. Kane. I say receiving end because there was very little that escaped his watchful eye. I might have given him 2-5 tapes over the years to the dozens and dozens he would send me with little hope of me ever reaching “trading parity.”

Next: …The End Of An Era

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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17 Responses to Looking Back At Music Videos [part 3]

  1. uofsc93 says:

    Great point about the death of videos “you actually wanted to watch,” once the budget began to escalate. I was fortunate to have a an old school massive satellite dish that took up a good part of the back yard. Goodbye MTV, hello Canada’s Muchmusic & early B.E.T. I never looked back until 120 minutes came on Sundays.

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      uofsc93 – Yes, MuchMusic was a real treat for the music video fans who wanted more than Billy Joel clips. It always irked me how an act like Billy Joel saw Ultravox videos and said “I want some of that!” And the next thing we knew, Russell Mulcahy was kowtowing to MOR American acts dangling all sorts of money in front of him. And we all lost in that scenario. And you mention B.E.T. By the late 80s I was also watching Video Soul, now that I think of it! It’s was where I first heard Mel + Kim!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mel says:

    I am sure 120 minutes and The Cutting Edge will be addressed soon in this retrospect of videos. Those shows were the only reason to watch MTV later on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • JT says:

      …that, and “The Young Ones” of course!

      Liked by 1 person

      • postpunkmonk says:

        JT – “The Young Ones.” Must-see viewing, and the single band per episode meant that it barely qualified as music programming. But in retrospect, it was the beginning of the end for the purity of the “all music – all the time” concept. Leading to the toxic sludge that MTV has been for over half its lifespan. Just imagine if MTV hadn’t been so tightly aligned to radio programming. Imagine that heavy rotation did not exist! I daresay I would have watched many years longer.

        Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Mel – In retrospect, I maybe should have mentioned more special MTV programming like “IRS’The Cutting Edge” and “London Calling.” But those were magazine shows and skimpy on the music video. Similarly, The Tube was a live show once a month for a year that was must-watching. I remember seeing Killing Joke on playing “Kings + Queens” SO LOUDLY that the ugly, brutal tangle of overdriven noise always led to a disappointment when playing the actual recording. Which sounded far tamer.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Big Mark says:

    Ah, Beta HiFi stereo…those were the days. I remember early in my ßeta days when RK sent me a beautiful dub of a Japanese Heaven 17 video comp (plus numerous other items to fill an L750), and as I played it, audio through my stereo system, I was simply overwhelmed at the sound quality of “Penthouse & Pavement” and the rest of it.

    RK gathered so many airchecks of MuchMusic that he’d periodically send me a 50-count box of them, and I’d go through them leaving him notes of exactly where on each tape to find the interesting stuff, which, of course I’d dub off for myself, having two Sony Beta devices by then. I recall my delight at discovering the Stranglers’ “Big In America” clip on one such aircheck, something for which RK and I had both had a strong hankerin’.

    Regarding the less common clips that MTV supposedly added to their playlists but you never saw, the standard joke between me and RK was that in order to see it you had to have had your aircheck running the one time they showed it at 4:35am on a Tuesday.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. thxdave says:

    Hey Monk, any love for “Night Flight”? I always found them a bit uneven but some of their “theme” shows were interesting. You were truly lucky to have some trading buddies close by. Before I got cable, I had to lug my big Panasonic VHS deck ($1000 in Dec. 1980) down to a friend’s house who had cable. Fun times. “Night Tracks” on TBS, too!

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      thxdave – I spent time lugging my VCR over to Dave’s house plenty of times. And those hefties were not the svelte boxes many Gen Xers might have memories of! They were like furniture.

      Like

  5. Bridget says:

    Was late to VCRs, etc. However, I seem to remember that as you state above, around the middle of my college days, MTV went mainstream in the USA and it was the dominant rock sound that took over. Confession: I love Journey’s Infinity album but beyond that, meh. I do not like Bruce. I had a college roommate who was a Bruce freak-argggggh! I did see Billy Joel in concert, but as I look back, the feeling of joy wasn’t there listening to most of his music after Piano Man….and the worst-Barry Manilow (I don’t like Elton John’s music either, another musician popular in the dorm). The US music scene was truly crap then….no wonder I preferred the UK, Aussie and NZ music better. I just revived my Split Enz CD….wow. Oh, and when living in SoCal, The Fixx was a regular listen as well.

    Great series on video-the memories…or is it just Memorex? 💕

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Bridget – As an early adopter of many technologies, I look askance at those sorts of hi-jinx now. I only grudgingly got my first cell phone when I was planning a trip to the UK in 2020 [scuttled by Covid-19, naturally]. I am more than happy to watch others throw down money I no longer have in such pursuits. We only got a flat screen TV [used/cheap] a year ago at my wife’s behest. Glad I spent <$100 for it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Tim says:

    Wasn’t Thriller played in some movie theaters, too? I remember seeing Bowie/Jaggers Dancing in the Streets before Back to the Future and that was 85.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – In retrospect, music videos as short subjects before features makes more sense to me. Though I never saw any that I can recall. But that would have made sense to me. More sense than an expensive industry that cost almost more for this promotional aspect than the potential profit margin from all but the biggest selling albums could possibly deliver! And therein lay the problem with music videos. Like many things in Western Culture, it was just not sustainable. And it was ego-driven.

      Like

  7. Mr. Ware says:

    I’m enjoying this series immensely and am delighted that you noted how video swapping brought us together as friends. As I lived in a very rural area I never had MTV during it’s heyday. However syndicated shows like Rockworld and Hollywood Heartbeat made a huge impact. One other that you did not mention was called MV3 which I seem to remember was on every weekday afternoon and featured Richard Blade.

    Liked by 2 people

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Mr. Ware – I did mention MV3 in part 4. Trying to cram in everything in the last part!

      Like

    • At last the truth is revealed! The origin story of Mr Ware and his teamup with the Monk! Yes, I was mostly a Beta/SuperBeta person (particularly after Hi-Fi) but eventually shifted to SVHS for price and availability around 1988 (just as ED-Beta was coming out, but IIRC it was just too pricey and the format was dying rapidly).

      I also used to use SVHS and Beta before it in its worst video mode (6-hour for SVHS) once I discovered that the hi-fi audio was not similarly degraded as the video was. This was used to record late-night radio airchecks as well as many of my own radio shows throughout the 90s. The tapes the Monk used to get from Ron were special-event watch parties!

      It is a huge pity that Ron is no longer with us to comment (extensively, I’m sure) on this series, but as he played a big role in the music video lives of the Monk, myself, and of course Mr Ware, I’m especially glad that we were all three able to travel to pay tribute to the man to whom we owe much.

      Like

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