[…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
- A Flock of Seagulls
- The Fixx
- Adam Ant
- The Human League
- Dexy’s Midnight Runners
- Thompson Twins
- 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 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.
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