I think I’m done writing about MTV and Clear Channel for the moment, but I have one more thought on that Buggles tune, “Video Killed The Radio Star.”
I raised the question without answering it in my Friday story: “If you could get your favorite top 40 hits, with pictures, moving pictures, wouldn’t that be much better?”
Yes, was the implied answer in the context of my story. My real answer, on the whole is, no.
Now this may be a blind thing. I am legally blind, with partial vision. I have enough vision to see the videos. But I use my other senses more than fully sighted people do, I am sure. Take all that for what it’s worth.
Along with everybody else, I did eagerly watch the videos, starting in 1981 when MTV hit the air. It was new and it was happening. It had music, it had television, what was not to like?
Also, Martha Quinn!
But MTV didn’t make me unplug my radio. I was not at all dependent on seeing something to enjoy or get the meaning/feeling of a song.
For example, I didn’t hear “Hot Child In The City,” by Nick Gilder and think “wow, sure would like to see her!” I supplied my own vision.
If you show me a video of the song you have to pick a young girl for the part and maybe I don’t think she’s all that hot.
“She’s kind of dangerous,” Gilder sang of the hot child. What the word “dangerous” meant to me, a relatively sheltered kid, was not the same thing an inner-city kid might be thinking.
Your pictures have to tell the story somehow. Those pictures have now taken all the mystery from the song.
Similarly, when you hear Richard Harris doing McArthur Park (or Donna Summer if you prefer), when you hear, ‘someone left the cake our in the rain,’ do you need a picture with that. Do you even want a picture?
“Someone left the cake out in the rain” is a brilliant lyric. It evokes a palpable helplessness; high achievement ruined forever by someone else not doing a simple task. This line deserves to stand on its own.
If you show the cake you have to show it in some kind of context that threatens to take attention away from the cake. Maybe it’s not the kind of cake I like.
“Pictures came and broke your heart,” the Buggles sang to the radio star. Also, “We can’t rewind we’ve gone too far.”
Well pictures would have put a scare into you if you were radio, but if you really think about it, pictures didn’t do much, or add much.
If we had video images to go with Boz Scaggs’ Lido Shuffle would that help? Don’t we already have a verbal picture of Lido and is that not sufficient?
And what about the pictures we did get? When you saw Toni Basil jumping around in a cheerleader outfit on the “Hey Mickey” video does that add anything to the song?
Now that one is not much of a song. So let’s take my all-time favorite song, “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners. The song is just different. The tempo changes, the banjos on the lead, even the vocal delivery is different. It certainly stood out from American Top 40 tunes when it came around in 1982.
The “we are far too young and clever” lyric did something for me at the time. It was a coming-of-age story and even had a reference to old-time music (“poor old Johnnie Ray”).
But the video is just OK. It adds nothing to, takes away nothing from the song. So it’s not a bad thing but it’s just not needed. If pictures came and broke anybody’s heart, you couldn’t prove it by Come On Eileen.
Even Martha Quinn doesn’t necessarily need video these days. Since January 2022, she has been hosting a midday radio show, The Martha Quinn Show, for iHeartMedia, according to Wikipedia.