As we get older, the pull of our memories often draw us back in time like a tractor beam on the Death Star. The intoxicating rush of nostalgia almost made me dizzy when I found that some benign, god-like internet user had uploaded three hours of uncut MTV from January 8, 1984 to a Google Drive. Indiana Jones finding the ark was no longer all that impressive. The chance to sit down and experience MTV exactly as it was, and not how I want to remember it, might turn out to be a curse but I was going to take that chance!
In 1984, MTV exploded into the mainstream culture as Michael Jackson’s epic “Thriller” video and Madonna’s performance of “Like A Virgin” on the first Video Music Awards had everyone glued to their television. It was the year that the adults caught on to what the kids had been watching for two years and it changed everything. The list of significant albums released in 1984 boggles the mind: Born In the U.S.A (Bruce Springsteen), Purple Rain (Prince), The Unforgettable Fire (U2), Hatful of Hollow (The Smiths), Ride the Lightning (Metallica), 1984 (Van Halen), and Like A Virgin (Madonna) all became hugely influential in different ways and remain so. This found footage offers a peak at the cultural landscape on the cusp of one of the biggest years in music history so let’s check it out with a running diary:
00:26 Kim Wilde – Kids In America
Great start. A New Wave classic that still kicks ass. If you didn’t see the clip of Wilde rocking this on the Tube after a few drinks at a Christmas party, you can thank me later for this:
3:34 Joe Jackson – Steppin’ Out
Balding guy in a tuxedo. Smooth pop. Sophisticated dancing in NYC. Yep, we thought this was cool at the time and that speaks to MTV’s desperate need for content at this point in their evolution. I always had a soft spot for this video and it has aged pretty well. As it turns out, Joe Jackson was well into a respected career as a singer-songwriter by this time but he was new to us on MTV.
7:00 – Heaven – Rock School
What. In. The. Hell. These guys look like a cross between The Ramones and Iron Maiden. By 1987, I would be a full-fledged hair metal fanatic but this early stuff didn’t register on my radar and I don’t remember Heaven at all. The video seems ahead of its time with hair metal cliches: naughty teacher in lingerie as well as an overweight principal with a bottle of Jack Daniels on his desk (and his secretary on his lap). Inexplicably, the band gets into a fight with the entire football team (who are in pads and helmets). And wins! Then, a cop with a shotgun herds them into the principal’s office where he wrestles them to the floor. Not sure that is legal anymore.
11:30 – Commercial: 1984 Music Calendar
We used to buy calendars. Send check or money order to….
13:01 – Pat Benatar – I’m Gonna Follow You
Another video filmed at night in NYC but not as slick as Joe Jackson. Forgettable song and a video that goes nowhere. Hell might be for children but this video is definitely playing there.
17:21 – First sighting of the moon landing with the MTV flag. #classic
17:55 – John Cougar Mellencamp – Pink Houses
Something about the destruction of small town America and the economic fault line that follows the racial divide. Still no desire to visit Indiana all these years later.
22:30 – Rolling Stones – Waiting On a Friend
More from NYC. Mick Jagger sings “I’m just standing in a doorway” while, wait for it, standing in a doorway. This or “Start Me Up” was definitely the first Rolling Stones video I ever saw and, thus, was my introduction to the band. Forgive me if it took a few years before I understood what everyone was talking about. It was filmed in Greenwich Village at St. Mark’s Bar & Grill, apparently with the help of this guy.
27:15 The Fixx – One Thing Leads To Another
Some videos and songs do not feel nostalgic. I just saw The Fixx last year and they were so good that I’ve been listening to their entire discography since the show. My fear of dogs as a kid is my only defense for not getting into them sooner. The Doberman in this video always made me nervous.
30:20 – Don Felder – Bad Girls
File under: legendary failed attempt at a solo career by one of The Eagles. Take an older musician who looks even older on MTV and add a few models with off the shoulder sweaters and mini skirts. Hope for the best. Wait, is that Cheech in a Mercedes convertible? It is! Suddenly, I appreciate Glen Frey’s solo material a whole lot more. The girls ditch a bar of yuppies for….not Don Felder…and end up with a Billy Idol-look alike. Poor Felder.
35:00 – J.J. Jackson with the music news which consists of Culture Club tour dates, Robbie Krieger’s birthday, Yes tour dates and a reminder to call the MTV House Phone at 1-900-720-7272.
Yes, I tried calling it and no, it doesn’t work.
39:00 – Men At Work – Who Can It Be Now
Man, I miss a good saxophone. Colin Hay was one of the natural thespians of the MTV era. A short narrative about different people knocking on the door runs out of steam and the rest of the video is the band playing live while Hay looks nervous. It didn’t matter if the videos made sense. Low budgets and great songs always worked on MTV.
42:38 – Culture Club – Church of the Poison Mind
Cue the band driving around London (refreshing after all the New York City videos). Don’t need much of a plot with a star like Boy George anyways. Know what I missed at the time? The background singer always nailed her part in Culture Club. So, wherever you are, thank you Helen Terry!
46:00 – The Pretenders – Middle of the Road
Killer band filmed playing live. Always a safe video.
50:21 – REO Speedwagon – Keep On Loving You
They never looked cool and their ballads were saccharine sweet which makes this incredible cover by Cigarettes After Sex all the more impressive:
54:04 – Donna Summer – She Works Hard For the Money
Back in NYC. It is a narrative video about a woman who, you know, works hard for the money. She works as a janitor scrubbing floors by hand. Then, she is a waitress subjected to harassment by a guest and is forced to laugh it off. Then she is off to the sewing factory before walking home with a bag of groceries. Three jobs? One day? Add two kids. She has a nervous breakdown and then their house is robbed. Then, women from all walks of life take to the New York streets for some empowering choreography. They squeezed a lot into four minutes.
58:11 – ABC – That Was Then But This Is Now
ABC performs on a giant game of Risk while singing about something to do with English-American imperialism. This was their break from pop that yielded little commercial success so they went back to pop and wrote “When Smokey Sings” and “Bear Near Me”. The rest is history.
1:01:42 – Cheap Trick – If You Want My Love
I don’t remember thinking Cheap Trick was awesome in 1984 but this sounds like pure gold. Rick Nielsen was perfectly suited for videos because he could edit in 100 different guitars.
1:07:59 – Thompson Twins – Lies
Disclaimer: I remain an avid fan of the Thompson Twins. A few years ago, I left a golf course early to stalk Tom Bailey and got a record signed by his tour bus while telling him how I was grounded in 1987 and missed their show in Florida. I’m sure he had better groupies in the 80s. In other news, Tom Bailey has a new album in the works, sadly without the other Twins. They were a band that perfectly fit the MTV age which is why their music often gets dismissed. Big mistake. They were innovative and could write a great hook.
1:11:01 – Huey Lewis & the News – I Want A New Drug
The ultimate bar band with a charismatic singer who could actually act. They had a great sense of humor and their videos were fun. Middle of the road is a good place to be when Huey Lewis & the News are making music. In this one, Huey checks out a model sunbathing on a speed boat in San Francisco Bay which made sense until I visited San Francisco as an adult. At no time in the year would I want to be riding around the freezing cold and windy Bay in a bathing suit.
1:14:28 – Wall of Voodoo – Mexican Radio
The beans. That is all anyone remembers about the band. Twitchy, new wave band with several solid albums forever cursed by one iconic scene in their video.
1:18:50 – The Motels – Only the Lonely
Th record label knew they had a hit with this one and invested in a quality video. The song has aged well. The video, eh.
1:21:47 – ZZ Top – TV Dinners
One of the forgotten gems from the Eliminator album! An actual ode to TV dinners whereas Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” was not about dessert. An alien pops out of the microwave and starts changing channels on the TV. The guy in the video finally sees the alien and runs away. Dear ZZ Top, always have girls in your videos.
1:26:05 – INXS – The One Thing
A black tie dinner gone wild with one the most magnetic frontman of the decade. Umm, the instruments are obviously covered with toilet paper to create an all white set which is hilarious now. The models seductively eat fruit and feed grapes to the band. A cat hangs out on the table finding the whole concept a bit obvious.
1:29:28 – Firefall – Runaway Love
Man stranded on island. Forgettable band with an expensive video. This is the stuff we choose not to remember about MTV but then….
1:37:47 – Van Halen – Jump
One of the all-time greatest moments in MTV history. Nothing to it. Empty set and David Lee Roth set loose. This was the moment the Duran Duran fans realized that glam-metal was going to be totally awesome.
1:41:43 – Mari Wilson – Just What I’ve Always Wanted
Who is this?! She sounds like Lily Allen with a bee hive hairdo. A great song! Some excellent footage of the Brighton Pier in England. I grew up obsessed with England and I blame MTV.
1:45:20 – Peter Gabriel – Shock the Monkey
A cutting edge video and a song that sounded unlike anything else at the time. There is NO WAY this guy was in some prog-rock band in the 1970s. This is the sound of the future! Ahhh, I knew so little back then.
1:49:13 – Aldo Nova – Monkey On Your Back
I see what you did there MTV! Doubling down on monkey songs. A scientist with a computer creates the band digitally. The he leaves the lab and the band, of course, shoots out of the computer on laser beams. No amount of cool sci-fi technology could save this song. The strain of hard rock music had no chance in 1984.
1:54:44 – Michael Des Barres & Holly Knight – Obsession
OK, this just justified the three hours of my life that I spent on this. I can’t find this video on the internet so this is a true find. Featured on the A Night In Heaven soundtrack, a film I don’t think anyone remembers, this is the original version of the song that Animotion would top the charts with in the very near future. When Robert Palmer bowed out of touring with The Power Station, Michael Des Barres filled his shoes. A few months later, I was watching him sing “Some Like It Hot” at my first rock concert.
1:57:35 – Big Country – In A Big Country
Scotland isn’t that big. Thanks to these guys, I didn’t know that for a long time.
2:01:06 – Elvis Costello – Peace, Love, and Understanding (What’s So Funny About)
He was cool before MTV. He was cool during MTV. And he is still cool today.
2:07:40 – The Romantics – Talking In My Sleep
Four guys in flashlights peeping on a room of models who are sleeping on their feet. Not the least bit creepy. Black leather outfits, big hair, great guitar riff. A lot to like here!
2:11:22 – Genesis – Mama
Prog-rock and MTV were not built for each other. Genesis figured it out a few years later, probably after watching some Peter Gabriel videos. Anger does not suit Phil Collins.
2:16:30 – Another moon landing which means it was the top of the hour.
2:17:01 – Michael Jackson – Thriller
I was forever torn about “Thriller”. Sure, it was a groundbreaking moment for MTV and we all watched it three times a day but it was so lonnnng. Any time it came on, that meant there was no chance of seeing Duran Duran or Howard Jones for at least twenty minutes. Having not seen the entire short film in many years, I decide to sit through it.
Due to my strong personal convictions,
I wish to stress that this film in no
Way endorses a belief in the occult.
The opening disclaimer must have felt so serious in 1984. But really? Michael Jackson and the occult? Did our parents actually worry about this stuff?!
Ok, that is a classic video.
2:31:33 – Ozzy Osbourne – Bark At the Moon
Where is the occult warning for this bad boy?! A puffy Ozzy Osbourne plays a deranged scientist, a madman in a straight jacket, and then Teen Wolf all in under five minutes. Type casting at its best.
2:35:55 – Music news covering members of Squeeze going solo, Rush entering the studio, and David Bowie’s 37th birthday. Throw in some tour dates for .38 Special as well.
Today, we segment our music into every possible genre but, back then, MTV would show it all. Seeing Ozzy Osbourne and Culture Club side by side made sense to us. You didn’t have to take sides. That is something we have lost in music.
2:39:01 – Commercial: A woman, lying in bed, tells us she thinks people who smoke are real losers. Note: I think someone has been smoking in every video I’ve watched today….
2:39:45 – Quarterflash – Take Me to the Heart
A video based on mannequins from an under appreciated New Wave band. This isn’t the song I remember by the band. I’m tempted to find their albums.
2:43:24 – Bruce Springsteen – Atlantic City
At the time, this was a huge deal (I’ve read recently). Springsteen stood strong against making videos and finally relented with “Atlantic City”. Of course, he doesn’t appear in the video and the stark footage of New Jersey crumbling apart was a bit of a drag on MTV. I don’t recall seeing this often but Bruce and MTV were about to start one hell of a relationship in a few months….
2:45:56 – Yes – Owner of a Lonely Heart
Such a killer riff and a suspenseful video that Yes seemed cool for almost one entire year.
2:51:12 – Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – French Song
Oh my oh my! Dirty guitars and Jett looking like the total bad ass she is in her leather body suit. Why hasn’t this video re-surfaced more often?! This blows away “I Love Rock-n-Roll” but MTV didn’t give it many rotations back then. I don’t remember it at all, to be honest. Google Translate the chorus and you find out the Jett likes to make love in a threesome. The MTV footage ends here, I’m assuming because the VCR literally exploded from Jett’s awesomeness.
I (still) want my MTV.