Craig Marks: I Want My MTV


Friday, November 11, 2011

The Beastie Boys and Darryl 'D.M.C.' McDaniels with MTV VJ Adam Curry at center in 1988 The Beastie Boys and Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels with MTV VJ Adam Curry at center in 1988 (Photo insert from I Want My MTV / Courtesy of Adam Curry)

Thirty years ago, hardly anyone knew what a music video was. On the night MTV was launched, its founders — a ragtag bunch of music fans and rookie television execs — had to take a bus from Manhattan to New Jersey to watch the broadcast, because no New York cable company carried the fledgling channel. Veteran music journalists Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum tell that sad little tale in their new oral history I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution.

Within just a few years, MTV had become a cultural juggernaut, transforming the music industry and creating a new generation of megastars. Two things helped turn around the network’s fortunes: Michael Jackson's “Thriller” video, and the "I Want My MTV" campaign — killer content and ahead-of-the-curve advertising. Marks tells Kurt Andersen, "It got people to call their local cable operators, like Sting told you to — 'Call your local cable operators and demand your MTV!' — and that's what people actually did."

Music purists dreaded the rise of a pop audience judging artists only on their beauty. Marks thinks it wasn't that simple. MTV favored musicians who had theatrical flair, which is why British New Wave bands were huge on MTV even as they were scarce on US commercial radio. Hair metal bands also knew how to put on a good show. Marks quotes Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider: “We needed MTV, but MTV really needed us.” 

The introduction of Yo! MTV Raps in 1988 was another turning point for the network and helped drive mainstream acceptance of hip-hop. “That was the way that you found out if you were in LA, what New York hip-hop was about and what it looked like and what they were wearing,” Mark says. “It was the social network of that culture."

Marks believes the golden age of MTV ended in 1992, when The Real World debuted, and MTV shifted focus from music videos to reality programming. In the nearly 400 interviews he did for I Want My MTV, most of his subjects were nostalgic for a time when a hit video would be seen by everybody. “They all mourn this sort of last gasp of the music monoculture," Marks says. "It's hard to imagine there's that one place now that could produce that sort of change."

What’s your favorite music video from MTV’s golden age? Tell us here.


Video: Geto Boys, "Mind Playing Tricks On Me"

Scarface — of the Houston-based rap group Geto Boys — told Craig Marks that having videos played on Yo! MTV Raps helped put Houston’s hip-hop scene on the map.


Video: Billy Squier, "Rock Me Tonite"

MTV launched a lot of artists, but arena rocker Billy Squier told Craig Marks that the video for "Rock Me Tonight" undermined his hard rock image and killed his career.

    Music Playlist
  1. Money for Nothing
    Artist: Dire Straits
    Album: Brothers in Arms
    Label: Warner Bros / Wea
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. Video Killed the Radio Star
    Artist: The Buggles
    Album: The Age of Plastic
    Label: Polygram Records
    Purchase: Amazon
  3. Who Could it be now
    Artist: Men at Work
    Album: Business as Usual
    Label: Sony
    Purchase: Amazon
  4. Rock the Casbah
    Artist: The Clash
    Album: Combat Rock
    Label: Sony
    Purchase: Amazon
  5. Rock Me Tonite
    Artist: Billy Squier
    Album: Signs of Life
    Label: Capitol
    Purchase: Amazon
  6. Addicted to Love
    Artist: Robert Palmer
    Album: Riptide
    Label: Mca Special Products
    Purchase: Amazon
  7. Beat It
    Artist: Michael Jackson
    Album: Thriller
    Label: Sony
    Purchase: Amazon
  8. Mind Playing Tricks on Me
    Artist: Geto Boys
    Album: We Can't Be Stopped
    Label: Rap-a-Lot
    Purchase: Amazon


Craig Marks

Produced by:

Derek John

Comments [19]

Maite from France Safety Dance, Men Without Hats

Oct. 12 2012 05:42 PM
School Rockers from Los Angeles

Do you want your MTV more than these kids????

Guitar Prodigy and Kindergarten Cutie

Mar. 20 2012 04:21 PM
Morgan Andrews from Philadelphia

I watched MTV as a kid in the early 80s and was enthralled by Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics, both in "Love is a Stranger" and their surreal video critique of the music industry, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)." But by the late 80s I was appalled by MTV's monocropped version of music. You mentioned how MTV kept hip hop in the closet for a long time—too true! And MTV also did the same to punk and indie rock. These genres were saved for a weekly program called "120 Minutes" that really only played major label artists. It wasn't until (former) indie bands like Sonic Youth and Nirvana signed to the majors that birthed the myth of punk reawakening from a long slumber. Indie rock's golden age was in the 80s, but invisible in the shadow of hair metal, backed by the profit-driven monopoly of MTV.

Nov. 17 2011 10:50 PM
Trinka from Franklin, TN

I was bemused by MTV but liked all videos despite often being lukewarm about the music. Then came Kate Bush's CLOUDBUSTING with no less than Donald Sutherland as the starring role in one of my favorite artist's songs...

Nov. 14 2011 09:45 PM
-=Russ=- from woodbridge lakeridge,virginiA!

afterschoolmtv in the 80's
or'skipping'schoolfortheDAY../ to 'monitor' what was on M.t.v.'
U@'firstbig video'they set thenew'barhigh forgraphics music!!the visualSplusthesounds

Nov. 14 2011 05:07 PM
Kevin J. Maroney from Yonkers, NY

Tremendously enjoyed the segment, and I'll have to check out Marks's book in my Copious Free Time. However, I do have to quibble (it's the internet! I'm required by law to quibble!)

The New Wave had several major commerical successes before the debut of MTV; the most notable was The Cars, who had 2 Top 40 hits off of each of the first two albumns in the 1970s. MTV definitely pushed them all the way to the top of the charts for the singles from HEARTBEAT CITY, but they were definitely a success as Radio Stars.

Nov. 14 2011 02:26 PM
michaela from Seattle from Seattle

MTV opened my eyes to so much more music back in the early 80's. I don't think I could pick one video, but of my top three, I will say that Hungry Like the Wolf left me speechless, Sweet Child of Mine still makes me smile remembering memories of a trip to Toronto and Smells Like Teen Spirit ushered in the end of the MTV era for me. It became less about music around that time and more about shows like the Real World.

Nov. 13 2011 10:58 PM
Jim Weldon from Seattle WA

My favorite was "Subdivisions" by Rush. I am a drummer. I'll never forget when VJ JJ Jackson said "That was Neil Peart and Rush". Jackson used to be a DJ at Seattle's KJR. It was so cool to see a VJ who had worked in my hometown say such positive things about my favorite drummer.

Nov. 13 2011 10:51 PM
Katherine from Seattle, WA

Oh wow! My all time favorite video that blew away all the others is "Weapon of Choice" by Fatboy Slim. Christopher Walken dancing alone in some swanky hotel lobby. Love it, Love it, Love it.

Nov. 13 2011 10:32 PM
Mike White from Westland, MI

The video that always left me breathless after I saw it was Weezer's "Buddy Holly." It hit that sweet spot of recycling popular culture and putting a new spin on it, mixing in Weezer with "Happy Days." Oddly, that was one of the last music videos that I would have caught on MTV before "The Real World" seemed to change the tenor of the channel forever. I had been with the channel since the early days (my first video was "A Flock of Seagull's "I Ran").

It makes no sense to me that there isn't a channel out there as good as MTV used to be. Even when things started to get more striated with "120 Minutes" "Headbangers' Ball" "Yo! MTV Raps" etc, one would think that there would now be entire channels dedicated to these types of music rather than one channel that seems completely irrelevant.

Nov. 13 2011 09:11 PM
Layton D Traver from WI

Without MTV or VH1, there isn't a place left on TV for adults to view videos and see the latest efforts

Nov. 13 2011 01:28 PM
Scott from NYC

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" was far and away the most significant "MTV experience" I have ever had. Too young to understand what I was watching, standing in my grandmother's apartment in a "community" in Florida, I could not comprehend what I was watching - I knew it was important. I didn't like it, it wasn't pleasing, and at the same it was freaking amazing!! Of course, the costumes, choreography, & effects of "Thriller", the set & production novelty of "Billie Jean", GNR's "Welcome to the Jungle" and "November Rain" were all really great, but "Smells Like Teen Spirit" shook me. Hurt me in a way - I felt the kind of uncomfortable dissonance that is the privileged curse of being 12.

It's really strange nostalgia - when I close my eyes and think of "SLTS" I am once again in the room in the Florida apartment room with that tiny, tinny, TV. I can smell the humid air, feel the hard click of the dial, the freeze of the air conditioning, and the awkward fidelity of grunge on an awful television. I think it was the confluence of time, music, and puberty... and that is what MTV was for me - and no longer is. A constant flow of sound and light, manifest as music video. Sometimes it was useless background noise... and sometimes it was nirvana.

Nov. 13 2011 11:46 AM
Jonna from New York, NY

My favorite video was David Bowie's "China Girl." I loved that 360 shot of the kiss. And my favorite guilty pleasure - "Don't Stand So Close to Me" by The Police. Low tech, no budget, barely structured video; it looked like none of them wanted to be on camera and all felt completely foolish... but I think that's what made it so enjoyable and fun to watch.

Nov. 13 2011 11:38 AM
Steve Kipp

My favorite, Peter Gabriel, Sledgehammer.

Nov. 13 2011 11:32 AM
cindy from houston from Houston

How funny was "Eat it" or "I'm Fat" by Weird Al. He had us in stitches with MTV parodies. Favorite MTV video moment was the night Thriller first played.

Nov. 12 2011 08:45 PM
Bill Riordan

Favorite golden age videos: Jump from Van Halen and later Sweet Child O Mine.

Nov. 12 2011 04:27 PM
Anne F from South Orange NJ

I loved it all--and devoured it all--but I used to wait for hours to see ABC's "The Look of Love."

I loved that dappy fey Englishman in that Candyland world.

Nov. 12 2011 04:26 PM
Rod from St Leonard MD

Definitely Duran Duran's Hungry Like the Wolf"

Nov. 12 2011 02:48 PM
Susan from Pennsylvania

My favorite MTV video was "Something More" performed by Sinch on the Roadrunner label back in 1996-97. The visuals were lame, but the band was great. I say this because my son was the bass player and his band mates his high school friends. Though no longer signed to a record label, they're still making music today.

Nov. 12 2011 08:02 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.