Craig Marks: I Want My MTV


Friday, September 21, 2012

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 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."

(Originally aired: November 11, 2011)

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. Video Killed the Radio Star
    Artist: The Buggles
    Album: The Age of Plastic
    Label: Polygram Records
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. Who Could it be now
    Artist: Men at Work
    Album: Business as Usual
    Label: Sony
    Purchase: Amazon
  3. Rock the Casbah
    Artist: The Clash
    Album: Combat Rock
    Label: Sony
    Purchase: Amazon
  4. Beat It
    Artist: Michael Jackson
    Album: Thriller
    Label: Sony
    Purchase: Amazon
  5. Mind Playing Tricks on Me
    Artist: Geto Boys
    Album: We Can't Be Stopped
    Label: Rap-a-Lot
    Purchase: Amazon
  6. Rock Me Tonite
    Artist: Billy Squier
    Album: Signs of Life
    Label: Capitol
    Purchase: Amazon
  7. Whip It
    Artist: Devo
    Album: Freedom of Choice
    Label: Warner Bros
    Purchase: Amazon

Produced by:

Derek John

Comments [41]

SJE from Maryland/DC

Hoodoo Guru's stop motion dancing dinosaurs on "I want you back"
Kate Bush's "Cloudbursting" was steampunk before steampunk was hip could anyone forget the visuals of the Talking Heads? "And she was" remains a favorite.

Oct. 14 2012 02:03 PM
sid nachman

Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" was a defining video from the MTV early days

I would also have to say Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean" was visually well constructed

Oct. 12 2012 12:04 AM
Pottsy Weber from Central NJ

There was Music Video before MTV, remember.... set the dials on your WayBack Machine to 1960 and look at some of Ernie Kovacs innovative stop-action camera work set to music. One is an office scene playfully responding to some trendy Esquivel music:

and there are others, too:

Oct. 10 2012 12:04 AM
SG from DC

We are the world! We are the children! All your favorite pop stars all in one music video!

Oct. 09 2012 01:51 PM
Vincent Quinn from Nashville TN

My favorite is " Lucas With The Lid Off" by Lucas Secon.

Oct. 08 2012 09:25 AM
Robin from Dallas, Tx

The worst videos were of the artists standing there performing. An example of the very best to me is Herbie Hancock's Rockit - this one:

Omigosh, fabulous.

Oct. 07 2012 08:05 PM
moop from Kirkwood, MO

Don Henley's excellent "Boys of Summer" has stuck in my mind through the years, but there were so many great videos (at the time) during MTV's infancy. As so many have commented, we were completely mesmerized by it....brings back great memories.

Oct. 07 2012 03:21 PM
David Manglass from Accord, N.Y.

Black Hole Sun by Sound Garden and In a Big Country by Big Country are the videos that always pop into my mind when I think of they good old days of MTV

Oct. 07 2012 03:02 PM
Liz from VA

Buddy Holly by Weezer. Hands down. Spike jonze portrays Weezer playing in Arnold's diner from Happy Days (instead of Richie, ralph and potsie's band). Weezer is dressed like and acts like richie's band. All the cast is there and the Fonz even breaks out in his trademark dance at the end. Awesome song. Awesome show. Awesome video.

Oct. 07 2012 01:01 PM
Poodletoupee from Baltimore

The Cars, You Might Think I'm Crazy, was such a kick. The animation looks so elementary these days, but as a graphic artist I can attest that it opened the door for everyone to start playing around with similar visual tricks. I watched it whenever I could, trying to figure how it was done. Thanks for bringing back a reminder of those golden days of MTV.

Oct. 07 2012 12:48 PM
Mike from New York City

Rupert Hine's "Surface Tension" or anything from the 'Immunity' LP.

Oct. 07 2012 12:04 PM
Edward Cheetham from Hudson Valley

Eurythmics....Sweet Dreams. Stunning. People did not look like Annie Lennox, at least not in my small town. Arresting imagery. Cool song.

And, Annie Lennox's "Diva" album released several cool videos, especially, Walking on Broken Glass.

Just my two cents.

Oct. 07 2012 12:03 PM
Mike from Charlevoix, MI

311 "All Mixxed Up" & "Down"
Guilty Pleasure~ Alanis Morrisette "You Outta Know"

Sep. 27 2012 10:02 AM
Willfree from Montana

I grew up on the very mild sexiness of network television. Then one summer the local cable company threw the switch starting MTV just in time to bring us The Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). The image of Annie Lennox in suit and tie, black gloves and short orange hair, singing, "Some of them want to abuse you. Some of them want to be abused," was ever after my iconic MTV. I loved a thousand other videos but Sweet Dreams was always special.

Sep. 26 2012 10:35 PM
sarah d. from minneapolis, mn

Blind Melon, No Rain. Everybody knows the bee girl! I grew up in a suburb about twenty five minutes north of Minneapolis and that video described exactly how I felt at 8 or 9 years old growing up in suburbia before I even knew that was how I felt!

Sep. 26 2012 10:54 AM
eleniNYC from Jackson Heights

I remember vivedly when MTV debuted [1980?] I know I was definitely in JHS., but I had never actually seen a music video until about 6 mos -1 yr later, when we went to our cousin's house out in LI for a holiday. In Bklyn & Qns there was no cable. So, the first time my brother, sister and I had seen a few music vids on MTV, I must say we were quite hypnotized by the whole experience. Then on a major network, can't remember which one, there was a 2 hr. block of music videos including hip-hop, that met with some commercial success. But they weren't The Stones or Aerosmith, or Run DMC or even LL Cool J, It was: Men Without Hats, A -Ha, or some other emerging group.

Top Music Videos for me:
David Bowie: "Ashes to Ashes"
George Harrison: "When We Was Fab"
Peter Gabriel: "Sledge-Hammer"
Cyndi Lauper: "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"
Madonna: Any of them from the 1980's -1990's because she was and is such an expert self-promoter that she was awarded an honorary MBA in Marketing but I can't remember which University did this, it might be NYU but I'm probabaly lying.
Big Audio Dynamite [BAD]: E=MC2

Sep. 25 2012 10:14 PM
kris from White plains ny

I was in high school in the early to mid 90s, the very tail end of the music video on MTV era... Asked about favorite videos, my mind always goes right to the Aerosmith trilogy of amazing, cryin, and crazy, featuring Alicia silverstone (and liv Tyler in the last of the three, crazy). When Alicia silverstone falls backwards off the bridge and gives the finger to her bf and to the world, or frankly the entire story of crazy - those are great moments in the history of the art form. They're typical of a genre, of an era, of a generation - and are still such fun to rematch!

Sep. 24 2012 09:23 PM
Tom from New York

Wow - memory lane. Thank you. Seems that many of the biggest hits are dated and self-conscious in retrospect - Bruce, Fine Young Cannibals, Duran Duran, etc. Somewhat better were the vids that really evoked the spirit of the song, whether Surrealist (Robert Palmer, Rod's Broken Arrow), Impressionist (Boys of Summer), or Expressionist (Centerfold). But the best? The late crop, which were mini-movies using the song as a taking-off point. David Bowie is in a class of his own - Jazzin' for Blue Jean was probably the pinnacle, and Ashes to Ashes was great. Still, my personal fave is still Cradle of Love. Billy Idol!

Sep. 24 2012 09:21 PM
Linda from LES

MTV was test marketed in Tulsa, Ok. Like you reported there was very little content at the time and the artsy bands got a shot. Once they got more mainstream bands those artsy and edgy bands got pushed out.

My favorite video was by THE CRAMPS. They were staggering and falling around a graveyard set. Knix Knox was drumming on a tombstone. I learned later the set was some set from a famous old b&w horror movie but I've forgotten now which one.

Sep. 24 2012 09:12 PM
Dan from jersey

Tom Petty grasped the fun side of videos, and made a few classics: Don't Come Around Here No More, and You don't Know How it Feels come to mind. Sledgehammer is a favorite, and I agree with the poster about Land of Confusion. Sabatoge by the Beastie Boys and David lee Roth's Just A Gigalo made us laugh. The last time I discovered a video I lived, it was Where's your Head At, by basement jacks. Peace

Sep. 24 2012 09:05 PM
ed from bay shore, ny

Best video - ah ha, "take on me"

Sep. 24 2012 09:01 PM
Stephen from prospect heights

MTV was not that innovative. Marx asserts nobody knew what a video was, but I was reared on watching Beatles shorts.

Sep. 24 2012 08:58 PM
robin from Seattle

Looking for where to vote for fav video...
So since I can't find a place, my choice is Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love of All"
Cheers, Robin

Sep. 23 2012 11:43 PM
Cory Lafleur from West Warwick, RI

Somehow, my family got cable t.v. pretty early on, in rural Swansea, MA, althought we were dirt poor. Still not sure how.
Anyway, I was an MTV junkie at a very young age, 6 or 7. I vividly still remember that MTV was channel "37".
Stray Cats, Duran Duran and Big Country were some of my earliest faves, although the same 2 videos have been my absolute favorites since 1984: Dio " The Last in Line" and The Scorpions "No One Like You".
Both straight out of the top drawer!

Sep. 23 2012 03:25 PM
Joshua T. from Utah

Some of my favorite MTV videos include:

Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel):
Take on Me (A-Ha):
Everything (Alanis Morissette):

Sep. 23 2012 03:19 PM
John from Bklyn

I Love You by Yello
Freedom of Choice by DEVO
Genius of Love by Tom Tom Club
Planet Rock by Afrika Bambaataa
Oblivious by Aztec Camera
I Against I by Bad Brains

Back when it was just a music video outlet they would actually sneak in some interesting and (sort of) obscure stuff along with the million sellers. Remember I.R.S.'s Cutting Edge, a pre-120 Minutes "alternative music" show? In the early 80s, MTV was just about the only cable channel---outside of maybe USA's Night Flight---showing rap videos and promoting hip hop. By the time the Real World shows came into existence, MTV was pretty much toast.

Sep. 23 2012 01:11 PM
John B from Nashville

My favorite video is Genesis (Phil Collins) Puppets in "Land of Confusion" (1986)

Sep. 23 2012 12:16 PM
D Cortex

Ashes to Ashes David Bowie

Sep. 23 2012 12:11 PM
Milos from NYC

It was and still is (are?) the graphics that amaze me: "Sledgehammer" by Peter Gabriel, and before that, one of the original MTV videos, "Time Heals" by Todd Rundgren,

Sep. 23 2012 12:02 PM
Annie D from Sunnyside, NY

I was born in the early 1980s and grew up watching MTV at a very young age. My parents thought the visual interest and short length of each video was great for kids' short attention spans and they were big into New Wave themselves! Eventually I became utterly TERRIFIED by a few videos: Thriller I liked but had to close my eyes, and Billie Idol's White Wedding creeped me out with the ring cutting the woman's finger.

Eventually I was encouraged not to watch it because I'd get so freaked out, BUT, before that my favorites were Debbie Gibson's Out of the Blue, Europe's Final Countdown, George Harrison's Set on You, and, of course, the ultimate was A-Ha's Take on Me!!

Sep. 23 2012 12:02 PM
Andrew from NYC

My Favorites:

Safety Dance - Men Without Hats
Boys of Summer - Don Henley
Borderline - Madonna

When MTV first started my family did not have cable. So when we would visit homes of friends, my sister and I would be glued to the tv watching MTV. Completely fascinated.

Sep. 23 2012 12:01 PM

Not exactly an MTV-generation artist, but George Harrison's Got My Mind Set on You is a pretty amazing video.

Sep. 23 2012 12:00 PM

As a young gay kid, my favorite video was, hands down, Tina Turner singing, "What's Love Got to Do with it?" She was my first diva. I couldn't understand how amazing she was....

Sep. 23 2012 11:59 AM
D Cortex from NY

Thanks for this.
I was considered and solicited by Bob Pittman to audition for MTV when it went on the air. Although my demo reel was not returned (with a rejection letter) until Pittman was forced out later, I was the VJ at the Peppermint Lounge, NY at the time the network debuted. so Pittman thought I was doing what he wanted to do on the air already, and wanted to include me.
Good Times...-

I ended up working in Music Video- Directing Tommy Boy records 1st two music videos including "Planet Rock"-
which as you pointed out was banned completely until MTV acceopted black artists music in the mid 80's

Sep. 23 2012 11:55 AM

My favorite has to be EPIC by Faith No More.

Sep. 23 2012 02:04 AM
Bill Helman

kinda depends on my age. "Free Falling" by Tom Petty early on, then r.e.m.'s "Losing my Religion" as I grew older. I then took a turn into industrial and would say kmfdm's "Drug Against War" and Thrill Kill's "Kooler than Jesus." Later in college went back back to classic metal and would say Maiden's "Wasted Years." And now? Going back to my youth and would say Traveling Wilburys "End of the Line," for how they bring a friend back to life. No great stories, just an evolution in taste. (Though I still dig metal and industrial1)

Sep. 23 2012 01:25 AM
Margaret from New Jersey

My favorite:
Beastie Boys "Fight for Your Right"

My husband's favorite:
Twisted Sister "We're Not Gonna Take It"   

Sep. 22 2012 11:03 PM
Rebecca from New York, NY

Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer (Quay Brothers!)
Aha's - Take on Me - I didn't even care about the song. The video sold it.

Sep. 22 2012 08:21 PM
Anne Marie from Hamilton, NY

When I was 23 years old I went to Florida for Spring Break and stayed with friends who had.....cable! It was my first look at MTV. My northern friends and I were so fascinated by it that we spent more time in the house watching music videos than on the beach. Ridiculous, but Huey Lewis' "I Want a New Drug" had me mesmerized. It was 1984, and there weren't a lot of videos to show, so it played over and over and over again. I will never forget that video as my introduction to MTV. I loved it then and I love it now because of the memories it evokes. During that vacation we also watched a lot of Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me With Science." Another classic.

Sep. 22 2012 05:18 PM
Lori Ann from Brooklyn, NY

Favorite video? Talking Heads: Once in a Lifetime.
Peter Gabriel: Big Time also pretty great.

Sep. 22 2012 05:02 PM
Jamie Iglehart from LA- The Miracle Mile!

Hi! Love the show, long time listener. IN FACT, I'm nearly a decade into being a Los Angelean, but I've contributed money to WNYC, as well as the channels out here, KCRW and KPCC. Because between Studio360, Radio Lab, and On The Media, "I want my WNYC"!

That was an awkward segue into my comment- which is just a response to Kurt's suggestion to "tell us a video you liked" from back when MTV had music.

My wife and I were recently in the car, recalling the Alicia Silverstone- Aerosmith era. She did, like, 3 of their videos? The songs were pretty bubblegum, and I know this is maybe later than the "Golden Age" but I miss that entire context- the cross pollinating of young film stars and aging rock stars. That seems absolutely of-the-MTV-era, and it just wouldn't happen again. There was almost a narrative that stretched from one video to the next, with Alicia Silverstone as the lovelorn heroine.

But wait, that's not my favorite. That super f#^&ed up, gross, gorgeous Nine Inch Nails video for "Closer" was on MTV a lot when I was just the right age for it to blow my mind. I really think it began an internal dialogue in me about the intimacy and preciousness of profane, hideous, but real stuff- like flesh and rot and organic material. That video seemed to combine decay and bondage, and like, fetuses in jars, but it was all so, soooo- sexy?!

I taped the video on my mom's VCR, and I would watch it over and over again. I was repulsed, I felt like I was watching something forbidden; something that shouldn't have happened, shouldn't have been filmed. But it was also, simultaneously, hauntingly beautiful- the song as well as the horrifying images in the video. And yeah, totally erotic. It blew my teenage mind.

Now that I'm thinking about it, I miss early 90's MTV. I think I was exposed to a variety of visual themes, artistic concepts, and "difficult stuff" that I otherwise wouldn't have seen. I don't know what the modern equivalent is. I don't know, the answer "YouTube" just doesn't do it for me. You Tube has no curator, part hipster, part executive. At some point in the early 90's, MTV after 10pm was like the coolest guy I knew, like a friend's older brother home from college. And he always had something weird and awesome and totally novel to show me.

I don't know who's reading this. And I know you first ran the MTV story like, 9 months ago. But I had to relate that jazz.

Sep. 20 2012 05:33 PM

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