It’s worth watching this video, I swear.
MTV finally bit the bullet and dropped the words “Music Television” from its logo. This should make me cackle cynically—and it does—but it also makes me a little sad. When I was a little kid in El Paso, we didn’t get MTV right away, but it wasn’t really that long into its history. Maybe 1983? Back then, it was nothing but videos, with no shows at all. My parents were completely bowled over by it, and my dad actually rolled the TV into the dining room so we could watch music videos all through dinner. (Certain mysteries about how I turned out are cleared up.) My entire childhood and adolescence, MTV was the constant drumbeat. In El Paso, it’s because most of the radio was dominated by Classic Rock®, which meant that MTV was our only access to New Wave and eventually, hip-hop. In Alpine, there wasn’t any rock music whatsoever on the radio—it was all country-western or Frank Sinatra-style oldies. We didn’t have cable, even. But MTV came through on our cranky ass satellite dish, and so I kept watching it. When the dreaded programming started to creep in more during the day, I switched to the brand-new MTV2. It was our link to the outside world—even those kids without satellite dishes hung out and watched with those who had them. Even in college, when I had access to public and underground radio that was playing all sorts of new and challenging stuff, sometimes I would camp out on my couch and just watch late night MTV, as it drifted from playing alternative music to heavy metal to experimental electronic music.
Not that they didn’t play endless amounts of crap! They did, especially in the daytime. It was a real problem for a channel that basically was there to play everything that was new. But there are literally hundreds of beloved artists that I first heard on MTV, in part because I just watched so damn much of it. (I remember watching “Smells Like Teen Spirit” move from not even charting to #1—and from playing only at night to round-the-clock—over a series of months in ’91-’92.) I played my part in its demise. I tuned in to watch non-video programming, starting with “Beavis and Butthead”, which can be forgiven because the videos were the funniest part of the show, to watching “Jersey Shore” most recently, which is unforgivable but highly entertaining. And you have to give them credit for keeping the 60s-era “we play everything on one channel” spirit alive long past the era when the radio stations had given that up.
Today’s Genius Ten is based on one of the videos they played on the first day of MTV. Sadly, the actual video isn’t on YouTube, but concert footage that replicates the best part of it is.
1) “Heroes”—David Bowie
2) “Close To Me”—The Cure
3) “Rock Lobster”—The B-52s
4) “Intervention”—The Arcade Fire
5) “Been Caught Stealing”—Jane’s Addiction
6) “West End Girls”—Pet Shop Boys
7) “This Charming Man”—The Smiths
8) “Radio Free Europe”—REM
9) “Fake Plastic Trees”—Radiohead
10) “Debaser”—The Pixies
Sadly, the labels are dicks about the embedding rights on the videos for most of these, so I’m going to show Beavis and Butthead making fun of stuff.