Spring cleaning, if you’re me, involves standing in my “music nook” and comprehending a strange notion that not only do I not have an idea how many records I own, but that I’m not even sure if I’ve listened to all of them.
Easy enough fix, right? All it involves is listening to every record and recording the catalog numbers, where I bought them (if I can remember) and the general timeframe of my life when I bought them and putting that information into a spreadsheet.
One problem I’ve run into is that when it comes to the arduous process of burning a lot of these records onto my computer -- so I can tote them around on my (now-antique and quite valuable) click-wheel iPod -- is that it’s hard to listen to even more music while you’re already listening to music.
I think my smart TV must have sensed this, because my Youtube feed started presenting me with hour-long blocks of original programming from the early days of MTV that wise folks must have had the wherewithal to get on videotape. It's almost as if we knew that someday we’d have a craving to relive those days when there was a channel that our parents probably didn’t want us watching, full of music videos 24 hours a day, seven days a week and “in stereo."
Look at it this way JG-TC readers who were parents in the early to mid-‘80s, it could have been worse. We could have all been sneaking glimpses at HBO or Cinemax. OK, we were doing that, too.
MTV launched on cable TV on August 1, 1981. Here in Coles County, you wouldn’t have known that from the paper. According to our archives, the first time the term “MTV” was used in print was actually Oct. 21, 1981, in a rather amusing front page article from Craig Sanders about how the service of TCI Cable in Mattoon was so lousy that folks actually packed the place at city council meeting just to yell at TCI’s district manager about why their pictures were so fuzzy. “Corroded connections” were the claimed reason, by the way. The story also featured the real quaint quote from the guy, “you don’t need 50 channels. There’s not that much service to put on it.” Ho Ho.
1982 and 1983 only held stray mentions for the cable channel that shaped so many young lives as well: occasional sarcastic references from art professors over at EIU that their students cared more about what they saw on MTV, a brief notice of some nudity cut from David Bowie’s “China Girl” video, and an amazing entertainment page article from the May 16, 1984, Journal Gazette (too large to be reprinted here) about how town muckity-mucks in sleepy little Emporia, Va. actually banned the channel because, in the words of an Emporia clergyman, it was “vulgar and distasteful.” Oh my stars!
MTV didn’t get its first full in-context article until an October 5, 1983, item which makes the bold claim that Pat Benatar was one of the first rock stars to fully benefit from the era of music video. Given the quality of her singles, I’m sure Ms. Benatar would have done all-right if the world was like Emporia. But good gracious, if anyone remembers what she looked like then (and even now), what a drab, boring world it would have been.
I was an MTV kid of the ‘90s, a time when, despite what the 50-year-old you work with who still talks about “The Headbanger’s Ball” says, they actually were playing a fair amount of music, especially overnights. But one thing I noticed this week while watching these clips and pretending it was still 1982, was the seriousness with which those famous original team of original “vee-jays” like Alan Hunter, J.J. Jackson, Mark Goodman and Martha Quinn, rock and roll’s very own kid sister, talked about the music. This wasn’t just a channel. It was a mission.
We live in a time where, unless you’re still watching TV on an antenna, virtually all our entertainment is made to order on demand. We see 100 percent of what we want to see and zero percent of what we don’t. But back then, here was this channel devoted to music videos, in stereo, 24 hours a day. And because of that, it was clear they were forced to show every video they could get, from every source possible, and smoosh it all together into one endless playlist broken up by some of the best to-camera Music News segments possible. Along with ads for Miller Light and lots, and I do mean lots, of the J. Giles Band.
And hey, who’s to say you can’t learn from nearly 40-year-old music news segments? As my Toshiba laptop was gobbling up yet another one of my CDs I sipped a Coke and heard the headlines about “new” albums and tours from Daryl Hall and John Oates, Blue Oyster Cult, and whoever in the world “The Michael Stanley Band” and “Steel Breeze” were.
And then I heard a familiar voice singing a song I didn’t recognize. I ducked my head around the corner again to discover it was, you guessed it, all 90 pounds of Pat Benatar singing a song called “Precious Time,” where she did all the things a rock star normally did in slow motion in those old videos -- angrily flipping backgammon tables over and strutting past a swimming pool before singing the chorus with the camera about one foot in front of that perfect face. Who needed HBO, right?
Where do you get your music news these days, folks? My guess is nowhere. For there comes a point in every person’s life, I’m told, when you subconsciously decide that you’ve heard all the new music that you’re going to hear and everything else is just incomprehensible noise that your kids are interested in.
Well, not this guy. For instance, check out “Cocktail Queen” by Taxxi. I’ve got a feeling they’re really going places. Trust me. Or at least maybe they were going places, on MTV for three glorious minutes back in 1982 and on my TV in 2019.
And that’s the new-old music news for this week! Stay tuned, music videos by The Cars, Genesis, Little River Band and The Alan Parsons Project are next, in stereo where available.