Mixtape Extra: The Best of MTV’s Day One 0

MTV went on the air on August 1, 1981. For better or worse, everything changed soon after. As has been stated many times, by us and lesser experts in the new wave field (which is situated not far from Wrigley Field), the unexpected ascension of European music in America in the first half of the eighties can be directly attributed to the fact that MTV did not have enough homegrown rock videos to fill out it’s 24/7 rotation. We looked at the network’s playlist for its first full day of existence — what a weird and fascinating mish-mosh of staid and unexciting American radio staples and oddball clips plucked from the ether! And yet it was that oddball stuff that would point the way to a vast sea change in pop culture. In honor of this momentous anniversary and the long-gone days when there was a literal M in MTV, we pick our favorites among the 116 videos (16 of them from Rod Stewart!) that were played on Day One. (To listen via Spotify or follow our playlists, click here.)

 

LM’s Picks:

“Video Killed the Radio Star,” the Buggles (First video played on Day 1 of MTV)
I was probably sleeping when, at 12:01 a.m., the cable channel commenced their broadcast with a 1979 single that mocks the radio star of the fifties while embracing the TV era that was about to make them redundant. I probably got to see the video a couple of days later, and that was the first time I’d have heard the song too. Now the two are inextricably linked: the little girl morphing into the tinsel-haired alien, the exploding radio, and the multitude of synthesizers, and the pretty, tinkle-y melody that belies a sneering lyric.

 

“Looking for Clues,” Robert Palmer (23rd video played)
Wait! This video — a weird sort of Mardi Gras parade of costumed characters in a hallway — isn’t the one I remember! The one I recall seeing in the early days of MTV featured Palmer “looking for clues” through an oversized magnifying class. Does anyone else remember this?!

 

“Rapture,” Blondie (48th video played)
It’s often said that “Rapture” is the first charting rap single. I guess that makes this the first rap video ever played on MTV. Also, this is the first rap record performed by a white female vocalist to go to number one — and the last, until Iggy Azaela’s “Fancy.”

 

“Boys Keep Swinging,” David Bowie (60th video played)
We spend so much time deifying Bowie these days that it’s hard to imagine him having a sense of humor. This video proves that he did.

 

“Once in a Lifetime,” Talking Heads (63rd video played)
This was the first video I ever saw on MTV. I was clicking the channels on this new contraption that came with the cable TV when I saw this bizarre, sweaty, bespectacled man swimming across the screen. I called my friend Maria and told her to turn on channel 24. We laughed and laughed. It would be years until I’d realize the song was an ode to middle-age crisis.



“Cruel to Be Kind,” Nick Lowe (66th song played)
This has to be one of my top 10 favorite songs of all time. Maybe even top five. And the video is absolutely adorable. This is the first instance of something that would happen a lot: A hit by a Brit who was much more popular in the U.S. than in his homeland. It’s off of his album Jesus of Cool, which had a different name in America: Pure Pop For Now People.

 

JB’s Picks

“Johnny and Mary,” Robert Palmer (85th video played)
Long before the term “culture vulture” was employed as a pejorative, long before we coined the phrase “new-wave adjacent,” Robert Palmer was speeding through styles and genres. He hopped onto the icy synth-pop bandwagon before there even was a bandwagon. “Looking For Clues” is perhaps his best known song from his brief respite in new wave, but “Johnny and Mary” is far and way his most beautiful. Rich, deep, regretful and, amazingly, never really a hit.

 

“Kid,” Pretenders (77th video played)
As you might imagine, there was A LOT of Pretenders on the Day One playlist. “Kid” I feel, perhaps wrongly, gets short shrift in the Chrissie Hynde canon, but it was the first of her songs that really got to me. Definitely the best song delivered from the point of view of a sad whore to her neglected son to be played on Day One! (Unless I never fully understood the meaning of that April Wine song played 56th.)

 

“Prime Time,” The Tubes (89th video played)
In our book and in many other places, Devo griped, with some justification, about being the band that was MTV before there were an MTV, and when there was an actual MTV, they were too bizarre and alienating for them. But before Devo, The Tubes were MTV before they were MTV. The Tubes had a huge grotesque theatrical live show, built around their classic “White Punks On Dope” and the equally classic “Don’t Touch Me There.” By the time, they hooked up with Todd Rundgren to make this gorgeous record, from a TV-Is-turning-us-all-into-mindless-pleasure-receptacles concept album, their outlandish edges had been sanded down. A year or so later, they would be no different from Journey and singer Fee Waybill would be the best man at Richard Marx’s wedding.

 

“Rat Race,” The Specials (61st video played)
Completely un-American sound, completely un-American subject matter and it would be many years before more bands with multi-racial line-ups were allowed past the nervous gatekeepers of MTV. But on Day One the watching few got an eyeful of the Specials ar their most un-crowd pleasing.

 

“Tomorrow Night,” Shoes (86th video played)
LM: “Who? Are you serious? It’s over!” Okay, this lilting powerpop song didn’t point the way to any pop cultural upheaval but it’s one of my all-time favorite records and I was amazed to see that the Shoes, from Illinois, popped up no less than four times with four separate songs on Day One.

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Mixtape: It’s Raining Songs About Men! 2

Inspired by last Sunday’s polarizing episode of Masters Of Sex, which struggled with the thorny question of what it means to be a man, here are a bunch of new wave songs (or artists) that touch, however tenuously, on the subject of masculinity. (To listen via Spotify, click here.)

LM’s Picks:

“I Need A Man,” The Eurythmics
When I interviewed fellow forty something Amy Poehler last week, she gushed about her 80s idols — Annie Lennox, Cyndi Lauper — and how, unlike today’s female pop stars, she never got a real sense of what they looked like without their clothes. “I knew their bodies of work, not their bodies,” Poehler said. The first time we glimpsed Lennox she was pounding her fist on a boardroom in “Sweet Dreams,” and she continued that show of strength with “I Need A Man”:
I don’t need a heartbreaker
Fifty-faced trouble maker
Two timing time taker
Dirty little money maker
Muscle bound cheap skate
Low down woman hater
Triple crossing double dater
Yella bellied alligator…

 

“Demolition Man,” Grace Jones
Speaking of strong women, Grace Jones scared the shit out of me — and that was long before she was cast as Bond villain May Day in A View to a Kill. Written by Sting (and later recorded by the Police), and produced by Chris Blackwell and Alex Sadkin, her “Demolition Man” not only has a cover of “Warm Leatherette” on the b-side, but another song called “Bullshit.” (Plus Grace Jones also recorded a song called “I Need A Man”- JB, bringing the Grace Jones facts.) (I know, but I already had Eurythmics’ “I Need a Man.” Although that could’ve been a cool juxtaposition.—LM_

 

“I’m Your Man,” Wham!
George Michael would go on to write and record many a mature, sophisticated classic after his divorce from Andrew Ridgeley, but never again would he record anything as infectious and youthful as this number. How much fun is this to sing along to? (Although the “ain’t no such word as “no” could be misconstrued as a bit rape-y in today’s overly PC times.)

 

“Who Can It Be Now?” Men At Work
The charts were a paranoid place in the early 80s, thanks to a trio of stalker anthems: Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me,” The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” and this first big hit from the Vegemite eaters from Down Under. Men At Work would go on to be kind of a joke band (thanks to their videos; the songs were solid). However, we didn’t know anything about them when “Who Can it Be Now?” was released, and this song — and creepy video with the lazy-eyed Colin Hay — was like a sneak attack.

 

“Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!”, Devo
Ok, so this is an album. But, continuing with the fear-factor theme,  the single “Jocko Homo” still weirds me out to this day. In Mad World: The Book, JB likens it to “the national anthem for a country I never wanted to visit.” The video is a Twilight Zone episode.

 

“Mirror Man,” Human League
You learn something new every day! Apparently the titular subject is none other than Adam Ant. According to Phil Oakey, the white-striped one was such a big star at this point (1982) that he seemed in danger of believing his own hype.

JB’s picks:

“I Love A Man In A Uniform,” Gang Of Four

Ah, the go-go eighties, when a bunch of British Marxists could write a song that mocked the patriarchy and the military-industrial complex and get America dancing to it.

 

“How Men Are,” Aztec Camera

Roddy Frame, troubadour of East Kilbride, on the outskirts of Glasgow. How does a guy whose songwriting abilities grew richer over the years just fade from view? Mainstream success makes some artists stagnate, it just made Roddy Frame write even more satisfying songs. Like this one, which asks the time-honored question, “Why should it take the tears of a woman to see how men are?”

 

“Marching Men,” Rich Kids

When I talked to Midge Ure for Mad World: The Book, we discussed the massive hype the Rich Kids received and how it was never met by commensurate success. He said that this song was the direction he and drummer Rusty Egan wanted to take, but the rest of the Rich Kids hated it so much it broke the band up and ultimately pointed the way towards Visage and Ultravox. The video is embarrassing on an almost heroic level.

 

“The Man Who Dies Everyday,” Ultravox

From the John Foxx incarnation. Too synthy for the punk audience they still courted, too sneery for the burgeoning electronic audience, early Ultravox were marooned in no man’s land. But it’s not hard to hear their influence on early Gary Numan and Simple Minds.

 

“I Don’t Depend On You,” The Men

After Virgin snapped up the first incarnation of the Human League, the label suddenly decided its new signing was a little on the strange and alienating side, so it insisted they take a shot at making a commercial record. The result was this peppy number produced by early Duran knobman Colin Thurston and somewhat contrarily released under the moniker The Men. It doesn’t sound that far removed from something that might have shown up on Dare a couple of years down the line.

 

“Yesterday’s Men,” Madness

Bleak as ever, this is a long, weary sigh as the promise of youth fades away and middle-aged conformity looms ever closer. (SIGH—LM, bringing the, er, sighs.)

 

“The Man With the Child in His Eyes,” Kate Bush

Even back in the comparatively innocent days of 1978, eyebrows were raised by this song inspired by Lewis Carroll’s relationship with Alice Riddell, the seven year-old who inadvertently acted as Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland” muse. From the vantage point of 2014, when Britain is awash in a murky paedophilia-in-high-places scandal that’s only going to dig up even more geriatric politicians, pop stars, priests, dj’s and comedians previously protected by the establishment, this wistful ballad sounds like a nightmare. (Bush fans are begging her to remove recently incarcerated octogenarian child-harasser Rolf Harris and his trademark digeridoo from the title track of her album The Dreaming.)

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Mixtape: Songs About Animals! 0

Inspired by the cuteness of the internet and the awesomeness of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, here’s a bunch of new wave songs about a whole range of the animals with whom we share this world — and who could slaughter us all if they ever organized! (For the Spotify playlist, click here.)

 

LM’s PICKS

Adam and the Ants: “Dog Eat Dog”
On “Dog Eat Dog,” you can practically hear Adam unshackling himself the old sound and S&M image that made him the Rodney Dangerfield of punk. While the music is still quite raw (and ominous: how I love that OOOWWWWW OOOOWWWWW), the words herald the arrival of a new Adam primed for pop stardom. “Our first single, ‘Dog Eat Dog’ was more or less a general assault on the public,” Adam told me during our Mad World interview. “I thought our music was better than everyone else’s, as every band does, and I put it lyrically. ‘Only idiots ignore the truth’ was a result of being ignored [by record labels and the press] for three years.” Hot “Dog” — Mr. Ant had arrived!

 

The Cure: “The Lovecats”; “All Cats are Grey”
I forgot to include “All Cats Are Grey” on our recent Color Mixtape, so I’m happy for this opportunity. The opposite of the playful “The Lovecats,” the Cure’s other kitty ditty sounds as solemn as its title. Sofia Coppola selected it as the song to play over Marie Antoinette’s closing credits, to signal the end of the party at Versailles and, indeed, the end of the young queen’s life (in the final scene, she’s being carted off to Paris where she’ll be imprisoned until her beheading). Call it mood-y music.



 

Duran Duran: “Hungry Like the Wolf”; “The Man Who Stole a Leopard”
“The animal within us” and “man versus woman” — or, rather, “man falling prey to woman” — are big themes in Duran songs. Interesting that, several decades post-“Wolf” — a Simon Le Bon metaphor that suggests sex brings out the animal in us  — Duran returned to the subject with “Leopard” (lyrics by Nick Rhodes), a love story between a man and actual feline.

 

“Lions,” Tones on Tail
I haven’t thought about this song in years! Our friend Jeremy suggested it. He’s just back from an African safari expedition, so he has big cats on the brain.

 

“Rock Lobster,” The B-52’s
Another Jeremy anecdote: One of his first jobs was hosting at a Red Lobster in Kissammee, FLA. Even before I was a vegan, you wouldn’t catch me eating crustacean flesh. Gross.

 

“Bring on the Dancing Horses,” Echo and the Bunnymen
I’ve been on an E&TB kick these days, thanks to their excellent new record. But watching this video had me lusing for the Ian McCulloch of his beautiful, pillow-lipped, big-haired heyday. And what a poet: “Shiver and say the words/Of every lie you’ve heard.” Sigh. If I could go back in time, I’d be an Bunnymen groupie. Although I’d probably get punched out by Courtney Love — that was her turf.

 

“Cat People (Putting Out Fire),” David Bowie
Love the song, but the movie terrified me. I always say how I’d like to come back as a cat in my next life, but the kind who lay around all day, not the kind in Cat People. Yikes!

 

“Release the Bats,” The Birthday Party
“Bite! Bite!” This one’s for my goth buds — particularly one of my oldest friends, Stacey. As a teen she insisted we call her Vampira. She had a pen pal named Morbidia, who insisted they trade vials of blood by mail. This being at the height of the AIDS epidemic, we suggested that wasn’t such a good an idea.

 

JB’s Picks

“I Want A Dog,” Pet Shop Boys
Pet Shop Boys have this little trick they deploy here and here where they take what seems like an unremarkable dance track and infuse it with unexpected emotion. That’s what happens with this Frankie Knuckles-produced song from Introspective, which pounds away for a few minutes until Neil Tennant starts singing, “I want a dog, a chihuahua, when I come back to my small flat I want to hear somebody bark, you can get lonely, I want a dog.” And then you realize you’ve just heard the saddest song ever made.

 

“See Jungle! (Jungle Boy),” Bow Wow Wow
Technically, nothing to do with apes, but Annabella does exhort the listener to throw off the constraints of civilization and live like a shit-flinging simian.

 

“Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag,” Pigbag
“Blue Monday” was a million times more successful, but this was the other monster independent dance record of the time. With New Order, you could maintain your sullen moody persona on the dance floor, but when this came on and the horns started blaring, all pretensions went flying out the window.

 

“Lions After Slumber,” Scritti Politti
Holy shit, this is a virtuoso performance. I love the gleaming sweatless perfection of latter-day Scritti Politti, but this b-side to “The ‘Sweetest’ Girl” has some real fire in its belly. It’s less a song than a lengthy, and I think largely improvised, litany of Green Gartside’s possessions, obsessions, failings, aspirations and pretensions. He keeps the ball in the air for more than six minutes and you can hear him getting lost in the track and you get lost along with him.

 

“Welcome to the Monkey House,” Animal Magnet
How is it I can’t remember where I left my keys and yet I am able to summon up the title and performers of a song I heard maybe once more than thirty years ago? Anyone? You Tube commenters lead me to believe Animal Magnet were a big deal in Birmingham and this was a major label release so perhaps there’s a Duran connection. Anyway, kind of fun in an overblown, affected way.

 

“Crow and a Baby,” Human League
Yeah, I’m aware crows aren’t animals, but Noah made room for two of them in the ark, and he was acting on orders from God, so who am I, or you, to contradict God and Noah? We commented in MW:TB that “Being Boiled’”s “Listen to the voice of Buddha/ Saying stop your sericulture” was one of the great unsettling opening lines in music history. “A crow and a baby had an affair/the result was a landslide, the result was a dare” runs it a close second. And it still weirds me out all these years later.

 

“Evidently Chickentown,” John Cooper Clarke
AMC’s PC-saga “Halt and Catch Fire” is far from a great show, but the music supervisor is doing an amazing job. I’m hearing songs on the soundtrack I never imagined popping up on an American drama: “Germ-Free Adolescents” by X-Ray Spex, “First Time” by The Boys, even “Are `Friends’ Electric”. But I don’t think I’ll ever be as astonished as I was when the nasal Northern voice of John Cooper Clarke, Manchester’s famous punk poet, turned up at the end of an episode of “The Sopranos”. The Martin Hannett-produced “Evidently Chickentown” is almost suffocatingly bleak and ominous. It fit perfectly into David Chase’s world of grudges and simmering violence. Here’s the scene and the song. (No chickens were harmed during this sequence. I don’t know that for a fact.)

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