I led a semi-sheltered suburban life in my high school years, so it wasn’t until MTV made its debut on my cable system a year after it launched in 1981 that I really started getting exposure to music that wasn’t AC/DC or Rush.Â But that’s not all MTV was able to do. Because the channel only had so many videos to play in a 24 hour programming schedule, it meant that they were open to artists who had videos ready to go — ’cause, you know, they were starving for content.Â I had no idea what was going on in the bowels of MTV programming back then, but what I did find that I was able to hear and see artists I really didn’t know much about. Of course if you look at this list you’re thinking “Yeah, it’s classic ’80s…so what?” But before they were classics, they were new songs that were untried in the music marketplace.Â But MTV being what it was back in the day, meant the programmers were able to give many of these song/videos extremely high rotations.Â So much so, that one couldn’t help like (or love) what they were hearing or seeing.Â MTV affected radio playlists in ways program directors never thought it could. Kids seeing the video for something like “Rockit” on MTV would call their local stations and request the song.Â As the requests piled up, the songs eventually made their way to radio.Â Not all were breakaway hits, but if it wasn’t for MTV they certainly wouldn’t have been played on the radio all that much.
“Something to Grab For,” Ric Ocasek (download)
Okay, so it wasn’t all AC/DC and Rush at my high school.Â A lot of kids were into the Cars, so when Ric Ocasek came out with his first solo album in 1982, this single didn’t sound all that different from what the Cars were doing — except it was more synth heavy.Â The video was kind of famous in a pervy high school guy way because it featured Marianne Gravatte, who was Playboy’s Playmate of the Month, but on a more musical note, the lead track off the album (“Jimmy Jimmy”) is one of my favorites just ’cause it’s so damn quirky.
“Space Age Love Song,” A Flock of Seagulls (download)
My gawd how I hated “I Ran (So Far Away).”Â I thought it was one of the worst songs when it came out, and the video just underscored how stupid it was (to me, that is).Â Then the fuckers in A Flock of Seagull had to go and release “Space Age Love Song” and, well, they got me to buy the album.Â No, I didn’t have any idea who these guys were, but there’s a certain something about this tune that I just don’t get tired of.
“Gloria,” U2 (download)
I had never heard of U2 prior to seeing the video to “Gloria,” but I was transfixed by their raw passion for the music and the rather transcendent quality of the song when I first saw this video.Â And then the next day at school while talking about the glories of MTV, I was accosted by a bunch of born-again Christians who were warning us “unsaved” folks about the evils of rock music.Â When I mentioned that I rather liked U2, the Posse Christiantatus had a quick huddle over the merits of U2 and deemed them okay because they had been saved.Â For that, I will always be grateful to the band for giving me a card to play so the Jesus freaks at my school would leave me alone.
“Rosalita (Won’t You Come Out Tonight),” Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (download)
Remember: I had a semi-sheltered life.Â So, while I had heard maybe one Springsteen song before “Rosalita,” I had no idea who this guy was.Â But MTV used to play all 13 minutes of a live version of the song (not the one featured here) almost every day for about a month.Â I can’t say that I fell in love with the song the first time the video aired, but over the course of a month, it rapidly became a favorite.Â And damn MTV for saying the live version was from The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. I bought that album after seeing the video, and, well, it was the studio version of “Rosalita” that was on the record — which, after seeing the power of the live version, kind of sucked.
“Blue Light,” David Gilmour (download)
It was early on Saturday morning when I first saw the video for “Blue Light.”Â I had no idea that this was the same David Gilmour who played guitar for Pink Floyd.Â Why? Well, the video was so freakin’ un-Floyd.Â Still, I really dug this song (indeed the whole album), and partially because of MTV, songs like “Blue Light,” “All Lovers Are Deranged” and “Murder” were AOR hits.
“Rockit,” Herbie Hancock (download)
I’m sure Herbie is very grateful for the vision Godley and Creme had for this song. If it wasn’t for the video, I don’t think Mr. Hancock — for all his amazing bona fides — would have charted in the UK and Europe.Â Sure, “Rockit” really didn’t do much in the U.S. in terms of chart action, but it had a lot of underground cache that made it a popular tune on mega mixes on the radio back in the day. Oh, and certainly, um, inspired Harold Faltermeyer to rip off pay homage to Herbie on his “Axel F Theme” from Beverly Hills Cop.