I’m reading I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution. It is a monster of a book, clocking in at over 400 pages, so I thought I’d split up the review. This covers chapters 1-12.
The book is an oral history and features voices such as MTV executives, the original “VJs,” and a whole host of artists ranging from Stevie Nicks to Billy Joel. It brings the book to life and makes for a much more entertaining read. You can actually smell the tequila when they describe the office culture of MTV in the ’80s.
What strikes me most this part of the book is that MTV really was a startup. No one thought it would succeed, not even the people who founded it. People were running on coffee (and other stimulants) to get it off the ground for its launch in August of 1981. Even after it was on air, not all cable stations hosted it. Distribution was scattered; for example, a rural viewer might be more likely to catch the channel than someone in Manhattan. It wasn’t until the “I Want My MTV” campaign aired that people began to realize that wait, this could actually be a thing.
See, music videos weren’t a thing. Radio and physical records were dominant. The first music videos were clunky and awkward. Even as the format took shape, stories were disjointed and didn’t fully match a song’s lyrics. Not all artists cared: they were learning the ropes along with everyone else. Rod Stewart was one of the first artists to churn out music videos at any great volume, which is why most of his videos are what were aired in MTV’s early days. Duran Duran was another band who captured the zeitgeist with their infamous “Girls on Film” video. It was actually banned for explicit content. Some members of the band later complained that they were being pigeonholed as a mere “video band,” especially after “Rio” came out.
The “original” MTV is before my time. I came along when reality TV was taking over the channel. A music video release isn’t necessarily a big deal anymore – unless it becomes a meme. The book is an excellent and vivid exploration of another era that wasn’t really that long ago but feels like a different time entirely. The interview excerpts that make up each chapter have a tone of both humor and nostalgia. It’s well-crafted and hums along at a great pace. I’m looking forward to more!