JOIN or LOGIN  |  

Videos from MTV's First Day

Music, Television | By The Top 13 on February 8, 2010

MTV debuted on a select few cable systems on August 1, 1981 with a limited roster of videos to choose from. Indeed, of the 62 videos that aired on that first day, five were from Rod Stewart (and they weren't songs from one of his better periods) and four were from REO Speedwagon. Nevertheless, a number of the videos introduced that day by Mark Goodman, Martha Quinn, and the other original MTV VJs turned out to be iconic or were for fantastic songs, or both. We recently went back and watched each of the videos that MTV aired that day and present to you the Top 13 Videos from MTV's First Day.

expand all
Talking Heads - Once in a Lifetime


Talking Heads - Once in a Lifetime

Put aside the fact that this Brian Eno-produced track has been hugely influential on several generations of musicians (NPR included it on its list of the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century). The video for "Once in a Lifetime" stands on its own as a work of art (indeed, it has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York). Choreographed by Toni Basil, who later scored her own MTV hit with "Mickey," the video contrasts Talking Heads frontman David Byrne dancing like a spastic marionette in the foreground with the perfectly synchronized movements of a quartet of Byrnes in the background.

The Buggles - Video Killed the Radio Star


The Buggles - Video Killed the Radio Star

The first video to air on MTV (at 12:01 a.m. on August 1, 1981), "Video Killed the Radio Star" was hardly a well-known song in America at the time. Nevertheless, in a sign that the fledgling music network had some serious potential, record stores in markets in which MTV was available immediately began selling Buggles records. Of course, the title and theme of the song were fitting for MTV's launch, and the quirky video became a permanent fixture in the American pop culture Zeigeist. In 2000, MTV made it the millionth video to air on the network.

Pretenders - Brass in Pocket


Pretenders - Brass in Pocket

This song - known by its familiar refrain "I'm Special" - was released in late 1979 and became the Pretenders' first real hit, reaching number one in England and the top 20 in the U.S. But it was the video for "Brass in Pocket," which was the seventh video to air on MTV, that made this song so well-known. In it, Pretenders' singer Chrissie Hynde plays a flirtatious diner waitress who ultimately strikes out with the customers (played by the three other members of the band).

Blondie - Rapture


Blondie - Rapture

Not only was "Rapture" the first song featuring rapping to hit the top of the Billboard charts, but Blondie's video for it also was the first rap song to play on MTV. Blondie singer Debbie Harry co-stars on the streets of Manhattan with dancer and choreographer William Barnes, in a white suit and top hat as the "Man from Mars." And like any more recent good rap video, the original also featured awesome cameos – Fab Five Freddy and Jean-Michel Basquiat make appearances.

Phil Collins - In the Air Tonight


Phil Collins - In the Air Tonight

Nestled in between videos from the Cars and Robert Palmer was Collins' epic video for "In the Air Tonight," which was the Genesis drummer's first solo single and remains the most famous song of his career. This is a fantastic example of a video that truly complements the song, as the close-ups of Collins singing in a shroud of black perfectly match the sparse production and dark theme of the song. The song remains ubiquitous in pop culture even today; The Hangover and Eminem's "Stan" are two of many examples.

David Bowie - Ashes to Ashes


David Bowie - Ashes to Ashes

At just under $40,000, this was the most expensive of all videos to air on MTV's first day. "Ashes to Ashes" hit number one on the charts in England upon its release in 1980. But the video – by noted video director David Mallet – is what popularized the song in the United States. This innovative video mixed solarized color and black-and-white footage of Bowie in his familiar and garish Pierrot costume, which came to represent his Scary Monsters phase, and featured cameos by members of the culturally influential Blitz Kids of London's early 1980s club scene.

The Who - You Better You Bet


The Who - You Better You Bet

The fourth video ever to air on MTV, the Who's "You Better You Bet" also was the band’s final appearance on both the Billboard top 20 in the United States and the top 10 in the United Kingdom. The video is a straightforward affair: The band is shot in black-and-white while performing the song in a seemingly empty soundstage; there are no shots of an audience or anything other than the band. Check out Roger Daltrey's outfit, which looks like the model for the wardrobe of Miami Vice (which premiered a few years later).

Pat Benatar - You Better Run


Pat Benatar - You Better Run

When MTV aired this video immediately following "Video Killed the Radio Star," Benatar became the first female artist featured on the network. "You Better Run" was one of three hits from Benatar's biggest-selling album, Crimes of Passion. The video - which features a heavily made-up and sneering Benatar and her band playing the song in a dirty, abandoned warehouse – was the first of many popular videos (others include "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" and "Love Is a Battlefield") that made Benatar a focal point of MTV's early years.

Elvis Costello - Oliver's Army


Elvis Costello - Oliver's Army

Though Costello has never been a favorite on MTV, his video for "Oliver's Army" nevertheless was among those the network aired on its very first day. And we think it's one of the very best songs MTV played during its early days. The song, which remains Costello's biggest hit, is about conflicts around the world and has been considered something of an anti-occupation anthem. The quirky video features Costello sucking down fruity drinks in a tropical bar while singing directly into the camera and playing with the Attractions on the beach while wearing suits.

Gerry Rafferty - Baker Street


Gerry Rafferty - Baker Street

The song with the unforgettable saxophone hook (watch the video below; we're sure you'll know it when you hear it), "Baker Street" actually reached number two on the Billboard charts in 1978 – three years before MTV debuted. Rafferty's video for the song is typical of the era; it's mostly video of the band playing the track live on a soundstage with lots of smoke, though there is some footage of the real Baker Street in London. The song itself remains squarely in the public consciousness, as reflected by the fact that Lisa played it in an episode of The Simpsons.

Iron Maiden - Iron Maiden


Iron Maiden - Iron Maiden

The video for Iron Maiden's eponymously named song from the eponymously named album was the 16th video and very first heavy metal video played on MTV's first day on the air. The video, a straightforward live affair (a bit unusual only in that you can hear the crowd cheering), was a forbearer of the network's future success with metal bands on the Headbangers Ball. This epic song - featuring original Maiden vocalist Paul Di'Anno - was originally included on the band's very first recording, the The Soundhouse Tapes EP, and is one of the band's most recognizable crossover songs.

April Wine - Just Between You and Me


April Wine - Just Between You and Me

When MTV made the video for this song the fourteenth to air on its first day, April Wine became the first Canadian band to be featured on the new music network. Later that day, MTV aired "Just Between You and Me" again, making the video the first the network ever repeated. The video featured footage of the band performing the song in concert, making use the cheesy edits and fades that would become staples of many future concert videos to air on MTV. The song itself, from April Wine's ninth studio album, reached the top 25 in the United States.

Nick Lowe - Cruel to Be Kind


Nick Lowe - Cruel to Be Kind

Without question the biggest American hit from this British singer-songwriter, "Cruel to Be Kind" is a terrific pop song. The video - the final one to air on MTV's first day - is pretty fantastic, too. It follows Lowe on the day of his wedding to June Carter's daughter, Carlene. We're treated to footage of his shower and shave, the pre-wedding photo session (during which he openly smokes a joint), and the ceremony. Although the marriage ended in the mid-1980s, this video, which was the final video to air on MTV's first day, remains as a reminder of the network's glory days.

expand all

Comments Leave a comment

stillathreat ★★

Quite possibly the best list you guys have run. I love Baker Street!

8:27 AM   Feb 08, 2010


This is SO GOOD. I can't wait to get out of class even more than usual.

9:04 AM   Feb 08, 2010


I agree this is a very good list. If you've ever been lucky enough to hear DoSo sing #3 at karaoke consider yourself blessed.

9:44 AM   Feb 08, 2010


Ah yes, reminds me of the days MTV actually showed music videos.

9:47 AM   Feb 08, 2010

PulpAffliction ★★

This list is so good, I can't even deal with it.

10:15 AM   Feb 08, 2010


It wasn't released until the following year, but along with "Brass in Pocket", the first video I (fondly) remember seeing on MTV was "You Got Lucky" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Other notables from the early days of music video include "White Wedding" by Billy Idol, "Jeopardy" by Greg Kihn and "Twilight Zone" by Golden Earring.

2:42 PM   Feb 08, 2010

KungFuJay ★★

This is the best list yet, seriously. I love watching all of these videos. Really makes me miss MTV.

8:02 AM   Feb 09, 2010


to echo what others have said-- great list!

8:21 AM   Feb 09, 2010


OK, so I've just gone to Wikipedia to find the list of 62 videos that aired that day.

And I now present the list of videos better than some of the ones on that list:

Looking For Clues by Robert Palmer
History Never Repeats by Split Enz

and without a doubt, the number one video played on MTV's first day:

One Step Beyond by Madness! "Don't watch that, watch this!"

2:51 PM   Feb 10, 2010


Oh yeah, you'll want to watch that Madness video to understand.

2:52 PM   Feb 10, 2010


Damn great list!

5:57 PM   Mar 11, 2010

Please Join or Login to leave a comment