Early Days of MTV

by Greg Prato

Before MTV came along, rock radio made zero sense to yours truly. I was familiar with Kiss and Queen, and while flipping through rock mags, noticed that bands such as the Ramones, the Pretenders, Cheap Trick and Van Halen looked mighty cool - but I could forget about hearing them ever on mainstream radio, as it seemed to play only blah, boring schlock. And then... MTV came along.

Suddenly, I could actually hear and see what the heck all these artists were about. But it seemed like almost as soon as MTV arrived (It launched on August 1, 1981, but my town didn't get it until the summer of '82), its programming became increasingly regimented, and the charming, low-budget quality of early videos was soon replaced with mega-buck clips that tried to compete with full-length films.

Still, it was MTV's early years that stuck out as a favorite of mine, and I had always wanted to read a book that explained how the channel came to be, the stories behind both classic and obscure videos, and the upside and downside of the channel's popularity and influence on the industry and with viewers. After conducting over 75 interviews with VJs, directors, musicians, and MTV executives/employees, my fifth book overall, MTV Ruled the World: The Early Years of Music Video, was issued in early 2011.

I pulled some tidbits straight from the book for this quiz. Can you spot the facts from the fakes?
~Greg Prato
MTV Ruled the World: The Early Years of Music Video is available as both a paperback and download here.
More Fact or Fiction

Comments: 16

  • Pat from Saint Paul, MnJames from Georgia, you can find the Pelvisize video on YouTube now! The HBO version is the best quality. I watched a lot of MTV in the early days but somehow missed that one. It's hilarious!
  • Tariq Afzal from Tampa I came to the USA from England (and before that Pakistan). I arrived in the U of Tulsa dorms in 1982. There was a common room with a TV in it. MTV was on, and of course I was thrilled. I started watching it and also looking at my watch (coz TV shut down in England at 10 PM). It’s getting close to 10:15 PM and I am confused.... I asked the Okie sitting near by: TV off soon ? When ? Etc etc. now he is really confused. He goes, the TV never shuts off. Wow !!! That was my first lesson in Cable TV .....
  • Daya from CtFew people remember that just before the launch of MTV, HBO would air music videos between movies. This is where I first saw "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles and "One Step Beyond" by Madness.
  • Venessa U. from Mid-atlantic UsSurprised I got everyone right except the Sting-shirt question Lol
  • Thomas Rose from Bible BeltBlinded Me With Science... the insanely sexy eurythmics singer... and ..Same as it ever was... Right here where my HAND was... The Kids Nowdays just dont know how good we had it..the incredible talent that we took for granted I saw the Beatles in San diego at the Sprts Arean when i was 12 and paid NO attention to the show.. same story when i saw Hendrix 3 months later in late 69 My older sisters took me tickets were 4 $ four f--king dollars
  • Hydro from Florida By Way Of DetroitMTV started when I entered college. My hopes for a higher education never stood a chance...
  • Bill from PhilaI remember seeing the first airing of "Video killed the radio star". I was 10, and had the BIGGEST crush on Martha Quinn....only time I really watched was (a) When Quinn was on, and (b) Headbangers Ball. Good times!
  • Jeff K. from L.a.Our cable company charged extra for it early on, so my dad said no way. I had to watch it at friends' houses for the first three years. The other funny story is that I remember talking to my cousin in 1979 saying "you know what would be really cool? A channel like a radio station but plays music videos." Then came MTV - wish fulfilled.
  • Diane from Las Vegas, NvI remember when it first came on. I was in college on the radio station and was totally enthralled. My dad came in the living room one day when Culture Club was on and took one look at Boy George and said "WTF is THAT???". Now it's just full of bullcrap reality shows. I say bring back the music!
  • James from Vidalia, Ga4 correct. Ouch. I was 14 or 15 when it started. I miss the channel from back then.

    They had some of the craziest videos on that nobody today remembers. There's one... I've tried to find it but can't. Basicially the video had a bunch of guy dressed like Elvis, with exaggerated hair, and they were singing a song called "Pelvisize" or something. But I get nothign when I google that. I KNOW I saw it... The video has them singing on a white stage, and at the end of the song they go "Pelvisize.... pelvisize... pelvisizzzzze... " and it fades off. False memory maybe?
  • SandyI actually remember seeing the first airing of "Video killed the radio star". I was like 9.
  • Karen from Manchester, NhI was 15 in the summer of 1980; prime demographic for MTV! Before then, there was a channel that played popular music with swirly patterns (kind of like a screensaver) that we would actually watch. Psychedelic!
  • Willie from Scottsdale, Az9/10 - w00t! I'm still gonna go get the book. Fun times.
  • Brent from CaGood memories from early college days and it was videos 24/7 for the first few years. I sure bombed this with three correct.
  • 70s Flashback from Staten Island, NyDidn't have cable till 1990. Miss MTV and VH1 when they were all music videos and related programming. Especially VH1's 70s and 80s video shows.
  • Tom Massett from Syracuse NyCaught on to MTV in Aug. '81 at the age of 21. Many of the vids were lame early on, but it was SO great to see your favorite bands, mine being The Who, to play their concert vids or staged videos at a time when there was very little access to your band outside going to their concerts. A great time to be a music fan and like anything new, itended too soon!
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Jello Biafra

Jello BiafraSongwriter Interviews

The former Dead Kennedys frontman on the past, present and future of the band, what music makes us "pliant and stupid," and what he learned from Alice Cooper.

Leslie West of Mountain

Leslie West of MountainSongwriter Interviews

From the cowbell on "Mississippi Queen" to recording with The Who when they got the wrong Felix, stories from one of rock's master craftsmen.

Grunge Bands Quiz

Grunge Bands QuizMusic Quiz

If the name Citizen Dick means anything to you, there's a chance you'll get some of these right.

Devo

DevoSongwriter Interviews

Devo founders Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale take us into their world of subversive performance art. They may be right about the De-Evoloution thing.

Fire On The Stage

Fire On The StageSong Writing

When you have a song called "Fire," it's tempting to set one - these guys did.

Joe Elliott of Def Leppard

Joe Elliott of Def LeppardSongwriter Interviews

The Def Leppard frontman talks about their "lamentable" hit he never thought of as a single, and why he's juiced by his Mott The Hoople cover band.