Trevor Horn wrote this after reading a science fiction story about an opera singer in a world without sound (she was rendered obsolete). Said Horn: "Before I started Buggles I was a sort of loser record producer, I spent four years producing records for various people without ever making any money out of it or having any success at all. Mainly I just produced unsuccessful records because I couldn't seem to lay my hands on a good song. Eventually I got so fed up doing things that weren't successful I decided that if I couldn't find a good artist and a good song then I'd write it myself and become the artist, so I wrote this song called 'Video Killed The Radio Star' with Bruce Wooley. I know the name's awful, but at the time it was the era of the great punk thing. I'd got fed up of producing people who were generally idiots but called themselves all sorts of clever names like The Unwanted, The Unwashed, The Unheard... when it came to choosing our name I thought I'd pick the most disgusting name possible. In retrospect I have frequently regretted calling myself Buggles, but in those days I never really thought much about packaging or selling myself, all that really concerned me was the record."
Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes of the Buggles replaced Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson in Yes in 1980. The Buggles did record a second album in 1981. While recording the album, Downes was invited to join the band Asia; Horn decided to finish the album with musicians from both Yes and The Camera Club.
This was the first video to air on MTV. The network launched August 1, 1981, and this provided the first evidence that MTV was going to make it.
The song was a big hit in England in 1979, but pretty much unknown in America, where it peaked at #40 in December 1979. When MTV went on the air, it was on only a few cable systems, but record stores in those areas started selling lots of Buggles albums. Radio stations weren't playing the song and almost no one in the US had heard of the Buggles, so it was clear that MTV was selling records - an early indication of the network's influence.
Russell Mulcahy directed the video, which had more production value than most others MTV had to choose from. At the time, if artists did make videos, they were usually just scenes of the band performing a song. Mulcahy used a lot of theatrics in his work, and went on to make videos for Duran Duran - including "Wild Boys
" and "Is There Something I Should Know?
" - before directing the 1986 film Highlander
Trevor Horn's wife agreed with his assessment that he was "dumb-looking" in the video. After his stint with Yes, she persuaded him to leave performing and go full-time as a producer.
The Buggles were predicated on the idea that everything in life is artificial, including music. That's why Trevor Horn sings in a robotic voice and why the instruments are all processed for a computerized feel. It was a commentary on the intrusion of technology into every aspect of our lives.
Trevor Horn said of this song in the book I Want My MTV: "It came from this idea that technology was on the verge of changing everything. Video recorders had just come along, which changed people's lives. We'd seem people starting to make videos as well, and we were excited by that. It felt like radio was the past and video was the future. The was a shift coming."
After Trevor Horn and Bruce Woolley fleshed out the song's lyric and musical theme, Geoff Downes took over. "I came in and did all the orchestrations and the intro, the bridge section," he told Songfacts
. "Once we got it into that shape, we felt it had some potential, and that was it. It just came about like that."
The female singers on the record were Linda Jardim (later Linda Allan) and Debi Doss. The Buggles asked Debi and Linda to perform in the video with other band members, keyboard player Hans Zimmer and drummer Warren Cann (from Ultravox). Debi was on tour with Hot Chocolate in 1979 when the song went to #1 and Errol Brown gave Debi a bottle of champagne and the day off to rush off to London to perform on Top Of The Pops
with the Buggles.
Linda Jardim explained: "The singer on Video Killed the Radio Star and on the album was me (on the album there was also input from Joy Yates and Debbie Doss). The females in the video were NOT models. One of the other girls was an Australian model who we all called Sydney Australia, but I was present."
On the record were Linda Jardim (now Linda Allan) and Debi Doss. The Buggles asked Debi and Linda to perform in the video with other band members, keyboard player Hans Zimmer and drummer Warren Cann (from Ultravox). Debi was on tour with Hot Chocolate in 1979 when the song went to #1 and Errol Brown gave Debi a bottle of champagne and the day off to rush off to London to perform on Top Of The Pops
with the Buggles. Linda Jardim also sang on a single for The Northampton Development Corporation that was released nationally by EMI, entitled "60 Miles by Road or Rail," in an attempt to generate publicity for the growing town. It was not a hit. (Quotes courtesy: discog.info
The video was shot in south London in a day. The girl who starred in the clip was a friend of director Russell Mulcahy who was trying to become an actress. For the scene where she is lowered into the test tube, about 30 takes were shot, and the wrong take was used - you can see the tube falling over, which wasn't supposed to happen.
Artists to cover this song include The Violent Femmes, Pixies, The Offspring, Radiohead, the Japanese indie rock band Rocket K, and The Presidents of the United States of America, whose cover was included on the soundtrack for The Wedding Singer.
When MTV went on the air and started playing this video, Trevor Horn was on tour with Yes. It took him a while to figure out why kids were recognizing him.
"Video Killed The Radio Star" was #1 in 16 different countries and was Australia's best-selling record for 27 years. (It was usurped by Elton John's "Candle In The Wind '97
There is an error in the recording, at least according to Trevor Horn's ears. Though Horn was unhappy with the mistake, it was too late to change. He recalled:
"I was actually worried because we'd made one mistake in the mix - at the end where the girl comes in singing, 'You aaarreee a radio star' in the distance. Initially when she comes in she's just coming from the reverb plate, but the problem was we had a tape delay running and it meant she was basically out of time. I only heard it when we were doing the cut, when it was too late, so I was kind of dreading that bit. But the funny thing was the fact that she was a bit delayed sounded better. So I was relieved." (Source of quote Mojo magazine)
The second Buggles single was "Living In The Plastic Age
," which spelled out the concept of an artificial existence. Like "Video Killed The Radio Star," it came with a bonkers video directed by Russell Mulcahy, but MTV ignored it, so few Americans have heard it. The song reached #16 in the UK. The group released an album the following year, then called it quits.