There was lots of raunchy debauchery on MTV around this time, but they had a strict policy against product placement, refusing to air videos where products were mentioned by name. This was designed to protect their advertisers and make their commercials more valuable (why would Pepsi buy airtime when they could put a can in a Duran Duran video?). Citing this policy, MTV banned the video, which generated a great deal of controversy and also proved Young's point about corporate interests infiltrating music. The ban happened in early July 1988; Young sent an open letter to MTV stating:MTV, you spineless twerps.
You refuse to play "This Note's For You" because you're afraid to offend your sponsors.
What does the "M" in MTV stand for: music or money?
Long live rock and roll.
Forced to admit they were refusing to air an excellent video to protect their sponsors, MTV went into damage control mode and agreed to air the video. They made it into an event, debuting the video on August 21 as part of a 30-minute special about the controversy. Then they awarded it Video of the Year at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards. Young showed up to accept it.
Young discussed his reasons for accepting the award despite it being originally banned in an interview with Village Voice Rock and Roll Quarterly
: "I dunno - must be the Perry Como in me. I could do the hard-line Marlon Brando thing, not accept the award, give it to the Indians. But that's almost the predictable thing to do. You can't get money to make videos if MTV won't play them. In accepting the award I thought I'd be able to make more videos and get 'em played."
MTV at the time was about as permissive as the cable landscape got - at least in terms of bawdy behavior. That's why it was surprising anytime they deemed something not suitable for air. In 1992, Paul McCartney recorded a concert for MTV for their Up Close
series, but the network edited out his song "Big Boys Bickering
," which was about politics and the environment. MTV claimed that the song was excised because of curse words in the lyrics, although it would have been easy enough to bleep them.