A Look Inside I Want My MTV
In their 2011 book I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, authors Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum revisit the “golden age” of music videos, from 1981 to 1992, based on interviews with more than 400 people. As they learned, sometimes bad videos happen to great songs. Here are ten examples.
Psychedelic Furs, "Pretty in Pink" (1984; 1986)
One of the great songs of the ‘80s, but as a video, it’s a two-time dud. The original video, from 1981, was too dreary and claustrophobic to capitalize on MTV’s emerging Anglophilia. Five years later, a new version, rerecorded and re-filmed for the John Hughes movie of the same name, lacked the snarl of the original; Andie, Blaine and Ducky should never have even bothered.
Fleetwood Mac, “Hold Me” (1982)"
Making a video in the desert is sweaty and difficult, especially with a band that can’t stand one another: “It was so hot, and we weren’t getting along,” Stevie Nicks recalls. “Hold Me” is like a sun-baked hallucination, with sand dunes, guitars, Magritte paintings, Nicks in five-inch platform heels, and an obligatory, early-1980s slow-motion shot of breaking glass. Director Steve Barron: “That wasn’t a good video.” Producer Simon Fields: “John McVie was drunk and tried to punch me. It was a [expletive] nightmare, a horrendous day in the desert.”
Rick James, "Super Freak" (1982)
Not long after MTV launched with a nearly all-white playlist, Rick James decried the network as “racist,” charging that MTV’s segregated programming was “taking black people back 400 years.” James was enraged that MTV refused to air “Super Freak”; in fairness to the network, this gully video, starring James and a multiracial array of hot messes in streetwalker garb, was more akin to Pootie Tang than, say, “Billie Jean.” Carolyn Baker, who was MTV's director of acquisitions, says, "As a black woman, I did not want that representing my people as the first black video on MTV."
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, “The Message” (1982)
In the concluding scene, two cops arrest Flash and his band mates, possibly for the crime of making this awful video. The lyrics describe and denounce the dangers of urban poverty – so why are these rappers dressed like low-budget Michael Jacksons? “An immortal song, but the video was pure ghetto,” says Def Jam executive Bill Adler. “Some of the earliest rap videos were terrible.”
Bruce Springsteen, "Dancing in the Dark" (1984) Billy Squier, “Rock Me Tonite” (1984)
Springsteen is adorably dorky in his first-ever video appearance, no more so than during his infamous new-wave dance-off with audience plant Courtney “Monica Geller” Cox. Directed by famed filmmaker Brian DePalma, “Dancing in the Dark” was catnip to MTV’s teen demo (girls in particular), but Springsteen's longtime manager, Jon Landau, says the singer had "mixed feelings" about the video: "It broadened Bruce's appeal, but the whole thing was slick and high gloss. Not a typical Bruce Springsteen thing."
There are only two videos which merit their own chapters in “I Want My MTV,” and this is one. Squier was a hard-rock superstar before he released this video, which he describes as “diabolical.” Here’s the plot: Squier wakes up in a bed of silk sheets, puts on white drawstring pants, skips around his bedroom, grinds on the floor, rips off his t-shirt, then puts on a pink tank top, and collapses back on his silk sheets. Squier blames this video for ending his reign on the rock charts. U2, “Pride (In the Name of Love)” (1984)
There are three different video versions of U2’s tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., and none did any favors to the song. The second was shot by Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn, and in his defense, he directed it hurriedly, in the basement of a hotel near Heathrow Airport, before U2 flew to Japan. He uses closeups of the band’s faces, mostly in profile and shadowed, until the end, when Bono frenetically shakes his grand mullet. Corbijn recalls that when the band’s manager saw the video, “he swore that I would never be allowed near U2 again with a film camera.”
Prince, "Raspberry Beret" (1985) Aretha Franklin, “Freeway of Love” (1985)
For an artist at his zenith in the ‘80s, Prince never quite figured out music videos. “Raspberry Beret” is the most egregious example of Prince-the-control-freak taking a perfectly bad idea--let’s hire two animators to work around the clock on a tale about a girl in a hat!--and making it worse, by taking the twee animation and clumsily combining it with performance footage. Producer Simon Fields: "Prince would mess with directors. He’d give them the impression that they’d be in charge of the video, then halfway through he’d go, 'Thank you,' take what he liked, and edit it himself." Much respect to his Liza Minnelli hairdo, however.
In this comeback hit for the Queen of Soul, it’s difficult to decide which is the worst part of the video. Is it the performance footage, where Franklin and her band grin like someone’s pointing a gun at them? The literally-translated lyrics, which show a pink Cadillac when Aretha sings “Pink Cadillac,” and a traffic jam when she sings “city traffic’s moving way too slow”? Or is it the dance sequences, which seem to have been choreographed by Benny Hill? Let’s say each. Pixies, "Velouria" (1990)
Not even Dave Kendall could like this one. In need of a last-minute video for the U.K.’s influential Top of the Pops
countdown show, the band--not exactly telegenic on its best day--is filmed in suuuuuper sloooowwwww moooooooootion running through a quarry. Any slower and they’d be time traveling. One camera. One shot. That’s it. Band. Running. Quarry.
"Highly entertaining" -Rolling Stone — Rolling Stone
See all Editorial Reviews
"It reminded me of those long days watching MTV, back when it still played videos...riveting." -New York Times — New York Times
"Hilarious, with behind-the-scenes dirt on hundreds of videos. I guarantee you'll have a tough time putting it down." -USA Today — USA Today
"Riveting reading, and a book we expect to see on the best-seller lists." -Very Short List — Very Short List
"The sheer entertainment value within these pages is priceless." -Publishers Weekly — Publishers Weekly
"A smart, decadently entertaining oral history." -Playboy — Playboy
"Just as MTV hypnotized viewers, so the jump-cut structure of I WANT MY MTV swiftly compels." -Businessweek — Businessweek
"Rollicking. The golden age of MTV was just as wild and debauched as you would hope." -New York Post — New York Post
"A rip-roaring, hilarious tribute to the cable channel that changed pop culture. A wonderfully entertaining and enlightening history, a magnificently enjoyable read." -The National — The National
"Riotous and irreverent. Crack it open to almost any page and you're guaranteed a giggle. Every gaffe, scandal, and sexual innuendo comes in for hilarious scrutiny." -New York Daily News — New York Daily News
"Insiders are already buzzing about the book, which does for music television what Fredric Dannen's Hit Men did for indie promotion." -HITS — HITS
"A smart oral history." -Billboard — Billboard
"A wild trip down memory lane, this cool history makes us '80s and '90s kids totally nostalgic." -NYLON — NYLON
"Hugely readable and insanely fun." -Pitchfork — Pitchfork
"It makes you laugh, it makes you cry. I couldn't put it down. This is the best book I've read on how the music business really works." -Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter — Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter
"An obscenely entertaining (and entertainingly obscene) account of MTV's early days." -Dave Holmes — Dave Holmes
"The entire Grantland staff is obsessed with the book" -Grantland — Grantland
"The writers certainly did their homework, chronicling the wild and crazy ride of the network in the words of its own eclectic cast of characters...there is plenty to sink your teeth into with this book." -Hollywood Reporter — Hollywood Reporter
"It's part voyeurism, part nostalgia, part social commentary - the perfect pulp non-fiction read for the cooling months ahead." -Modern Tonic — Modern Tonic
"I WANT MY MTV chronicles MTV as I, and many others, would like to remember it: a lot of fun when it first came on the scene and a joy to watch every day" -TG Daily — TG Daily
"MTV changed America and this book will change how you think about MTV. It's a fascinating look deep inside how MTV became what it was from the mouths of those who made it. Everyone who loved or hated MTV will love this story filled with fights, drugs, sex and music." -Toure, author of Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?
— Toure, author of Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?
"Before Google and before Apple, MTV was the one post-60s American enterprise that really transformed the culture. And now we have this definitive, riveting, revealing, amazingly well-reported insiders' account of how an improbable group of visionaries made it up as they went along. You want I Want My MTV." -Kurt Andersen, author of Heyday and Reset, and host of public radio's "Studio 360"
"I Want My MTV is such a big, wild joyride of book, made to be read with glee and nostalgia and marvel. It's also a thoughtful and astonishingly well-researched historical document, of course, but mostly it's just a total gas. It's all in here, folks! Girls in cages! TV executives on blow! Dudes in eyeliner! Chicks with guitars! Pyrotechnics, consumerism, fame, destruction and shamelessness! Anyone who came of age during the glory days of MTV will be-page by page-steadily transported right back to your boyfriend's parent's wood-paneled den, to savor once more the life-changing lessons of decadence and magic we learned from cable TV." -Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed
"I Want My MTV is the definitively funny-yet loving-chronicle of music video's golden age: the hopes, the dreams, the drugs, the hair, the legacy of Tawny Kitaen. And for gossip, it's packed tighter than one of Heart's spandex bustiers." -Rob Sheffield, author of the national bestseller Love is a Mix Tape and Talking to Girls About Duran Duran