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I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution Paperback – September 25, 2012

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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)
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."

Billy Squier, “Rock Me Tonite” (1984)
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)
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.

Aretha Franklin, “Freeway of Love” (1985)
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.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"Highly entertaining" -Rolling Stone

"It reminded me of those long days watching MTV, back when it still played videos...riveting." -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

"Riveting reading, and a book we expect to see on the best-seller lists." -Very Short List

"The sheer entertainment value within these pages is priceless." -Publishers Weekly

"A smart, decadently entertaining oral history." -Playboy

"Just as MTV hypnotized viewers, so the jump-cut structure of I WANT MY MTV swiftly compels." -Businessweek

"Rollicking. The golden age of MTV was just as wild and debauched as you would hope." -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

"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

"Insiders are already buzzing about the book, which does for music television what Fredric Dannen's Hit Men did for indie promotion." -HITS 

"A smart oral history." -Billboard

"A wild trip down memory lane, this cool history makes us '80s and '90s kids totally nostalgic." -NYLON

"Hugely readable and insanely fun." -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

"An obscenely entertaining (and entertainingly obscene) account of MTV's early days." -Dave Holmes

"The entire Grantland staff is obsessed with the book" -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

"It's part voyeurism, part nostalgia, part social commentary - the perfect pulp non-fiction read for the cooling months ahead." -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

"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?

"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

“Splendid. I Want My MTV is compulsively entertaining, hugely edifying, and occasionally profound.” -TIME

“Hilarious. One of my favorite books of the year. I guarantee you’ll have a tough time putting it down.” -USA Today

“This is my kind of book.” -Howard Stern

“This colorful oral history of MTV’s early years doesn’t pull punches or waste time. A relentlessly entertaining book, an endlessly quotable volume.” -The Onion

“Wildly entertaining. Music and culture fans of a certain age – you will want this book.” -Washington Post

“Marks and Tannenbaum make business meetings sound as fascinating as UFC Fighting, with anecdote upon anecdote about models, midgets, and coke-fueled mayhem.” -Spin Magazine

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Revised edition (September 25, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452298563
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452298569
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (133 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #269,481 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you grew up in the era when MTV was must-see TV, this book is a breezy page-turner that will not disappoint. Not only are there hilarious behind the scenes details (little people getting down with transvestites on Van Halen's set; constipation on Samantha Fox's), but you'll see (and hear) the machinations of a plucky start-up changing - for better AND worse - the dynamics of a complacent, and arguably regressive, music industry. If only it could happen again today. The oral history gambit provides an excellent springboard, allowing for multiple voices and "Rashomon"-style conflicts regarding elusive truths, and this book ranks with similar tomes like the SNL backstager, "Live From New York" and Legs McNeil's "Please Kill Me." My only wish would be to prune some of the 'middleman' repetition, as we get one, two, three (twelve?) too many MTV staffers who tell us, again and again, that there were no rules; they broke all the rules; things were really f'in' crazy...rather than telling us why or how. Would have preferred further quips from quotable video stars such as Al Yankovic, Devo's Jerry Casale, and various Beastie Boys who were actually in the midst of madness making the clips they programmed. But the nitty-gritty, as well as the broader cultural scope, are all here and all delectable.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was initially wary of the book's length (572 pages not including the index!), but it turns out it's been perfect for picking up, putting down, and skipping around depending on what stories seem most entertaining that day. Each chapter is broken up into short oral histories on a particular topic, so you can spend one afternoon reading about Madonna's early days as a skateboarding punk living in the LES, and another day on how MTV execs convinced Mick Jagger to say "I want my MTV" for $1. This book is totally about the details. Did you know that one of the hot chicks in ZZ Top's "Gimme All Your Lovin'" is now on the Real Housewives of Orange County?? Or that the car on the cover of the album Eliminator cost $250,000, so they put it in all their videos to get the tax deduction as a business expense? Pure gold, and totally addictive reading!! Would definitely recommend as a gift to anyone 30 and older who remembers those MTV days.
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Format: Paperback
I was one of those young kids who grew up with MTV.

I can easily remember those days of watching Michael Jackson's "Thriller" music video during the premiere, multiple times throughout the day. I can easily remember watching Duran Duran's "Planet Earth" and "Girls on Film" and just amazed of how cool they look and wanted to dress like them. Seeing David Bowie's "Let's Dance" and being mesmerized by the video, to watching the Police "Don't Stand So Close to Me" and going out surfing during my grom years and loving the Police and seeing this group of hot young women known as The Go-Go's singing "Our Lips are Sealed" and jumping into a fountain.

I remember watching Friday Night Videos and wondering if Michael Jackson would beat Def Leppard or Quiet Riot's "Cum on Feel the Noize". Or being titillated with videos such from Van Halen's "Too Hot for Teacher", ZZ Top's "She Got Legs" and being introduced to R&B videos with Musical Youth's "Pass the Dutchie" or New Edition's "Cool It Now".

I can easily remember being scared by watching The Scorpions "Rock You Like a Hurricane" or seeing Eurythmics and Annie Lennox with a shaved red head singing "Sweet Dreams are Made of This" and me and my friends hiding behind the couch because we were freaked out about it.

I can remember Music Videos being part of my life, Spring Break MTV being part of my life as teenager and seeing shows such as "Remote Control" and later on, "Beavis & Butthead" and then question the decline of MTV which now became more of a reality TV show channel and less about the music.

Sure, I tuned into MTV once in awhile within the last decade to watch an award show or to see what was the hype of a certain reality TV show but the MTV today, is nothing like the MTV that I grew up with.
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Format: Hardcover
I was there (yes I was interviewed for the book) and I have to say this book is far more truthful and accurate than I ever thought it would be. It is a bit Rashomon-like in that it is told from the collective memories of the eye-witnesses/survivors of that era and so accounts of events often vary, but that only adds to the fun of the read. There is stuff in here I never thought I'd see in print.
I would love to see the bits they felt they couldn't include!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Whomever gave this book a 1 star rating is either certifiably insane, seriously under medicated, or just a plain and simple meathead. Having been a former VJ (be it on VH1, and later VH1 Classic), and a rock radio DJ for 30 years (the past 22 in NYC), I found this book laugh out loud hilarious and spot on what it can be like in the world of music television (or at least what it use to be like). The authors have obviously done their research. A must read for any music nut, especially if you grew up during MTV's glory years. You'll love it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am old enough to recall the day MTV first aired. We huddled by the screen to witness the moment when television decided it cared about what we teens cared about: rock music and cool outfits. This amazing book let me get behind the scenes -- finally! -- for a view of the hysteria -- fame-hungry and drug- induced -- that went along with the videos. What a weird, fascinating world was hatched for us. No wonder we still want our MTV, the remarkable one we can no longer have. I loved this book. I want "I Want My MTV" for many, many more reads.
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