The Music Revolutions of the 80’s

Since the whole concept of the Mixed Tape anthology (out tomorrow at MLR Press!) was born from that iconic 80’s music invention – the Mixed Tape, for today’s post I thought it seemed appropriate to talk about what else – music!

Of course there has been a major revolution in the 90’s and 2000’s from CDs and radio to MP3’s and internet streaming. But there were some big changes in the 80’s too. We went from vinyl records to cassette tapes to CD’s. I’ve been a big music lover from my preteens on and the first rock album I bought was Pat Benatar’s Live from Earth. It kept skipping though and after a couple trips back to the store to exchange it for another (only to discover it skipped as well), my mom bought me a small boom box for good grades. So all of my 80’s music collection was on cassette. And yes I had mixed tapes, but not with any theme or rhyme or reason. They were mostly just a random mix of songs I liked that I taped from the radio. I saw Matchbox 20 earlier this year and Rob Thomas told a story of how he used to sit there, fingers paused on the record button, waiting for the DJ to stop talking and play the song. Yep, did that! 🙂

There was another big revolution of the time, that I did include in Heaven. It was the music video. Made famous of course by MTV, which debuted August 1, 1981. In the beginning the VJs didn’t even have enough videos to fill up 24 hours and they had to keep rerunning the same ones. But the popularity of the video soon exploded and changed the music industry and the way we listened to music. Although MTV doesn’t play videos anymore, in the 80’s, often the first time you heard a song might not have been the radio but on MTV instead.MTV logo 1981 june16

Now, I lived in a small Midwestern town growing up, so our cable system didn’t get MTV until years later – I think I had already left for college before we got it. So my memories of watching videos as a teenager involved staying up after midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, watching programs on cable like Night Tracks and Friday Night Videos.

The original MTV VJ’s recently released a book talking about what it was like in the early days of MTV.

I heard a radio interview with them after I had already written Heaven and submitted it and (in talking about the influence of MTV) Nina Blackwood made the comment that “MTV brought the world to kids living in places like Iowa.” I squeed a little because in my story, MTV is a big influence on my character of Joey as he is growing up and creating his image.

In the vein of “everything’s on the internet these days,” you can actually watch videos of the first hours of MTV from that very first day. And see a list of the first 100 videos played, in their order. (Links below)

And now I’m going to stop because I’m starting to feel old. 🙂


From Heaven –Anthony_Front_Cover_72

The cushions sagged as he plopped himself on the couch, propping his feet—clad in one purple sneaker and one green sneaker—on the coffee table. “Are you ready for the revolution, Bri-baby?”

I rolled my eyes as I got up to turn the TV on to the right station. It wasn’t quite midnight yet so the only thing on the screen was running video from what looked like a rocket launch from NASA. The MTV logo was in the bottom corner though, so it was the right channel.

“I don’t get the big deal. Nothing but music videos, ever? I bet they’re off the air in a month.”

Joey turned toward me with crossed arms, shaking his head.

“You are such a grumpy old man. Has anyone told you you’re not forty?”

I bopped him in the head with a pillow and he fought back. We were tussling like that when suddenly the MTV theme music came on. The screen flashed some crazy animation of an astronaut on the moon, and then it all began.

The very first video was some band I’d never heard of singing something about video killing the radio star. It was cheesy and crazy and awesome all at the same time.

Okay, so maybe this music video thing was pretty cool. I looked over at Joey after a few more videos played and in the flickering light of the TV screen—the only light in the room—he looked like he was in another world. His eyes were wide, his mouth was stuck in this “O” shape. I had to poke him a few times to finally get his attention. As he came back to earth, this huge smile erupted across his face. It was infectious and as I shook my head I couldn’t help but smile back. Then one of us started laughing, which started the other one laughing, which eventually caused Uncle Gary to yell down at us to keep the noise down.

So we shut up and settled back into the couch to watch the world come to our little TV in the Middle-of-Nowheresville, Iowa.

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