MTV’s Very First Music Videos

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On August 1, 1981, the Music Television Network aired its very first broadcast. It opens with footage of the Apollo 11 rocket launch and transitions to an astronaut planting an MTV flag on the moon. An announcement from MTV creator John Lack chimes in–“Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll”–and the rest is history. Although initially only available in parts of New Jersey, the network soon spread across the U.S. and eventually the world. While it later made a mark on early 2000s reality TV with shows like Punk’d, My Super Sweet 16, and MTV Cribs, at the time of its inception, MTV only aired music videos. Record companies would send them to the network for free, and video jockeys would introduce the music videos on-air. It became the premiere platform for artists to promote their new music, and the videos themselves became increasingly more engaging and complex.

Without MTV, we would have never had the mainstream music video, and the talent of Madonna, Prince, and other music legends may have never been broadcast so widely. Some of the greatest hits and most beloved artists found fame via the network, forever changing the way we consume music. In celebration of the music media juggernaut’s launch 39 years ago, look back on MTV’s first 10 videos.

“Video Killed the Radio Star” By The Buggles

    Ironically enough, the first music video to launch on MTV was “Video Killed The Radio Star” from The Buggles. From their album The Age of Plastic, the song choice could not have been more appropriate for the debut of the visual medium as it highlighted music’s evolution from radio to video.

    “You Better Run” By Pat Benatar

    “You Better Run” by Pat Benatar was originally written in 1966 by Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati of the band The Young Rascals. When Benatar reversed the gender connotations of the lyrics, her rendition became the first single from her 1980 album Crimes of Passion. With the debut of her music video, Benatar became the first female artist, the first American artist, and the first rock artist to be featured on MTV.

    “She Won’t Dance With Me” By Rod Stewart

    Rod Stewart’s “She Won’t Dance With Me” from his 1980 album Foolish Behavior veered him off the path of disco fever and into rock ‘n’ roll, illustrating his ability to move across genres.

    “You Better You Bet” By The Who

    From The Who’s 1981 album Face Dances, “You Better You Bet” had success on the charts with a black and white performative music video where Kenney Jones takes the place of the late Keith Moon at the drum set and John “Rabbit” Bundrick is featured on piano.

    “Little Suzi’s on the Top” By Ph.D

    Ph.D released the synth pop song “Little Suzi’s On The Top” on the trio’s eponymous album in 1981. After its initial release, the track was covered and reimagined by the hard rock group Tesla.

    “We Don’t Talk Anymore” By Cliff Richard

    Cliff Richard’s “We Don’t Talk Anymore” climbed to the top of the UK’s charts in July 1979 and became a Top 10 U.S. single in 1980. The pop star’s video was directed by Brian Grant, who also directed Ph.D’s “Little Suzi’s On The Top” video.

    “Brass in Pocket” By the Pretenders

    Lead singer Chrissie Hynde and guitarist James Honeyman-Scott co-wrote “Brass in Pocket,” released in 1980 on their namesake album. The anthem reached number 14 in the U.S. charts and became the first 1980s number one hit in the UK.

    “Time Heals” By Todd Rundgren

    Musician Todd Rundgren had been an early believer in the art of the music video. Prior to the launch of MTV, he had been developing video projects at the Utopia Video Studios in Woodstock, New York. Having produced and directed the video himself, “Time Heals” climbed the charts after airing on MTV.

    “Take it on the Run” By REO Speedwagon

    From the band’s album Hi Infidelity, “Take It On The Run” was the first concert video to air on MTV. However, the broadcast was interrupted due to technical difficulties and the video was cut short after just 12 seconds.

    “Rockin’ the Paradise” By Styx

    “Rockin’ The Paradise” appeared on Styx’s 10th studio album Paradise Theatre, which was named after the abandonment of Chicago’s Paradise Theatre in the early 1980s. The album would go on to top the U.S. album charts.

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