1980s Music Videos

The Eighties was the decade when the pop music video really took off.

That said, it is generally accepted that the first music video was the one for Queen’s stupendously successful Bohemian Rhapsody. It was filmed in 1975, specifically to be shown on Top Of The Pops.

Prior to that, in the Sixties, there were various promotional clips made for the Beatles – to be shown in lieu of them actually appearing on any given show. Furthermore, they had their feature films, from which excerpts could be used in the same way. Then there is the famous Bob Dylan clip, made for Subterranean Homesick Blues. You may remember, this is the one where he scrolls through boards showing key phrases from the song’s lyrics.

Many other groups made promo clips in the 1960s, such as The Who, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. However, perhaps the pioneers were The Moody Blues with their 1964 offering to promote their single Go Now.

Perhaps the first true 80s video was for David Bowie’s 1980 single Ashes To Ashes. If it wasn’t the first video of the new decade, it was certainly the first one to cost more than over a quarter of a million pounds. It was so cool, with the Sabattier effect (or pseudo-solarization) applied; with Bowie in a padded cell; with Steve Strange as one of the curious priest-like beings looming in from the wings from time to time. It was mad stuff.

It could be argued that the driving force for the video revolution was MTV. First airing in the US (specifically, New Jersey) in August 1981 the channel played wall to wall music videos. The Buggles’ Video Killed The Radion Star was the first video played, but given that this was a hit in late Summer 1979 it’s unlikely that it was written for MTV. However, as we’ve seen, music videos did exist prior to the founding of MTV so the station was likely tapping into the resource.

MTV is credited with sparking a second British Invasion or at least facilitating it. Seminal 80s bands, part of the British New Wave scene such as The Human League, Soft Cell, Culture Club, A Flock Of Seagulls and The Eurythmics were regular features on the channel and also in the Billboard Hot 100. Perhaps the best band at utilising the power of videos was Duran Duran.

There was a certain symbiosis as their sumptuous productions came to symbolise the power of the new channel – the band was assisted by and gave succour to MTV.

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