Try though I might, I can’t remember anything specific music-wise about the year 1981. New wave had been around for a couple of years so bands like the Police, Talking Heads and Blondie were still putting out good records. Pink Floyd had released their seminal album, “The Wall” a couple years prior. And so what’s otherwise significant about 1981 AD?
Well, on August 1st of that year a TV channel called MTV (Music Television) launched. And I won’t necessarily say music was never the same, but in a sense that’s true. I had mentioned in the previous post that at one point in time we never (or rarely) saw music we liked (rock, blues, etc.) on TV. And now, well, it was on 24/7. You’d think we’d be ecstatic. (By “we” I mean me and fellow music lovers). And yet I had very mixed feelings about this new vehicle.
For one thing, since music was auditory it left much to the imagination. In a sense it was like the difference between reading a book and watching a movie – you could visualize anything you wanted. But now the music videos were doing that for you. And often the videos seemed kinda silly. But that aside, I confess that I did somewhat enjoy MTV. There were some excellent songs and some great videos. (I’ll do three of my favorites here).
In my opinion, this is the best video ever. Still a great tune…
And at least for the first 3 or 4 years, there were a lot of great videos: Michael Jackson (when MTV eventually got around to featuring black artists); ZZ Top and their fabulous car; Duran Duran; even Stevie Ray Vaughn. And the video jockeys were fun to watch and listen to.
Jackson set the music world on fire here with this tune from mega-album “Thriller”:
So it was, for me, a real mixed bag. On the one hand I was glad that rock music was still viable and I did somewhat enjoy these videos. On the other hand it all seemed sort of …. cheesy and watered down. Not necessarily the music (although much of it was) but the presentation.
And I confess that as a music lover coming out of the late ’60’s, early ’70’s, it just seemed like some ineffable quality was lost. I don’t know exactly what it was. I should have been happy, right? Music is now on TV. But it wasn’t exactly what I was anticipating. I wanted to listen to and watch bands play, not watch goofy videos. So be careful of what you wish for. You just might get it.
Anyway, there were still a few guilty pleasures amidst the noise. Here’s a cool tune my wife reminded me of…
I should note here a major change in that the Sony Walkman first became popular around this time. For the first time, listeners could not only make their own mix tapes but take music with them. This eventually begat the (somewhat clunky) portable CD player which eventually led to the iPod.
The other thing to note from the late ’80’s is the major change in how we could now purchase music. (The only “streaming” we had was radio and Napster was a decade away). I remember my local FM radio station – in about 1988 – having a “CD Thursday.” So they would only play CD’s that day, saving vinyl for the other days. (BTW, first all-digitally recorded vinyl album? Guitarist Ry Cooder’s “Bop Till You Drop,” a very fine record).
And of course within a short time, the only way to buy music was via CD. Well, maybe cassettes were still available but I know I abandoned them pretty quickly once I figured out how to burn a CD. And as for vinyl, for me being able to have roughly twice as much music with no skips or scratches was worth the supposed trade-off in vinyl being “warmer sounding.”
And of course each of these changes in technology requires you to upgrade your music collection, at least in part. I still have a ton of vinyl records I never upgraded. And no turntable.
Note – I owned a CD player before I owned a CD. I told this to some guy at work and he loaned me “Flying Cowboys” by Rickie Lee Jones. I liked her but wasn’t a particularly big fan. I just wanted to hear what a CD sounded like. I listened to it. And went out and bought it the next day. More on that when I do Rickie Lee’s post.
I’ll do my final “Radio, radio” post later on which will consider the revolution in how we listen to “radio” since the ’90’s.