Video Killed The Radio Star was recorded by the New Wave musical group The Buggles for their album The Age of Plastic in 1980. It was written by Geoff Downes, Trevor Horn, and Bruce Wolley. The video for this song is widely known for the fact that it was the first video to air on the popular American music video cable channel MTV. It was also re-recorded by the band The Presidents of the United States of America in 1997, appearing on their third album Pure Frosting. The lyrics are as follows.

I heard you on the wireless back in fifty two
Lying awake intent at tuning in on you
If I was young it didn't stop you coming through
Oh-a oh

They took the credit for your second symphony
rewritten by machine and new technology
and now I understand the problems you can see
Oh-a oh
I met your children
Oh-a oh
What did you tell them?

Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star
Pictures came and broke your heart
Oh-a-a-a oh

And now we meet in an abandoned studio
We hear the playback and it seems so long ago
And you remember how the jingles used to go
Oh-a oh
You were the first one
Oh-a oh
You were the last one

Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star
In my mind and in my car
we can't rewind we've gone too far
Oh-a-aho oh
Oh-a-aho oh
Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star
In my mind and in my car
we can't rewind we've gone too far
Pictures came and broke your heart
Look I'll play my VCR

You are a radio star
You are a radio star
Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star


In my mind, this is what pop music should be all about: positively infectious and memorable, making a point and knocking it home with a hammer. Yet of all of the pop song I have heard over my lifetime, few have retained the sheer replayability or continued relevance of this fantastic anthem.

The Buggles themselves were a late 1970s new wave group from Britain, who disbanded in early 1980 in order for the members to join the more established band Yes. By the time that "Video" became well known, The Buggles had long since broken up. What remained of the group at that point was a two year old collection of new wave pop and a kitschy video.

As most know, the video for this song was the first ever played on MTV, back in the day when the station focused on New Wave acts and music rejected by mainstream radio. It was the perfect anthem for what the channel had the possibility of becoming: a truly new venue for musical expression. Amazingly enough, throughout much of the 1980s, that promise was kept. Musical acts like The Police, otherwise shunned by mainstream radio in the United States, were given room to grow and blossom on the airwaves of MTV, eventually building the group up to a point that the US was ready to accept their landmark album Synchronicity in 1983, with Every Breath You Take being a monster hit. Most of the New Wave movement of the 1980s had a lot to owe to the MTV of the day; groups like Devo would have never been exposed outside of Akron, Ohio, if it were not for the insertion of their videos for Whip It and Beautiful World into the MTV rotation.

Yet, now, twenty-odd years later, the song is still relevant and it manages to bash the very network that made it famous and the entirely manufactured elements of pop culture that it has contributed to. Style over substance, indeed; tune into MTV now and what do you get? A small dabble of bubblegum pop and overproduced rap/rock, essentially devoid of a soul or any type of meaning. I nearly cringe when I think about the amount of money that is required to get a video into MTV's heavy rotation these days. Acts that make it that far either are extremely lucky to have a record company strongly behind them, or are simply image-based media puppets, glossed and overproduced to the point that they are essentially manufactured bubble gum. Unfortunately, it's much more of the latter than the former.

This focus on style over substance is due to the fact that we can now see the artist and can judge the artist based on our own ideas of what's pretty and what isn't. N*Sync can drop more than a million dollars into a video and sell more than two million albums in a week, yet there are artists out there with musical talent just pouring out of them that could make N*Sync look like amateur hour at the local nightclubs, but are basically destitute. Why? Because their look isn't marketable. Video killed the radio star, indeed.

The song also swipes quite effectively at the techno genre and oversampled crap-hop ("They took the credit for your second symphony; rewritten by machine and new technology"); a well-deserved stab, from what I can see. Rather than thinking up a new hook, let's just borrow an old one and mechanically wash it a bit. This is why so many people hear the first five seconds of Under Pressure, a fantastically original collaboration from David Bowie and Queen in 1982, and immediately go, "Wow, Vanilla Ice." Of course, in the same hand, anyone with a personal computer can create a loop or two, mix them together, and burn a CD; this is why the techno section in your local store is often loaded with dreck by people who never bothered to learn their musical craft in the first place. That's not to say that techno can't rise above the amateurism (look at Play and The Man-Machine for two strong examples), but that the technology has made it easy to produce garbage.

The irony that the song contains heavily synthesized sounds is just part of the package. The use of synthesizers seems to be there to make a point, just as it is with any truly worthwhile synth pop; if it's not adding to the song, it's detracting from the song. The synthesizers add to the musical arrangement here and make an ironic point; it's all just noise if there isn't some original ideas behind it.

So, where's the originality, folks? This three minute pop song recorded more than twenty two years ago still has more fresh ideas in it than most of the songs one can hear on top forty radio today. Is it because all of the great ideas are played out? Hardly; one needs only to dig a little at the local independent record shop to discover that. The truth of the matter is that video really did help to kill the radio star, and we're left with bubblegum all over our faces.

In the end, though, the thing that makes this song work is the same thing that makes every great song work: that certain melodic something that worms its way into your head and sticks itself on "repeat" for a while between your temples. It's one of those songs you don't dare conjure up the tune of, because you know it will run through your head over and over again, driving you batty. The fact that the song makes such a valid point with the lyrics makes it that much more of a winner.

tes's writeup is quite an excellent WU, but I feel it misses the point of the song altogether.

Video Killed The Radio Star is about how the advent of television essentially destroyed the radio industry as it was at the time, and rendered many famous radio celebrities into has-beens. After television caught on, the radio industry had to reinvent itself, as nobody with a television was interested in sitting around the radio listening to radio serials any more. Some shows and celebrities (Abbott and Costello, The Lone Ranger) were able to make the transition from sound stages to television studios. Others (Lum and Abner, Lights Out), were not.

Although radio programs were very inexpensive to produce, many of them relied heavily on the listeners' imaginations to tell the stories, using dramatic reading and basic sound effects to paint a broad picture. Many shows were simply unable to achieve the level of visual special effects necessary to show the things that had previously been entirely in the listeners' minds.

In addition, many radio actors who had magnificent speaking voices had poor visual stage presence, and didn't have the same impact. Amos and Andy was entirely recast when it made the transition from radio to television, as the radio actors were all white, playing black characters. The Lone Ranger, which had previously been played by Brace Beemer and Earle Graser, was recast with Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger, whose main qualification was that he looked the part.

Video Killed The Radio Star, ultimately, is about the dramatic changes that television made to the nature of celebrity, and about how new technology has a tendency to push out older technology that fills the same purpose, something we should always be aware of.


Trivia tidbit: While most people know that Video Killed The Radio Star was MTV's very first video, aired on August 1, 1981, it was also MTV's millionth video, aired on February 27, 2000. It is also the third-most aired video in MTV history, with Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer being first.

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