Marshall Fish is a remote trivia writer for Hasbro, Screenlife Games, and other pop culture websites.
On August 1, 1981, MTV Music Television made its cable debut with one of its creators, John Lack, announcing “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.” But what were some of the music videos that followed “Video Killed the Radio Star” (the first video shown on the network that day)? Here’s a list of the initial 25 videos played on MTV, along with some trivia notes.
First 25 Videos Played on MTV
- “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles
- “You Better Run" by Pat Benatar
- “She Won't Dance With Me" by Rod Stewart
- “You Better You Bet" by The Who
- "Little Suzi's on the Up" by Ph. D.
- "We Don't Talk Anymore" by Cliff Richard
- “Brass in Pocket" by The Pretenders
- “Time Heals" by Todd Rundgren
- “Take It on the Run” by REO Speedwagon
- “Rockin’ the Paradise” by Styx
- "When Things Go Wrong" by Robin Lane and the Chartbusters
- "History Never Repeats" by Split Enz
- “Hold On Loosely” by 38 Special
- “Just Between You and Me” by April Wine
- “Sailing” by Rod Stewart
- “Iron Maiden” by Iron Maiden
- “Keep On Loving You” by REO Speedwagon
- “Bluer Than Blue” by Michael Johnson
- “Message of Love” by The Pretenders
- “Mr. Briefcase” by Lee Ritenour
- “Double Life” by The Cars
- “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins
- “Looking for Clues” by Robert Palmer
- “Too Late” by Shoes
- “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” by Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
1. “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles
Album: English Garden
Song Facts for “Video Killed the Radio Star”
The song was released in 1979 by the electro-pop duo of Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn, better known as The Buggles. “Video” reached No. 1 on the U.K. singles chart, taken from “The Age of Plastic” album. The pair briefly joined Yes in 1980, with Downes later going on to form the supergroup Asia and Horn, The Art of Noise. Trevor Horn became a successful record producer, overseeing music by ABC, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Pet Shop Boys, and Simple Minds. He and Seal won the "Record of the Year" Grammy in 1994 for “Kiss From a Rose.”
They took the credit for your second symphony.
Rewritten by machine and new technology,
and now I understand the problems you can see.
— The Buggles, "Video Killed the Radio Star"
2. “You Better Run" by Pat Benatar
Album: Roadie Soundtrack
Song Facts for “You Better Run"
Benatar’s video remake of a 1966 Young Rascals hit followed The Buggles on the cablecast. It’s fitting that “You Better Run” was the second video played on MTV, as the song is the second track on Benatar’s second album, 1980’s “Crimes of Passion.” The tune was also featured on the soundtrack to the movie “Roadie,” starring Meat Loaf. It was the second song on that album, too.
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Most chick singers say 'if you hurt me, I'll die'... I say, 'if you hurt me, I'll kick your ass.'
— Pat Benatar
3. “She Won't Dance With Me" by Rod Stewart
Album: Foolish Behaviour
Song Facts for “She Won't Dance With Me"
Taken from 1980’s “Foolish Behaviour,” the follow-up to Stewart’s 1978 “Blondes Have More Fun” album. “She Won’t Dance With Me” wasn’t a disco track like his number one hit “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”, but a driving rocker. The song was penned by Stewart and Jorge Ben.
What I do now is all my dad's fault, because he bought me a guitar as a boy, for no apparent reason.
— Rod Stewart
4. “You Better You Bet" by The Who
Album: Face Dances
Genre: Classic Rock
Song Facts for “You Better You Bet"
From the 1981 "Face Dances" album came this energetic track, shot in black and white. Kenney Jones takes over for the late Keith Moon on drums, and John “Rabbit” Bundrick contributes piano to the song. "You Better You Bet" reached No. 18 on the U.S. Billboard singles chart and No. 9 on the UK Top 40.
I have terrible hearing trouble. I have unwittingly helped to invent and refine a type of music that makes its principal proponents deaf.
— Pete Townshend
5. "Little Suzi's on the Up" by Ph.D.
Song Facts for "Little Suzi's on the Up"
Simon Phillips, Tony Hymas, and Jim Diamond made up the trio Ph.D. (the group’s name was taken from the first letter of their last names). This synth pop track was later recorded by the hard rock band Tesla. The video features a ballroom dancing competition, shades of “Dancing With The Stars” and “Strictly Come Dancing” 24 years later. Before forming Ph.D., Hymas and Phillips were members of the Jeff Beck Group in the late 1970s. Ironically, Phillips replaced Kenney Jones as The Who’s drummer during their 1989 reunion tour of North America and England. Diamond would have a U.K. No. 1 hit single in 1984 with “I Should Have Known Better.”
Little Suzi's on the up, looking for a get-away
Ruby trying to bring her down, still looking for another way
Little Suzi's on the up, heading for the spotlight
Ruby finally gets up, lookin' for some quiet nights
6. "We Don't Talk Anymore" by Cliff Richard
Album: Rock 'n' Roll Juvenile
Song Facts for "We Don't Talk Anymore"
"We Don't Talk Anymore" was a U.K. No. 1 hit in July 1979 and a Top 10 U.S. single in January 1980 for the British pop music legend, born Harry Rodger Webb in Lucknow, India. The song was found on the album “Rock ‘n’ Roll Juvenile,” retitled “We Don’t Talk Anymore” in the U.S. The video was directed by Brian Grant, who also directed Ph.D.’s “Little Suzi’s on the Up” promo. And, no, this isn’t the song with the same title that Charlie Puth released in 2016.
It's so funny why we don't talk anymore.
But I ain't losing sleep and I ain't counting sheep.
— Cliff Richard
7. “Brass in Pocket" by The Pretenders
Song Facts for “Brass in Pocket"
Written by Chrissie Hynde and the group’s guitarist, James Honeyman-Scott, “Brass in Pocket” was the first U.K. No. 1 hit of the 1980s. It reached No. 14 in the U.S. Although Hynde didn’t consider the song a feminist anthem, in 2016 she told Classic Rock magazine’s James McNair that she would have changed the ending of the video for her waitress character. “My idea was that the band would show up on motorbikes,” she told McNair. “I’d cast off my apron and we’d all ride off into the sunset.” Instead, the group shows up with their girlfriends in a pink Cadillac. Hynde’s character tries to get their attention with no success. By the way, “brass” is a northern English expression for money.
Got motion restrained emotion
Been driving Detroit leaning
No reason just seems so pleasing
Gonna make you, make you, make you notice
— The Pretenders, “Brass in Pocket"
8. “Time Heals" by Todd Rundgren
Genre: Prog rock
Song Facts for “Time Heals"
By the time of MTV’s launch in 1981, Todd Rundgren had developed a keen interest in rock video. Two years earlier, he began working on video projects at the new Utopia Video Studios in Woodstock, New York. He produced and directed this video.”Time Heals” made it to No. 18 on Billboard’s "Mainstream Rock" chart. In 1983, the promo was part of a three song Video 45 VHS tape titled "Videosyncracy." It's made up of the songs "Heals," "Hideaway," and "Can We Still Be Friends?"
If you're bleeding,
Then everyone can see you're bleeding
They can call for the doctor,
Who'll provide what the diagnosis says you're needing
— Todd Rundgren, “Time Heals"
9. “Take It on the Run” by REO Speedwagon
Album: Hi Infidelity
Song Facts for “Take It on the Run”
Technical difficulties caused only 12 seconds or so of this video to air. The group's “Keep On Loving You” would follow as the 17th promo played. "Lead singer Kevin Cronin and guitarist Gary Richrath made an appearance before “Take It on the Run” aired. This brief MTV spot promoted an REO concert that would be shown on August 8th. In 1981, REO’s popularity was at its peak with the “Hi Infidelity” album, so a cablecast concert from the group made sense. By the way, the band got its name from drummer Neal Doughty after a high-speed truck he learned about in a History of Transportation class at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.
Heard it from a friend who
Heard it from another you been messin' around
So I'm telling you, babe
That I don't think it's true, babe
Or even if it is keep this in mind
— REO Speedwagon, “Take It on the Run”
10. “Rockin’ the Paradise” by Styx
Album: Paradise Theatre
Genre: Classic rock
Song Facts for “Rockin’ the Paradise”
Two videos in a row were played from bands that got their start in Illinois, REO Speedwagon and Styx. “Rockin' the Paradise” was a track from Styx’s 10th album, “Paradise Theatre.” The 1981 release was a concept album tying the opening and eventual abandonment of Chicago’s Paradise Theatre with the state of America in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Like REO’s “Hi Infidelity,” “Paradise Theatre” would top the U.S. album chart.
And I'll take any risk to tie back the hands of time
And stay with you here to night
So take your seats and don't be late
— Styx, “Rockin’ the Paradise”
11. "When Things Go Wrong" by Robin Lane and the Chartbusters
Album: Robin Lane & the Chartbusters
Facts About Robin Lane
- Robin Lane grew up in Los Angeles.
- Her father was Ken Lane, songwriter and pianist for Dean Martin.
- From 1968 to 1970 she was married to future Police lead guitarist Andy Summers.
- In 1969, she sang backing vocals on the song "Round & Round" on Neil Young's album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.
- In the 1970s she was more influenced by the growing punk rock and new wave genres. He finally hit it big with "When Things Go Wrong."
Your deep emotions, inside yourself
They're hard to face but you must try
You had your feelings for the one you love
You got me wondering why
— Robin Lane and the Chartbusters, "When Things Go Wrong"
12. "History Never Repeats" by Split Enz
Genre: New wave
Song Facts for "History Never Repeats"
- In 2001 the song was voted by members of APRAas the 57th best New Zealand song of the 20th century.
- The guitar bridge in this song was originally featured in an old Phil Judd song, "Bergen Aan Zee."
History never repeats
I tell myself before I go to sleep
Don't say the words you might regret
I lost before, you know I can't forget
— Split Enz, "History Never Repeats"
13. “Hold On Loosely” by 38 Special
Album: Wild-Eyed Southern Boys
Genre: Classic rock
Song Facts for “Hold On Loosely”
- Released as the lead single from the album, the song reached No. 3 on the Billboard Rock Tracks chart.
- It reached No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100.
It's so damn easy, when your feelings are such
To overprotect her, to love her too much
And my mind goes back to a girl I left some years ago (Who told me)
Just hold on loosely
— 38 Special, “Hold On Loosely”
14. “Just Between You and Me” by April Wine
Album: The Nature of the Beast
Genre: Hard Rock
Song Facts for “Just Between You and Me”
- The song was a top twenty-five hit in the U.S., and peaked at No. 13 on the CHUM Chart in Toronto, Canada.
- It was the first video by a Canadian recording artist ever played on MTV.
- The final chorus of the album version includes the song's title in French: "Seulement entre toi et moi."
But just between you and me
Baby I know our love will be
Just between you and me
Always I know our love will be
Just between you and me
— April Wine, “Just Between You and Me”
15. “Sailing” by Rod Stewart
Album: Atlantic Crossing
Song Facts for “Sailing”
- "Sailing" gave Stewart an international hit. In the U.K., "Sailing" was No. 1 for four weeks in September 1975.
- "Sailing" remains the Rod Stewart single to have the greatest success in its U.K. release.
- "Sailing" failed to give Stewart a major hit in his new U.S. homeland.
Can you hear me, can you hear me
Through the dark night, far away
I am dying, forever crying
To be with you, who can say
— Rod Stewart, “Sailing”
16. “Iron Maiden” by Iron Maiden
Album: Iron Maiden
Album Facts for Iron Maiden
- The North American version included the song "Sanctuary," previously released in the U.K. as a non-album single.
- It is the band's only album to feature guitarist Dennis Stratton.
- The title track was the first major metal music video to appear on MTV.
If heavy metal bands ruled the world, we'd be a lot better off.
— Bruce Dickinson
17. “Keep On Loving You” by REO Speedwagon
Album: Hi Infidelity
Song Facts for “Keep On Loving You”
- It features the lead guitar work of Gary Richrath.
- It was the first REO Speedwagon single to break the top 50 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
- The single was certified Platinum for U.S. sales of over one million copies.
- It peaked at number seven in the U.K. Singles Chart.
You should have seen by the look in my eyes, baby
There was somethin' missin'
You should have known by the tone of my voice, maybe
But you didn't listen
You played dead, but you never bled
Instead you laid still in the grass, all coiled up and hissin'
— REO Speedwagon, “Keep On Loving You”
18. “Bluer Than Blue” by Michael Johnson
Album: Then & Now
Song Facts for “Bluer Than Blue”
- "Bluer Than Blue" was taken as the first single from Johnson's subsequent LP, The Michael Johnson Album.
- The song is from the point of view of a man who is in a failing relationship, and is trying to convince himself his situation will improve once the one he loved moves on.
After you go
I can catch up on my readin'
After you go
I'll have a lot more time for sleepin'
And when you're gone looks like things
Are gonna be a lot easier
Life will be a breeze you know
I really should be glad
— Michael Johnson, “Bluer Than Blue”
19. “Message of Love” by The Pretenders
Album: Pretenders II
Song Facts for “Message of Love”
- A band effort largely composed in the studio, the song was a radio hit and reached No. 11 in the United Kingdom.
- It has been praised by critics as a highlight of Pretenders II.
Confidence is usually a bluff – if you're lucky you might have it, but frankly nobody will know the difference.
— Chrissie Hynde
20. “Mr. Briefcase” by Lee Ritenour
Facts About Lee Ritenour
- Lee Mack Ritenour was born January 11, 1952.
- He is an American jazz guitarist.
- He's been described as a "flawless musical chameleon" by Allmusic.
- Ritenour has won one Grammy with a sum of sixteen nominations.
I always recommend to any player to always compose their own music. It's one of the best things you can do to find a road to your own style.
— Lee Ritenour
21. “Double Life” by The Cars
Genre: New wave
Song Facts for “Double Life”
- Double life is the single, but the song actually connects to two other tracks on the album.
- The trick of connecting multiple songs by crossfading or short segue-ways tempted radio programmers into playing more than one song from the album.
- The first lines of the song, "It takes a fast car to lead a double life," are taken from the first two lines of a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti called "Lost Parents."
Refusing to ask for help when you need it is refusing someone the chance to be helpful.
— Ric Ocasek
22. “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins
Album: Face Value
Song Facts for “In The Air Tonight”
- "In the Air Tonight" is the debut solo single by the English singer-songwriter and the drummer Phil Collins. It was released as the lead single from Collins' debut solo album, Face Value, in January 1981.
- Collins co-produced the single with Hugh Padgham, who became a frequent collaborator in the following years.
- The song was an instant hit, quickly climbing to No. 2 on the U.K. Singles chart but was held off the top spot by the posthumous release of John Lennon's "Woman".
- It was an international hit, achieving top 10 status in Australia, New Zealand and several European territories, reaching No. 1 in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden.
- "In the Air Tonight" was ranked No. 35 on VH1's "100 Greatest Songs of the 80s" in 2006.
Beyond a certain point, the music isn't mine anymore. It's yours.
— Phil Collins
23. “Looking for Clues” by Robert Palmer
Album Facts for Clues
- Clues is the sixth solo album by Robert Palmer.
- It has a rockier, new wave edge compared to his previous releases.
- The album peaked at number 59 on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart and No. 31 in the U.K.
- The album also peaked at No. 1 in Sweden, No. 3 in France, No. 15 in the Netherlands and No. 42 in Italy.
- AllMusic described Clues as "one of Robert Palmer's strongest and most consistent albums."
Trying to describe something musical is like dancing to architecture, it's really difficult.
— Robert Palmer
24. “Too Late” by Shoes
Album: Present Tense
Facts About the Band Shoes
- Shoes is an American power pop band, formed in Zion, Illinois, in 1974 by brothers John and Jeff Murphy, and Gary Klebe.
- Shoes formed their own record label, Black Vinyl Records, and owned and operated their own commercial recording studio (Short Order Recorder) from 1983 to 2004.
Every time I see you
I wish I could believe you
Do you ever mean a thing you say
You lied, I tried to overlook your careless way of love
And when you call I never turned you down
— Shoes, “Too Late”
25. “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” by Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Album: Bella Donna
Genre: Rock, Pop
Song Facts for “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”
- The track is the album's only song that was neither written nor co-written by Nicks on Bella Donna.
- Written by Tom Petty and Mike Campbell as a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song, Jimmy Iovine, who was also working for Stevie Nicks at the time, arranged for her to sing on it.
- Petty sang with Nicks in the chorus and bridge, while his band played on the song.
Music is probably the only real magic I have encountered in my life. There's not some trick involved with it. It's pure and it's real. It moves, it heals, it communicates and does all these incredible things.
— Tom Petty
Other Events That Took Place in 1981
Argentine ex-president Isabel Peron freed
Larry Nelson wins PGA championship
IBM introduces its first Personal Computer
Voyager 2 spacecraft arrives at Saturn
Divers begin to recover safe found aboard sunken Italian liner Andrea Doria
Fiona Brothers sets women's propeller boat speed record (116.279 MPH).
USSR performs underground nuclear test.
Longest MLB game at Fenway Park ends in 20 innings; Seattle Mariners beat Boston Red Sox, 8-7.
Brewers (since 1970) & Expos (1969) clinch their 1st-ever postseason.
Columbia shuttle launch scrubbed with 31 secs remaining.
Fernando Valenzuela is 1st rookie to win a Cy Young Award.
Spanish government requests membership of NATO.
Moscone Convention Center, San Francisco, opens at 11:30 AM.
Questions & Answers
Question: When did "money for nothin' and the chicks for free" aired on MTV?
Answer: 1985-Money For Nothing by Dire Straits
Question: I am looking for the artist who I believe the song title is "open your eyes". I recall it being an early MTV video but I can't remember who it was. any ideas?
Answer: Lords of the New Church-1982
Question: What was the first Michael Jackson video played on MTV?
Answer: Billie Jean, on March 10, 1983.
© 2017 Marshall Fish