What are the best videos and songs that Music Television cable channel (MTV) aired during their first full year of operation? Obviously, there are no definitive answers to my question.
However, I will be sharing what I consider to be the top 20 MTV songs and clips broadcast by the pioneer 24 hour-a-day music channel during their premiere year (August 1, 1981 – July 31, 1982).
During the first full year of MTV’s existence, the music video channel struggled as it was not available on most cable providers in the United States. It wasn’t until the third year of MTV that it became a major force and revolutionized the music industry.
MTV was launched the first day of August 1981. The new cable channel played music videos 24 hours-a-day and featured hosts known as video jockeys (VJs). These individuals gave information on the music clips played and provided news about the artists that aired on MTV.
The programming that MTV utilized during the first year was similar to AOR (Album Oriented Rock) or Top 40 radio formats. Initially, MTV played established artists but later became a venue for many new pop rock bands during the second and third years of operation.
According to Wikipedia, here are the first 10 videos aired by MTV on August 1, 1981:
* “Video Killed the Radio Star” The Buggles
* “You Better Run” Pat Benatar
* “She Won’t Dance With Me” Rod Stewart
* “You Better You Bet” The Who
* “Little Suzi’s on the Up” Ph. D.
* “We Don’t Talk Anymore” Cliff Richard
* “Brass in Pocket” The Pretenders
* “Time Heals” Todd Rundgren
* “Take It on the Run” REO Speedwagon
* “Rockin’ the Paradise” Styx
Videos for songs played within the first year of MTV must be judged differently than clips made during the 1983 to 1985 time period. Many of the early clips aired on MTV were of concert footage or live show performances. The production of concept videos soared after MTV’s debut and was a mainstay for the music TV cable channel during the 80s decade.
By 1985, there were many excellent created videos that made the MTV hot rotation. “Take On Me” by the Norwegian synth-pop band A-ha had a superb clip. The award-winning video used pencil-sketched animation and live-action footage combination called rotoscoping.
Another bodacious video clip from 1985 is “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits. Opening lyrics on the song are provided by guest vocalist Sting singing the promotional phrase of the video channel, “I Want My MTV.” The ground breaking clip was MTV’s, “Video of the Year” in 1986.
When MTV started on 8/1/81, the music TV channel aired many existing videos of songs that had been top 40 hits from either 1980 or the first 7 months of 1981.
Of the top 10 biggest records from 1981, only half of the songs had videos available that could be aired by MTV. Below are the Billboard top-rated songs of 1981:
1 “Bette Davis Eyes” Kim Carnes
2 “Endless Love” Diana Ross & Lionel Richie
3 “Lady” Kenny Rogers
4 “(Just Like) Starting Over” John Lennon
5 “Jessie’s Girl” Rick Springfield
6 “Celebration” Kool & the Gang
7 “Kiss on My List” Hall & Oates
8 “I Love a Rainy Night” Eddie Rabbitt
9 “9 To 5” Dolly Parton
10 “Keep on Loving You” REO Speedwagon
After the launching of MTV, most every major record company would produce some type of music video for new song releases. These record companies hoped that MTV would add their new song to its regular rotation of music clips.
Below are the ten biggest singles of 1982 according to Billboard and a selection from the videos MTV aired on their network:
1 “Physical” Olivia Newton-John
2 “Eye of the Tiger” Survivor
3 “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
4 “Ebony and Ivory” Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder
5 “Centerfold” The J. Geils Band
6 “Don’t You Want Me” The Human League
7 “Jack & Diane” John Cougar
8 “Hurts So Good” John Cougar
9 “Abracadabra” Steve Miller Band
10 “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” Chicago
One of the chief criticisms of MTV during its first 18 months of operation was the lack of music by Black artists being played on the cable TV channel. It wasn’t until March 1983, that Michael Jackson’s video for “Billie Jean” was added and became the first video by a Black artist to be aired in heavy rotation on MTV. Without a doubt, “Billie Jean” is the best video from the second year of MTV.
For the rest of this message, I will be counting down what I consider to be the best songs and videos that were aired on MTV during the first 12 months. My selections all were top 40 radio hits and peaked at number 20 or lower on the Billboard Hot 100 between August 1981 and July 1982.
Please note: I am not declaring that my picks are either the “best or greatest” that MTV played during its first year. The song choices are my personal favorites from this time period. I deem the top 20 songs to be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful or relevant.
Chart information for my favorite Top 20 MTV song of the countdown comes from, “The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits” by Joel Whitburn. I consider Whitburn’s publication to be the “bible” of Top 40 music reference and still proudly own a hard copy of this excellent music guide.
As legendary DJ host Casey Kasem used to proclaim on his weekly American Top 40 show, “Now on with the countdown.”
20. Don’t Stop Believin’—Journey
Peak Positions of Billboard Charts: #9 Hot 100: 73rd Biggest Song of 1982
First of two Journey songs on countdown. Arena rock anthem of the 80s. Ranked at number 133 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” listing.
19. Leader of the Band—Dan Fogelberg
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 AC: #9 Hot 100: 35th Biggest Song of 1982
Dan Fogelberg wrote “Leader of the Band” as a tribute to his father Lawrence Fogelberg. One of two songs on my countdown by the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who died in 2007.
18. Waiting for a Girl Like You—Foreigner
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #2 Hot 100: 19th Biggest Song of 1982
This power ballad spent 10 weeks in the number 2 position on the Billboard Hot 100 without ever reaching the top of the chart. Thomas Dolby plays synthesizer on record-setting track.
17. The Night Owls—The Little River Band
Peak Position on Billboard Charts: #6 Hot 100: #9 Top Rock Tracks
Biggest Top 40 hit in the 80s for Australian rock band. “Man on Your Mind” and “Take It Easy on Me” were two other hits Little River Band had during the first year of MTV.
16. Who’s Crying Now—Journey
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #4 Hot 100: 56th Biggest Song of 1981
Written by Steve Perry and Jonathan Cain. First single released from the Journey’s most successful album “Escape.” Perry’s vocals are outstanding. Second song from the arena rock band on my countdown.
15. Heat of the Moment—Asia
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #4 Hot 100: 40th Biggest Song of 1982
Debut single from English progressive rock supergroup. Band members John Wetton and Geoff Downes wrote the signature song for Asia.
14. The Break Up Song (They Don’t Write Em)—Greg Kihn Band
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #15 Hot 100: 47th Biggest Song of 1981
Power pop rock band. First of three Top 40 hits. Greg Kihn Band also scored with “Jeopardy” and “Lucky” during the 80s on MTV.
13. Empty Garden—Elton John
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #13 Hot 100: 76th Biggest Song of 1982
Composed by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Tribute song to John Lennon, who was assassinated in New York City on December 8, 1980. Elton was friends with the former Beatle member, prior to Lennon’s death.
12. The Voice—The Moody Blues
Peak Position on Billboard Charts: #1 Mainstream Rock: #15 Hot 100
Second top 15 in 1981 hit for English progressive rock band. Along with “Gemini Dream” single, “The Voice” came from the Moody Blues comeback album, “Long Distance Voyager.”
11. Young Turks—Rod Stewart
Peak Position on Billboard Charts: #5 Hot 100: 48th Biggest Song of 1982
Rod Stewart changed musical sound on this hybrid pop/new wave/synthpop tune. “Young Turks” holds the distinction of being the first video aired on MTV containing breakdancing.
10. Fire and Ice—Pat Benatar
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #2 Mainstream Rock #17 Hot 100
Pre-eminent rock singer of the early 80s. Pat Benatar won a Grammy award in 1982 for Best Female Rock Performance with “Fire and Ice.”
9. Shake It Up—The Cars
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #4 Hot 100: 23rd Biggest Song of 1982
Danceable power pop rock describes the song written by Ric Ocasek. “Shake It Up” was one of the Cars biggest singles during the 80s.
8. Chariots of Fire—Vangelis
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100: #1 Hot Soul Singles: 12th Biggest Song of 1982
“Chariots of Fire” was an unlikely instrumental Top 40 hit. The song score was written by Vangelis and is featured in the British historical sports film Chariots of Fire. Melodic tune has been used on multiple Summer and Winter Olympic Game broadcasts since 1984.
7. Edge of Seventeen—Stevie Nicks
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #4 Mainstream Rock: #11 Hot 100:
Stevie Nicks wrote the song sub-titled “Just Like the White Wing Dove” as a result of two events happening the same week in December 1980: The death of her uncle Jonathan and the assassination of John Lennon. It is the first of two songs on my countdown by the Fleetwood Mac singer.
6. I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)—Hall & Oates
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100: 15th Biggest Song of 1982
Daryl Hall and John Oates: Biggest duo of the 20th Century. Their song topped both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles charts in 1982. Knocked off “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John” out of number 1 position after a 10-week run.
5. 867-5309/Jenny—Tommy Tutone
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #4 Hot 100: 16th Biggest Song of 1982
Tommy Tutone is a two-hit wonder. “Angel Say No” peaked at number 38 on Billboard Hot 100 in 1980. 867-5309 was a popular phone number of music fans throughout the 80s decade.
4. Run for the Roses—Dan Fogelberg
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #3 Adult Contemporary #18 Hot 100
My second Dan Fogelberg countdown selection is a melodious song about various aspects of horse racing. “Run For the Roses” is from “The Innocent Age” album and is now considered as an unofficial theme song for the Kentucky Derby, which happens the first Saturday of May each year.
3. Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around—Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #3 Hot 100: 59th Biggest Song of 1981
The coming together of Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty provided musical magic with their rock duet. From the debut Nicks “Bella Donna” solo album, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” was actually the 25th video played on MTV’s first day of operation, August 1, 1981.
2. Our Lips Are Sealed—The Go-Gos
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #20 Hot 100: 63rd Biggest Song of 1982
Debut single for 2021 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band. Rolling Stone ranks 57th greatest pop song of all time. From the Go-Gos “Beauty and the Beat” album. “Our Lips Our Sealed” is my second favorite power pop rock single of the 80s.
1. Every Little Thing She Does is Magic—The Police
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #3 Hot 100: 79th Biggest Song of 1982
My top selection was written by the Police front man/bassist Sting in 1976 but wasn’t recorded until 1981 for the “Ghost in the Machine” album. The song is unique among Police music as the tune features Jean Alain Roussel on piano and synthesizer. Andy Summers, Stewart Copeland and Sting blend together a perfect pop song, that is truly magic for me. “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” is my pick for best song and video aired by MTV during the first year in business.
Now that I have my countdown of favorite first-year MTV songs and video that were hits on Top 40 radio, I am curious to find out your thoughts on this topic.
Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with the critique of my favorite MTV videos and songs from 1981-1982. Your top selections maybe be completely different than my choices. There are no right or wrong answers, just various opinions about the music song videos MTV played during their first year in business.
“I Want My MTV” was the main promotional slogan from the music TV cable channel in the early 80s. MTV doesn’t play music videos anymore but I still can enjoy watching video clips 24/7 via YouTube and or the Internet.
I still have fond memories of MTV songs and videos from the first year: 1981-1982. Rock on!
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13 thoughts on “Totally Tubular MTV Videos and Songs: Aired During First Year 1981-1982￼”
I will never forget the impact MTV had on me. Music played along with a Video, WOW, what a Concept! My fave from your list was “I can’t go for that” by H&O. That and “Sara Smile”. I’ll go off the beaten path and touch another genre, if you can call it that. Music Comedy.
Weird Al Yankovich made some hilarious videos that also had me laughing. “Fat” was probably my favorite. Sorry to veer off the main subject. I first saw those on MTV!!
I was a latecomer to the MTV train, as I’d just moved back to Roanoke in 1981 and didn’t watch much television then, but your post sent me in search of those old videos and what a joyride it was! Even being late to the party, I loved much of the music of that era and enjoyed the often crude or sparse visual narrative displayed in many of those early videos. It’s always fun to time travel back to those good old years before many of us turned 30 and now my head is buzzing with those forgotten tunes. My favorites videos of that year were from Hall & Oates, Toto, Rick Springfield, Flock of Seagulls, Human League, GoGo’s, Huey Lewis, Glenn Frey, Bruce Springsteen, among others. Thanks for firing up the brain cells on this little walk down memory lane!
Excellent video and songs selections, but in my opinion some great top songs-videos were not mentioned. Some of them being: ” Is it you” by Lee Ritenour; “Living inside my self” by Gino Vannelli, “We’re in this love together” by Al Jarreau. As you state, it all depends in what musical genre you lean for, being mine classic-progressive rock and jazz, as well as soul, R&B, blues, funk and good pop songs. Hope my opinion helps! Regards.
David Manrique: Thanks for your comment. I love “Is It You” and actually saw Lee Ritenour in concert at the Harvester Center in Rocky Mount, Virginia during November 2019. I also am a fan of “We’re in this Love Together” from Al Jarreau. Rock on!
Great info about the first year of MTV. We thought MTV was HUGE. I liked your picks. I remember most of them fondly.
Enjoyed reading this! I didn’t have cable TV until around 2000 so the only time I could watch MTV in the early days was at a friend’s house or maybe when a record store was showing it. Groundbreaking period for music. So many of those early videos seem cheesy now but it was cool back then! By the time I could watch MTV in my home it had left the music focus far behind and was mostly showing trashy reality TV shows.
Excellent choices DW. I was also late to the MTV craze. I had a 2 month old in August 1981 to take up most of our time. We were lucky to be able to listen to the radio. I liked Take on Me when I got to see it. The Police also had some great videos.
I loved MTV…it was just awesome to see the videos and I was definitely into it big time!!
I agree with most of your selections, but I really liked watching John Cougar, Duran, Duran (Reflex), Stevie Nicks and definitely Pat Benatar. There were so many… sometimes, I didn’t like the song but loved the video!!! How crazy is that!!!
Thanks for this…. awesome as usual!!!!
Great blog !
Brings back many memories of watching MTV in those years at The Coffee Pot, and at Spikes in Grandin Village. It was always great to see the improvement in creativity of new music videos that were continually being produced in those early years. In my opinion, those were the best years of MTV, when the majority of their air time consisted primarily of music videos. Thanks for another great blog, David.
ROCK ON !!!
We were the lucky ones here in this area. K92 kicked off a new decade then MTV was born a year later. The songs you were hearing on the radio were being played out in a video on TV. It gave us a new perspective to the song. Sadly, it’s not MTV today, rather YouTube for those memories. Hard to believe Kim Carnes “Bette Davis Eyes” was the top song the year MTV hit the air. But what a year with artists like Hall & Oates, Kool & the Gang, REO Speedwagon, Olivia Newton-John and Survivor filling our playlists or would that be mixtapes? Yes, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” IS a great song. Sadly, it took me awhile to like the group. Today, I’m a fan. My faves from the year include The Go-Go’s “Our Lips Are Sealed” “I Can’t Go for That” from Hall & Oates, “Rockin’ the Paradise” by Styx and “Hungry Like the Wolf” from Duran Duran. A great way to start the 80s in music.
We got rid of cable TV years ago, so I haven’t had access to MTV for a long time, and I hadn’t watched it much over the last 15 years even when I did. The last time I turned it on regularly was when “Beavis and Butthead” was still running. Most of the music videos I see now are through youtube, so I’ve never been an expert. But some of those early ones from, say, the first five years were still the best ever. “Sledgehammer” is at the top, “Take on Me” was genius then and still is, “Thriller” was epic, and of course I have a real soft spot for Van Halen’s “Jump” which they say they made for like $20, the Beasties “Sabotage” which is just so them (and “Make Some Noise” while we’re at it). Since then, I watch for anything new by OK Go.
Great selection of videos, back when the M in MTV stood for Music (now it means “Meh…”). I was a big REO fan, so the heavy rotation of their tunes was good, at least for the first 200 times. Great blog post, brings back memories, including some I’d forgotten about.
Another excellent blog. I was very busy in the early 80″s having children and missed much of what was happening in the music world. Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers were what I was watching. I was definitely a late comer to MTV, but this was a nice trip down memory lane.