I WANT MY MTV!!!

I Want My MTV, by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum, is a delightful romp through the early years of MTV, when the station actually played...music videos! It's an oral history so despite its nearly 600 page length it moves very fast. There are interviews with pioneers and early execs, rock stars and one-hit wonders, VJs, video directors and miscellaneous celebrities.

The first section of the book serves as a reminder of how revolutionary MTV was. A few musical artists were making music videos but until an MTV predecessor show named PopClips came around no one imagined that you could build a channel around the videos. When MTV premiered it was difficult to sell it to cable operators who held the power in deciding what channels would get played in what geographic areas. Following the successful "I Want My MTV!" campaign, which encouraged young viewers to call their local cable providers and demand access MTV started to sprout up on cable systems around the country, bringing in a young demographic that had not been well-served by cable television until that point.

It's hard to imagine that MTV was once reluctant to play videos by rap artists but until they were convinced by his label that people might want to see a Michael Jackson video there was hardly an African-American presence on the channel at all. Instead, the channel consisted largely of hard rock and later, hair metal bands. Following charges of racism MTV launched Yo! MTV Raps!, which turned out to be hugely successful and led the way to a surge of rap programming. Much of this book follows how MTV seemed to reluctantly move from one trend to another, while capturing a new audience with each move. It's also good fun to trace early video glories and mistakes (see Billy Squier's videos) as the channel launched talented new directors including David Fincher and Michael Bay.

Ultimately it became hard to keep an audience tuned in when music video programming was so segmented. The difficulty in keeping viewership through a variety of videos turned out to be trickier than doing so with a program that had a beginning, middle and end. This fact, tied with the lack of originality in new videos, led to MTV's forays into other types of programming such as game shows, fashion and the reality shows that have proven to be such a success. The book ends in the early 1990s when videos ceased to be an important part of MTV's programming.

The effect that MTV had on the music industry is debatable, with some feeling that it exposed small-town America to types of music that it might not have heard otherwise, while others felt that the need to create music videos watered down the product and music needed to reinvent itself again. The book is a lot of fun both as a story of the music and music video business and in tracing the cultural landmarks that MTV touched upon. It might just make you miss the 80s!

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