Turntable Talk – Did Video Kill The Radio Star?

This blog is my entry for Dave over at A Sound Day’s “Turntable Talk.” Kudo’s to Dave for picking some fantastic topics, and at the same time letting us participants “run” with it. The following are the instructions we were given:

We were told we ” …don’t have to write literally about the question, but we’re looking for your thoughts on all things music video – how much did MTV change the music of the ’80s? Since there were already British acts making videos regularly in the 70s, do you think it would have taken off in a big way even without the American MTV influence?  Did it kill careers… or make careers that shouldn’t have happened? Do you have favorite ones you still like to watch?  Do you miss the days when MTV (or Much Music in Canada, or European equivalents) ran music videos instead of reality TV and old reruns?   Really, approach it how you like, but I’m curious to get thoughts on the Video Revolution.

My Conundrum

There have been many people who truly believe that video killed the radio star. As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, I lived through the beginnings of MTV. When I think about music videos, there are so many that I will forever associate with the songs. For example:

  • Take On Me – a-ha
  • Sledgehammer – Peter Gabriel
  • Rhythm Nation – Janet Jackson
  • Bad, Billie Jean, Beat It, Black or White, and of course, Thriller – Michael Jackson
  • Vogue – Madonna
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
  • Buddy Holly – Weezer
  • Weapon of Choice – Fatboy Slim
  • Dire Straits – Money For Nothing
  • Legs – ZZ Top
  • Land of Confusion – Genesis
  • Hot For Teacher – Van Halen
  • Simply Irresistible – Robert Palmer
  • Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper
  • Run DMC and Aerosmith – Walk This Way
  • California Girls – David Lee Roth
  • Got My Mind Set on You – George Harrison
  • Stuck With You – Huey Lewis and the News
  • Faith – George Michael
  • White Wedding – Billy Idol
  • Opposites Attract – Paula Abdul

The list could go on and on! Those are just the ones that I pulled off the top of my head (and I am probably forgetting some big ones)!

The more I thought about it, I kept coming back to “Video killed the radio star.” Perhaps that is the case (as some proclaim), but I can think of one artist who made videos and it got him mainstream attention.

MTV Welcomes Weird Al Yankovic

According to Wikipedia, the discography of Mr. Yankovic consists of fourteen studio albums, nine compilation albums, eleven videos albums, two extended plays, two box sets, forty-six singles and fifty-four music videos. 

Those fifty-four music videos helped to take Weird Al Yankovic to the mainstream world. Let’s face it, the only place you could hear him on the radio was on the Dr. Demento Show, which was often aired in the worst possible time slot because of the crazy content. When Al ventured into the video realm, more and more viewers wanted to see – and hear – more of him!

Parody songs have been around forever, and very rarely ever got radio play. Novelty records were big in the 50’s and 60’s, and there were a few here and there in the 70’s. When Al comes on the scene in 1983, he took it to a whole new level, using videos.

1983’s “Ricky” is credited as being his first video. It was a parody of Toni Basil’s “Micky.” It was a parody base on the TV show I Love Lucy. The video was shot in black and white and still looks great today.

From there, Al continued to use video to gain exposure on MTV. His next single was “I Love Rocky Road” which parodies Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll.” Instead of a greaser bar, it is set in … an ice cream parlor.

Al’s next video is really the one that really stands out as the one that moved him to a whole new level. Yes, he is a parody singer, but with the video for “Eat It” (a parody of Michael Jackson’s Beat It), not only is the song parodied, but so is the video. Al’s video is literally a shot for shot remake of Jackson’s. Throughout the video, instead of switchblades there are rubber chickens and kitchen utensils, and gags for almost everything in the Beat It video.

I can’t say whether or not the video is responsible for this, but the song won Al a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording in 1984. The video won for Best Male Performance at the 1984 American Video Awards!

From that point on, Al continued to make music videos for his singles. Art Fleming appeared in the “I Lost on Jeopardy” video, non-stop visual gags were plentiful in the “Like a Surgeon” video, and the James Brown “screams and shrieks” in “Living With a Hernia” were all more painful than soulful.

In 1988, Al once again parodied Michael Jackson. If I had to pick a “perfect” Weird Al parody video, it this would be one of two. Al won another Grammy Award for Best Concept Music Video for “Fat.” He even got permission from MJ to use the same set as the original video. Al’s makeup took three hours to apply every day and his fat suit weighed 40 pounds. Every time I hear the line, “Ding Dong, Yo!” I still crack up.

I mentioned that “Fat” is one of two “perfect” videos. The other would have to be the fantastic video for “Smells Like Nirvana” (a parody of Smells Like Teen Spirit). Al famously got permission for this parody from Kurt Cobain himself when he was performing on Saturday Night Live. In this Grammy-nominated video, Al satirizes Nirvana and the grunge movement, shooting on the same set as the original video and using the same actor who played the janitor (Rudy Larosa). Dick Van Patten has a cameo, which for whatever reason is extremely funny to me. Why Dick Van Patten??!! Someone said that Tony Hawk makes an appearance in the video, too. I’m not sure I know where.

Weird Al has certainly used music videos to his advantage. It takes a lot of creativity to write a good parody (I mean, come on, there are a lot of crap ones out there – just look on YouTube), but to take an already funny song and create a video that brings about even more humor, just enhances the song. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, Weird Al is a musical genius.

There have been many other great videos that have followed. To name a few: Amish Paradise (featuring Florence Henderson), Headline News (featuring The People’s Court’s Doug Llewelyn), Gump (featuring Ruth Buzzi and Pat Boone), The Saga Begins (the fantastic Star Wars tribute), White and Nerdy (featuring Donny Osmond and Seth Green), and so many more.

Yes, video may have killed the radio star, but it certainly helped boost the career of Weird Al Yankovic.

Song Draft 2021 – Round 10 – Final Pick – Superstition – Stevie Wonder

We have reached the final round of the 2021 Song Draft hosted by Hanspostcard. I want to thank Hans for allowing me to be a part of it, and also thank the other participants who welcomed me into the draft. I have truly enjoyed being a part of this!

Prior to the draft, I made a list of possible song choices. As the draft continued, each round I would look at my list (and at the songs picked by the others) and decide which one would be my next choice. Some of the picks were easy, while others were more difficult. A few of them were spur of the moment picks that weren’t on the original list.

As I looked at that list in preparation for my last pick, I see many artists that I’d love to have featured: Aretha Franklin, The Honeydrippers, Big Joe Turner, Bob Seger, The Go-Go’s, Bill Withers, Johnny Lang, Queen, Buster Brown, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Buddy Guy, Neil Diamond, Mel Torme’ and so many more! I stared at my list for a long time and thought about it. Since I began the draft with a Michigan artist, I should wrap up with a Michigan artist. So my final pick for the draft is – Superstition by Stevie Wonder.

Stevie was born a little over 100 miles north of Detroit in Saginaw, Michigan in 1950. He would forever be associated with Detroit and Motown records. In a 1990 Detroit appearance at Tiger Stadium, Nelson Mandella said, “It is motor town that gave the world a great singer – Steve Wonder!”

In 1963, when he was known as “Little” Stevie Wonder, he had his first #1 song with a cut called Fingertips Part 2. Personally, I could never stand that song. It was in a heavy rotation at the first radio station I worked at, and I found it annoying. It would be 10 years before he received his next #1 song – Superstition.

The song was released on his fifteenth studio album, Talking Book.

Guitarist Jeff Beck was a fan of Stevie’s music and Stevie heard about this just before recording the Talking Book sessions. Though at this point he was playing virtually all of the instruments on his songs by himself, Stevie preferred to let other guitarists play on his records, and he liked the idea of a collaboration with Beck. An agreement was quickly made for Beck to become involved in the sessions that became the Talking Book album, in return for Wonder writing him a song.

According to legend, between the album sessions, Beck came up with the opening drum beat. Stevie told Jeff to keep playing while he improvised over the top of it. He improvised most of the song, including the funky riff. They wound up creating a rough demo of the song that day.

After finishing the song, Wonder decided that he would allow Beck to record “Superstition” as part of their agreement. Originally, the plan was for Beck to release his version of the song first, with his newly formed power trio Beck, Bogert, and Appice. Their album’s release, however, was delayed.

From Songfacts.com: When Stevie turned 21, he was no longer obligated to Motown Records, and used his clout to sign a deal with the label giving him unprecedented control of his music. He got a large share of royalties and publishing rights, and Motown was not allowed to alter the albums once they were delivered. One thing Motown did control, however, were what songs they released as singles. Knowing Jeff Beck was about to record his version, Motown head Berry Gordy made sure this was the first single and released it before Beck could get his out.

This was recorded at Electric Lady Studios, which is where Jimi Hendrix recorded. The studios stayed active after Hendrix’ death, with artists like Miles Davis and Deep Purple also recording there.

At the time, Wonder would keep the studio booked so he could record when inspiration hit. Stevie’s bass player at the time, Scott Edwards, told Songfacts this was not always convenient for his band. “Because he does not have sight, he’s not controlled by daylight,” said Edwards. “So he may begin his night at midnight. Which is bad, because if they want you to come do an overdub or something, he may call you at 4 a.m. and say, ‘Come on in.'”

I always loved the funky feel of this song, and I always played it when I was DJing Halloween parties.

Aside of Jeff Beck’s version, many others have covered this song. None made much of an impact until Stevie Ray Vaughan released a live version as a single in 1986 on his album Live Alive. His version still gets radio airplay today on many Classic Rock stations.

In 1974, the song earned Stevie his first Grammy Award.

Superstition – Lyrics

Very superstitious,
Writing’s on the wall,
Very superstitious,
Ladders bout’ to fall,
Thirteen month old baby,
Broke the lookin’ glass
Seven years of bad luck,
The good things in your past

When you believe in things
That you don’t understand,
Then you suffer,
Superstition aint the way

Hey

Very superstitious,
Wash your face and hands,
Rid me of the problem,
Do all that you can,
Keep me in a daydream,
Keep me goin’ strong,
You don’t wanna save me,
Sad is the soul

When you believe in things
That you don’t understand,
Then you suffer,
Superstition ain’t the way,
Yeh, yeh

Very superstitious,
Nothin’ more to say,
Very superstitious,
The devil’s on his way,
Thirteen month old baby,
Broke the lookin’ glass,
Seven years of bad luck,
Good things in your past

When you believe in things
That you don’t understand,
Then you suffer,
Superstition ain’t the way,
No, no, no

As a bonus – here is the official video of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s cover….watch for a cool cameo at the end ….

Tune Tuesday – How Long

HOW LONG1

If you are like me, you have songs that when you hear them on your MP3 player, or your iPod, as soon as they end, you play them again.  I have quite a few of them.  I would wager a guess that these songs will end up here in future Tune Tuesday blogs.  Today’s song is definitely one that I play at least twice.

I was working in country radio when this song hit my desk.  I knew that the Eagles, whose last studio album had been 28 years earlier, had recorded a new album.  I was surprised that this song was shipped to our station as a song that could possibly make the playlist.  While the Eagles certainly had a “southern” sound, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I popped it into the CD player and began to listen to it.  I remember liking the opening guitar lick.  I remember thinking that the vocals were strong and then the chorus hit.  Those amazing Eagles harmonies were there and sounded amazing!  Solid Eagles.  I fell in love with it and when I talked to my program director, he thought the same thing.  It stood out amongst the other songs, and we were ok with that.

What’s neat about the song is that The Eagles had been performing it at concerts in the early 70’s.  The song was written by JD Souther, and he wanted to record it for his own album, so the Eagles never recorded it.  Souther and the Eagles were good friends, and JD co-wrote some of their hits (New Kid In Town, Heartache Tonight, and The Best of My Love). He released his version of the song on his 1972 Album, John David Souther.

Fast forward to 2007.  Glenn Frey said that his kids were watching a clip of the Eagles on a special called Pop Gala (in Holland) from 1974.  As his kids laughed at how long his hair was, the band was playing How Long.  Glenn’s wife told him that the band should record the song stating that it was “classic Eagles.”  He agreed that it would fit right in with what they were recording for their album Long Road Out of Eden.

In 2008, the song won a Grammy Award for “Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal”.  It was the group’s first Grammy since 1979.  1979 was also when they had recorded their last studio album.

Play it twice!  I know I will ….

How Long – The Eagles

Like a blue bird with his heart removed, lonely as a train
I’ve run just as far as I can run
If I never see the good old days shinin’ in the sun
I’ll be doin’ fine and then some
How long, how long
Woman will you weep
How long, how long
Rock yourself to sleep
Well I been doin’ time in lonesome prison, where the sun don’t shine
Just outside, the freedom river runs
Out there in that shiny night, with blood hounds on your mind
Don’t you know it’s the same sad situation?
How long, how long
Woman will you weep
How long, how long
Rock yourself to sleep
Everybody feels alright you know, I heard some poor fool say (somebody ooh)
Everyone is out there on the loose
Well I wish I lived in the land of fools, no one knew my name
But what you get is not quite what you choose
Tell me, how long, how long
Woman will you weep
How long, how long
Rock yourself to sleep
How long, how long
Muddy River runs so deep
How long, how long
Good night baby, rock yourself to sleep
Sleep tight baby, rock yourself to sleep
B-b-b, bye bye baby, rock yourself to sleep
HOW LONG