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If Video Killed the Radio Star, Who Killed the Video Star?
November 26, 2007  | By David Bianculli
 
The music channel Fuse presents a new 10-part series tonight at 10 p.m. ET, called Videos That Rocked the World. The opener, on Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," makes the point about how influential music videos could be - back in 1991.

But could any video rock the world of 2007? And if not, why not?

Or, to pose the question another way: If video killed the radio star, who killed the video star?

Music videos - the concept of capturing musical performances, usually with a narrative visual story complementing the music and lyrics - began, quite literally, with the very first motion picture with sound, 1927's The Jazz Singer. Before Greta Garbo talked on film, Al Jolson sang, ushering in a long, happy marriage of songs and images.

golddiggers33.jpg

Watch "Remember My Forgotten Man," the brilliant, lengthy musical evocation of the Depression in the Busby Berkeley musical Gold Diggers of 1933, and you'll see a 74-year-old video that not only rocked the world, but reflected it.

In 1940, you had Fantasia, Walt Disney's movie-length collection of animated classical music video. Also in the '40s, you had "Soundies," energetic short performance films played in bars via a coin-operated video jukebox (called a Panoram). For a dime, you could see Fats Waller at the piano, and Liberace, too, and watch Cab Calloway or Doris Day sing.

In 1955, you had Blackboard Jungle, the movie that caused a sensation, and gave rock 'n' roll its first certified #1 hit, by opening the film with the sound of Bill Haley & the Comets singing "Rock Around the Clock." That decade also gave us Elvis Presley, gyrating and electrifying on TV and in the movies.

In the 1960s, you had The Beatles. On their first, phenomenally popular and influential appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, they rocked the world in every sense of the phrase. And with their 1964 film A Hard Day's Night, they provided the modern template for the modern video era. The Monkees, and NBC's The Monkees, followed almost immediately. Next came a decade of experimental videos, most coming from Europe, imported by such fledgling late-night TV showcases as USA Network's Night Flight at the end of the 1970s.

And then, on August 1, 1981, came MTV.

buggles.jpg

The first video played on the channel was a two-year-old clip by The Buggles, chosen for its prophetic boast: "Video Killed the Radio Star." For a generation, MTV launched or intensified the careers of one visually charismatic performer after another, including Madonna and Michael Jackson. (How Jackson's "Billie Jean," "Beat It" or "Thriller" failed to make Fuse's initial batch of Videos that Rocked the World is a baffling mystery.)

But the M in MTV has long since changed from Music to Mediocre. Instead of championing the newest in music, MTV is devoting its energies to the flashiest and most self-obsessed elements of pop culture. Tonight on MTV: an episode of Shot of Love with Tila Tequila, and three episodes of The Hills.

Who's killing the video star? By preferring a prime-time shot of Tequila to any similarly high-profile showcase of new music and videos, MTV is.

 
 
 
 
 
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