The Real Video Babes of Music Video

Grace Jones, Drury Lane Theatre, London October 1981, from the “Who Shot Rock’n’Roll” exhibit. Photo by David Corio.

A panel of women, starting with Penelope Spheeris, regaled a packed house on lecture night at the “Who Shot Rock’n’Roll” exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography in L.A. The film director showed excerpts of her Decline of Western Civilization films, from punk to metal, with terrific tales, and admitted the scene with Ozzy Osbourne and the orange juice was staged, and that being on the road with him would cure anyone of shooting rock’n’roll.  Really?

Next up was my former partner-in-wild’n’crazy-times at MTV, Gale Sparrow, who described how those tentative early days turned into the media and cultural phenomenon — seemingly overnight.

The Buggles “Video Killed the Radio Star” – MTV, August 1, 1981

Sparrow spotlighted The Stray Cats and how their music video created a sensation, selling albums and selling out shows in “Podunk” towns where MTV aired, putting the band on the map and grabbing the attention of EMI Records. Then the “I Want My MTV” ad ran in markets where cable television companies refused to add the channel. David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper and The Police told kids to demand their MTV, forcing the hand of the cable biz. Resistant record labels started forking over music videos, advertisers started investing in the much-coveted 14-25 year-old viewers, films, fashion and television imitators joined the bandwagon. The rest is history!

Tom Petty “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” video by Jeff Stein

Then Liz Heller, my former colleague from MTV days and MCA Records, offered another angle. She took the audience on a trip through the burgeoning music video days through the boom as she and “The Girls” of record label publicity departments figured out what to do with all the “promo clips” (as they were called in 1981). Amusing anecdotes and escapades told of the slick Bobby Brown videos and lovely Lyle Lovett to the extraordinary Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More” by directors like Jeff Stein and Wayne Isham — the other stars of music video.

The reunion: Liz, KT Valk de Belize, Gale, and Janie Hoffman who wrangled “The Girls” together.

Good fun to revisit 30 years ago (eesch!), when shooting from the hip made music videos hip. Now you’ll have to see it all on YouTube.

 

 

About Roberta Cruger

“I’m a writer, but then nobody’s perfect.” – Billy Wilder

Roberta Cruger, a journalist for more than 15 years, has contributed to an array of publications including Smithsonian, The Believer, HOW, Robb Report, and the Los Angeles Times magazine, websites such as Salon and Treehugger, and has written for National Geographic Traveler and in-flight magazines from Alaska Airlines to U.S. Airways. She was the founding editor of the media section at Creem magazine and worked in programming at MTV from 1981-’88. Her beats cover arts/culture and entertainment, the environment, design, food, and travel, and her books include the “Hungry? Seattle” guidebook and a chapter in the “Rock, She Wrote” anthology.

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