Must-See-TV: The Eighties

Published on November 29th, 2008 in: Issues, Movies, Music, Retrovirus, TV, Underground/Cult |

By Kaye Telle

Say what you will about the eighties, but the explosion of music videos and competition with new cable stations made for some good television. Growing up in the midwest (pre-alternative rock) one felt completely isolated if they didn’t take a Journey to the river Styx on the R.E.O. Speedwagon. Looking back I can only chuckle at my gumption in pointlessly arguing the merits of Devo’s cover of “Satisfaction.” But alone with the TV after school, there were these crazy kids in California who understood. I can remember looking at the clock while snapping my watermelon Bubble Yum during school, ticking down the minutes until I could go home and watch my compatriots on MV3. Late at night and into the early morning hours on weekends, strange short films and more music beamed over the wires via a show on the USA Network called Night Flight. And I thought: I am not alone. An awful lot of cool things happened in that decade—and many of them happened on the boob tube.



This music video show ran in 1982 and 1983 and intercut videos with shots of kids dancing in the studio. (Truth be told, that “new wave white people dance” still comes very naturally to me). The show’s introduction featured Elvis (Presley, not Costello) singing “Ready Teddy,” and it got me psyched as Billy Idol’s snarl rolled by, or images of Oingo Boingo’s Danny Elfman and his shock of orange hair graced the screen.

Hosting duties were held down by an eighties trifecta of Richard Blade (KROQ), David Maples (who was fairly inoffensive), and Karen Scott (whose “babytalk” voice and disco hair was more than a bit irritating). Blade interviewed bands on the road, and the show even covered the US Festival. Sometimes bands like X or Wall Of Voodoo would pop by the studio for a quick lip sync. But videos were the mainstay.

total coelo
Toto Coelo aka Total Coelo

For people without MTV, music videos were a rarity. Even then the intent of programmers was mainstream, but MV3 had a decidedly hipper edge. While bands like The Police, Blondie, and even The Clash are considered standard Rock fare now, at the time they were not accepted by everyone. Being a Bowie fan was still considered an oddity. Barring the discovery and receipt of college radio, few stations played anything they considered “weird” unless the charts caught up and compelled them. MV3 bridged that gap by playing Adam and the Ants, Berlin, Bow Wow Wow, Yaz, Heaven 17, The Jam, The English Beat, The Specials, and many more. For some reason they repeatedly showed “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood, but New Wave bands were their meat and potatoes.

It was due to the nature of the programming that odd “one hit wonders” sprung up via video. There were the plastic dress/garbage bag-wearing women of Toto Coelo (dubbed “Total Coelo” for US audiences) and their robotic synchronized dancing to “I Eat Cannibals.” Then there were the catchy hits by decade-defying bands such as the Jo Boxers (in weird “Our Gang” style clothing) singing “Just Got Lucky” and the Polecats’ “Make a Circuit With Me” with its fifties-mixed-with-new-wave vibe. EBN-OZN sang “A-E-I-O-U Sometimes Y” (and the lead singer looked like David Lee Roth with a rat tail) while Haysi Fantayzee sang “Shiny Shiny” looking a bit like they had raided Boy George’s wardrobe. Do any of you keep images of the half-shirted, underwear- and thigh-high-wearing woman in your spank bank?

ebn ozn
“I dare you to play this record.”

And where else could a kid hear Cee Farrow’s dance song “Should I Love You?” Captain Sensible, a former member of The Damned, had a video (“Wot”) in heavy rotation, along with former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren (“Double Dutch” and “Buffalo Gals”). Too-often-forgotten all-girl band The Belle Stars (whom Malcolm managed) got a lot of play with their “Sign of the Times” video, while then-unknown-to-America British comedienne Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know About Us” (with a cameo by Paul McCartney) was played so often it was branded on the brain.

And finally there are the memories of the kids who danced on the show. There was one mod who skanked and wore Madness pins—one pin for each letter—in a line down his suit coat. There were some rockabilly girls and a lot of people wearing hats and berets. Although I used to get angry when the camera cut from a video to the kids, now it would be a treat to watch them all dance in their new wave attire. It’s a time capsule of the early 80s that the folks at Rhino should really consider issuing on DVD.


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4 Responses to “Must-See-TV: The Eighties”

  1. jemiah:
    December 19th, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    This piece is actually making my chest hurt. I have acquired a bunch of this music now that I actually have money and connections, but some of it still eludes me… but some of these songs are so great. I was just listening to Heaven 17 this morning… Does it count as nostalgia if you never stopped loving it for a minute?

  2. Popshifter:
    December 19th, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    I totally feel you on that! As David Sylvian once crooned, “I’m drowning in my nostalgia.”


  3. K. Telle:
    December 31st, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    Hmm so you liked the piece or it gave you heart burn? SAid captain said WOT. 🙂

  4. Popshifter » You Think You’ve Seen It All Except The Future*:
    November 23rd, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    […] This type of thing is terribly unsettling, to be sure, and is something that we at Popshifter have addressed in our Manifesto. I’ve personally pondered the role of both the past and the future in our Editorials and how they inform our present. Based on our last issue (Retro Is So Retro) and in fact, much of the content of the site, one might accuse us of being like those same cynical folks described above, or at the very least, enslaved to nostalgia. As one of our writers noted in a comment, “Does it count as nostalgia if you never stopped loving it for a minute?” […]

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