Before it was known for such cultural gems as Jersey Shore and Teen Mom, MTV played music videos 24/7. On Aug. 1, 1981, the cable channel stormed the airwaves with a bold message: Radio was dead, and video was ready to rock. Instead of shouting this battle cry as a radio DJ might, MTV illustrated it with "Video Killed the Radio Star," a video by the Buggles, a British new-wave band with a strange, modern aesthetic.
Videos were canvases for new-wave artists, many of whom brought an art-school education and a fascination with technology to the music industry. The Producers, the new-wave band of Madison resident Kyle Henderson, were among the first to tackle the medium. They'll perform tonight at the High Noon Saloon.
But first, here's a tour of some of their vintage music videos.
"Certain Kinda Girl" (1981)
According to Henderson, "Certain Kinda Girl" was the Producers' inaugural music video. Recorded in a single shoot during 1981, it complemented the band's self-titled debut for Portrait Records.
"I think we did it first because it was pretty easy, no nonsense, straightforward," he says. "We all knew that video was going to kill the radio star. We had no idea of the impact MTV would have on our success, but we knew it mattered. At the time, doing lip-synched faux-performance videos was kind of like having a fax machine if you were business: You just had to."
Like many early music videos, "Certain Kinda Girl" tells the simplest of stories: Band plays concert and looks cool. But unlike a concert, the videocamera lets you see the musicians' faces and instruments up close. You can replay your favorite sections to study a dance move or haircut.
"What's He Got" (1981)
In "What's He Got," the Producers show off the zany side of their personalities. The video begins with animation and slapstick comedy, complete with vocalist Van Temple slipping on a banana peel. The bandmates communicate through speech bubbles reminiscent of a handmade punk zine. But the bubbles' content seems like a discussion from a film-studies class.
Henderson says the Producers weren't a bunch of budding movie critics. They were more like voice actors, reading a script the video's director had written.
"Nothing the Producers did was all that self-consciously ironic or intentionally referencing specific pop-culture happenings. We just did stuff we thought was fun and cool," he says.
The video also features some moves that rival David Byrne's in the Talking Heads film Stop Making Sense. Where this dancing came from remains a mystery.
"I haven't a clue where [keyboardist] Wayne Famous came up with that shit," Henderson says with a laugh. "He just kind of went for it, awesomely."
"She Sheila" (1982)
By 1982, many artists' videos were telling stories that took place off the stage. This was the year that the Producers unveiled one of the most common characters in '80s music videos: the hot chick. Without her, hair-metal artists might have lost their will to wail.
In this video, the Producers rock out on an L.A. rooftop, amid tall buildings and hazy rays of sunshine.
"I believe it was the building where Xanadu was filmed, some abandoned theater," says Henderson. "We laughed a lot about a few things: the bar scene where our road manager Donnie has his pinky out when having a drink, my sort-of Jughead profile in the silhouette, Van's out-of-it look in the scenes he stayed to film after the band scenes were done.
Though "She Sheila" became an MTV hit, the Producers fizzled out a few years later, along with the rest of the new-wave movement. But the band's songs brim with the energy of a fun and innovative period in music history.
"We were just a bunch of young dudes being silly," says Henderson. "Good times."