Sunday, November 22, 2009

168 hours in a week, and all I got was 2...

Special thanks to the guys at tcmediatech for their extensive archives

Back when I was just getting out of high school, long about the time when the Earth was cooling, Music Television (MTV) played these things called music videos. A curious thing, these videos, little movies used as a promotional tool to help sell records (I mean, CD’s). Some videos were iconic and full of really cool and groundbreaking effects, and some were just bloody awful. By the mid-90’s however, MTV began to stand for Miscellaneous Television as music and videos were supplanted and replaced by absolute crap. Faux reality bullshit, mockumentaries, contrived rehabs, and turning $400 hoopties into $30,000 super-hoopties; that’s what I was given instead of music.

MTV beget its doppelganger, MTV2, to play videos and try to maintain that edginess the original started with but failed to maintain once they became corporate whores. There was also Video Hits One (VH1), which in the 80’s played what I called “grown up vids”, or clips from adult contemporary light rock acts like Elton John, Billy Joel, and Richard Marx. Nowadays, VH1 plays a couple hours a morning of videos, and then they, too, go for the formulaic corporate crap of faux reality and other drivel.

Of course, the general rotation on MTV was Top 40 pabulum until the mid-90's when rap finally took over completely. MTV made little forays into other genres during the video era, mostly with rap and with the Saturday night heavy-metal Headbanger’s Ball, but for alternative music, the stuff I listened to, for a long time you were just shit outta luck.

In 1986, MTV acquiesced and deigned to spawn a show called 120 Minutes, which was created to play two hours of alternative-music videos each week, Of the 168 hours in a week, me and those like me were given only two of them, in a shitty time slot so late on Sunday night it may as well be Monday morning. Needless to say I seldom say it until after I graduated in 1987 and didn’t have to get up so early on Mondays.

On Sunday, March 10, 1986, 120 Minutes premiered at 1 a.m. on MTV, hosted by the ancient and venerable J.J. Jackson, one of MTV’s original VJ’s. The late Sunday night time slot would be its home for the next 17 years, with alternative music relegated to a mere two hours in the middle of a Sunday night.

Two of the show's early hosts: The late JJ Jackson (far left) and Alan Hunter (far right)Great red leather suit JJ. Seriously, dude, WTF?

In the early years of the show MTV tried out a number of hosts, including Alan Hunter, Kevin Seal, and Downtown Julie Brown. Alan Hunter was also an original MTV VJ. At least it wasn’t Adam Curry and his huge mane of 80’s Bon Jovi hair. Downtown Julie Brown? C’mon, guys…that pre-Spice Girls Cockney accent and “wubba wubba wubba” routine got old after the first 5 minutes. Kevin Seal got his start as some sort of wannabe comedian on that lame-assed MTV ”game show” Remote Control, a sort of poor man’s Bill Murray at best and poor man’s David Leisure at worst, introducing songs like he was emceeing a roast on Comedy Central. His foil on the show, although he camped it up a bit, was the show’s producer, Dave Kendall, who would come onto a TV monitor in glowing special effects and regale us with new releases and alternative music news. In 1989, Kendall became the show's first solid host.

Kevin Seal never quite seemed serious about his job as host or seemed to even care about the music. It was excruciating to watch him.

After Kendall left 120 Minutes in 1992, he was followed by many other hosts. In 1995, Matt Pinfield officially began hosting the show. Over the next four years, he became known as a walking music encyclopedia and remembered as the most recognizable host. By that time, I’d given up on MTV as a whole. Once the videos went away in favor of bullshittery like Real World, and other crap that continues to this day like B-list Celebrity rehabs for sex & drugs, and contrived celebreality faux dating shows where aging celebs dated skanks and then the skanks got their own shows that spawned more shows of the skanks' suitors.

MTV started to pre-empt the show in favor of crap like Road Rules and Lovelines in 2000, and it was downhill from there. It was moved from MTV to MTV2 in 2001 and moved to even later at night when zombies lurk about. The 120 Minutes series finale aired the night of Sunday, May 4th, 2003, at 1 a.m., hosted by Jim Shearer. He was joined by former hosts Dave Kendall and Matt Pinfield to send off the show. But, like zombies, the show wouldn’t die.

You can now find 120 Minutes Classic on (where else?) VH1 Classic. Sadly, they still give alternative music no respect whatsoever, keeping the show exiled to 4AM Sunday/Monday mornings. Thankfully I can just set my DVR to record it and I can watch it at my leisure later on. They include videos now from not just the 80’s heyday of alternative but the 90’s grunge and Second Wave. They also tend to include a new video from an established artist in addition to a classic cut, a sort of “Classic/Current” thing, for those artists who are still making viable music today.

There’s no host these days, and they play a steady stream of commercials over & over for the same products (Tempurpedic mattresses, ProActiv zit cream, the AbCircle fitness device, and that annoying commercial for, but the music is still the stuff I remember. Whoever is programming the rotation is keeping it relatively simple. There are certain artists, that I’ll call the A-List, that get played pretty much every week. The A-List would include Depeche Mode, U2, REM, The Smiths/Morrissey, New Order, and The Cure, and usually including Erasure and Pet Shop Boys, but they play less of a variety of clips from PSB & Erasure than the others. I mean, Erasure’s been around for 23+ years, and all VH1 can manage is “Chains of Love” and “A Little Respect”, and seldom do they play anything from PSB but “West End Girls”.

The show gets filled in by a rotating cast of B-List acts that you might see every other week, and there’s only a couple vids that get played by the acts despite many of them having huge back catalogs. These are acts like Psychedelic Furs, Echo & The Bunnymen, Siouxsie & The Banshees, A Flock of Seagulls, and OMD. And you can almost guarantee seeing “Cars” by Gary Numan, and the most whored-out song of the alternative era, “I Melt With You” by Modern English. Interestingly, they tend to only play the original 1982 version of the song and not the 1990 re-recording. Throw in the grunge rotation of Alice In Chains, Nirvana, and Stone Temple Pilots, top it off with a mélange of other alternative acts, and you’ve got the show in a nutshell.

No wonder people turned to YouTube. They could watch what they wanted, when they wanted, without the bullshit.

Here’s a sample of the last few shows I watched:
Erasure- Chains of Love, Modern English- I Melt With You, U2- I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, U2- Get On Your Boots, Gary Numan- Cars, Devo- Beautiful World, OMD- If You Leave, The Cure- The Walk, Hole- Miss World, The Lemonheads – Into Your Arms, Presidents of the USA- Peaches, REM- It’s The End Of The World As We Know It, Blue- Boys & Girls, Bush- Machinehead, The Smiths- There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, Radiohead- Creep, Depeche Mode- I Feel You, Oasis- Wonderwall, Smashing Pumpkins- Bullet With Butterfly Wings, Nirvana- The Man Who Sold The World, Red Hot Chili Peppers – Suck My Kiss, Bad Religion –Infected

U2- Where The Streets Have No Name, Sinead O’Connor- Mandinka, REM- Losing My Religion, Pet Shop Boys- West End Girls, Talk Talk- Talk Talk, World Party- Ship of Fools, A Flock of Seagulls- I Ran, Lightning Seeds- Pure, U2- Desire, U2- Magnificent, Depeche Mode- Strangelove, Human League- Don’t You Want Me Baby, Tori Amos- Silent All These Years, New Order – Bizarre Love Triangle, REM – It’s The End Of The World As We Know It, REM- Supernatural Superserious, Alphaville – Big In Japan, Pet Shop Boys- Suburbia, The Replacements – I’ll Be You, Sinead O’Connor- Mandinka, Faith No More- Midlife Crisis
Note: Someone must have messed up in the programming room to play the same song twice in the show, and to play the same band three times.

They Might Be Giants – Don’t Let’s Start, Psychedelic Furs- Love My Way, Green Day- Basket Case, The Alarm- Spirit of ’76, Berlin- The Metro, REM- Radio Song, Alphaville- Big In Japan, Dramarama- Anything, Stone Temple Pilots- Wicked Garden, Craftwork – The Model, Social Distortion- Cold Feeling, The Replacements- Bastards of Young, Bob Mould- See a Little Light, Sublime- Date Rape, Bow Wow Wow- I Want Candy, Pearl Jam – Evenflow, Erasure- Chains of Love, Ministry- Just One Fix, Depeche Mode –But Not Tonight, Cracker- Teen Angst, Tori Amos- Cornflake Girl, XTC- Dear God

Matt Pinfield, longtime 120 Minutes host and fount of musical knowledge. This is his happy face...


Anonymous said...

Nice info!

I once saw Modern English at a club in Newport, Kentucky--one of the best concerts ever!

Personally, I think they should include some Nik Kershaw. His lyrics and melodies were always top notch. He's done 3 albums since '99 which I recently got--they are all fantastic songs even though the arrangements are less electronic than his older work.

k6whp said...


What a magnificent reminiscence!

While my taste in music runs to the previous decade (no, before disco), I appreciate the sentiment.

..ah! the late, great J.J. Jackson. I have so many fond memories of his work on KLOS in the nascent years of Underground FM rock out in Los Angeles. That mode of musical dissemination hit us in 1967 when Tom Donahue headed South from San Francisco to commandeer KPPC in Pasadena and suffuse the airwaves with, among other things, Blue Cheer's Summertime Blues (much better remembered than re-listened to) and Odell Brown and the Organizers' jazzy rendition of Mellow Yellow. While the music and format was rebellious, the play list was constrictively tight.

And then competition reared its ugly head and semi-commercial ventures took over (to a lesser degree than you describe with VH1). KLOS at 95.5 MHz burst on the air and brought in the heavy artillery of the bands of the day. We're talking the more polished releases of the stuff coming out of San Francisco (except for the Dead), the acid suffused later Beatles stuff, and other folks from the U.K.

J.J. used to rely pretty heavily on Jethro Tull and I seemed to have had their "Teacher" burned into my psyche.

So, I collected my commission in the USAF from UCLA and got orders for SAC headquarters for four years of confinement in Nebraska, believing that all I would hear was polkas and swing band music. But, when I hit town, I scanned the FM dial and heard -- you guessed it -- J.J.!

Apparently, in 1969, they disseminated tapes to other stations across the country and the subornation and commercialization of Rock was well under way. It did not matter to me, at least I got my dose of Jackson and Tull on a regular -- if canned -- basis. Home, if only on the air waves.


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Brooke said...

Looks like I'll have something to start recording; thanks!

Do you remember AMP? It was on way late on the weekends, but I used to stay up late to watch it.

Ah, back when MTV played music...And what little they do play nowadays is so unwatchable!

MrSinatra said...

you must have no sense of humor. kevin seal was great, like an early norm mcdonald, and why should he have taken mtv seriously? he was the one dj they had who wasn't a lame, personalityless, rick dees wannabe, (alan hunter, mark goodman, i'm looking at you). seal actually seemed like a down to earth, fun, cool guy who knew that mtv was crap.

Steve: The Lightning Man said...

Quite the contrary, dude. I have a wicked, snarky sense of humor.

Granted, I might appreciate Seal a bit more now that I am almost 43 but at 23 I found him to be a doofus. Twenty years can sometimes change one's perspective.