Who ruled US music videos before MTV?

After too long of a break, FTABlog returns to its important coverage of 1980s music video. Let’s see how many we can fit in before real TV news returns.

I first got cable in 1981, and it’s hard to overstate the effect it had on my TV viewing. Cable back then included about 30 channels of live TV. (The first system carried 36 channels, but some of them were informational filler, like community calendars and the slow-scanned news photos of the Satellite Program Network, whose name prompted ESPN to add the E. But I digress.) For prime-time viewers, that meant 30 choices instead of six over-the-air channels. The difference for me was more dramatic. I worked at a morning newspaper, arriving home around 2 AM. For me, cable meant about 20 choices instead of exactly one OTA channel, the only one that broadcast through the night.

(One more digression: At the newspaper, a copy boy who worked the same shift mentioned watching Marcus Welby reruns when he got home. “I don’t like Marcus Welby,” he said, “but it’s the only thing on.”)

Back then, HBO would run little filler programs between movies, and one of them was the Video Jukebox, which showed a music video or two. Before MTV caught on, this was the widest method of exposure for music videos in the US. Anyway, I’ll always remember one night when the video was the ubiquitous hit Bette Davis Eyes by Kim Carnes. I thought I was incredibly lucky to get this big hit from whatever random video list HBO used; I didn’t recognize that the network carefully chose every interstitial feature. It’s fun to remember when I was young and stupid in different ways than I am now.

Well, hey, Carnes got something wrong too. The original version as recorded in 1974 by Jackie DeShannon suggested that Davis could “make a crow blush” but Carnes’ version misspeaks that lyric as “make a pro blush”. DeShannon’s version made a lot more sense, although Carnes’ did spend nine weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts. At least DeShannon, with Donna Weiss, got some composer royalties out of it.