MTV helped catapult the careers of Madonna and Michael Jackson. But it also ended those of many established artists who were unable to groove with the alternating rhythm of the times.
In their recent book, I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, journalists Craig Marks an Rob Tannenbaum have compiled an oral history that reflects the power MTV had in making or breaking artists in the early 80's.
For those artists/bands who embraced the music industry's new medium - Madonna, Michael Jackson, Duran Duran, ZZ Top, and Def Leppard for instance - MTV enabled them to reach an audience they would never have reached with vinyl records alone, turning them into international stars. According to J. Freedom duLac at The Washington Post, "Record sales doubled during the first decade of MTV’s existence, although the advent of the CD had something to do with it."
Some artists/groups simply refused to make videos, and then there were those established musicians like Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Rick James and Billy Squier who tried and failed. To their credit, they at least recognized how quickly music videos had become a vital part of the business. Image had become a crucial component of the rock and roll equation. Unfortunately, their music didn't quite translate as well on television.
In Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark," the singer asks a girl in the audience (Courtney Cox) to join him on stage. They dance like two dorks at a middle school dance, while the band plays on. In Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl," Billy, dressed as a car mechanic, dances around a garage, while holding a crescent wrench. Rick James' "Superfreak" is downright cheesy; and then there is Billy Squier's "Rock Me Tonite." A video that takes Rick James' cheese to unreachable heights. It's most likely the worst video ever made. Whereas Springsteen, Joel and James were able to rebound, poor Billy Squier's career went down in a ball of flames.
Billy Squier was a hard-rock superstar before he released the "Rock Me Tonite" video in 1984. The video is riddled with cliches that succeed in tarnishing the hard rocker's image: Squier skips around his bedroom, grinds on the floor, rips off his pink t-shirt, then falls back onto his bed. The singer blames the video, which was directed and choreographed by Kenny Ortega, for his career's demise.
Marks and Tannenbaum dedicate an entire chapter to the Billy Squier debacle. The authors interviewed over 400 people - artists, managers, filmmakers, record company executives and MTV employees - and none could agree on the best video, but all agreed that "Rock Me Tonite" was the worst. Squier has said:
The video misrepresents who I am as an artist. I was a good-looking, sexy guy. That certainly didn't hurt in selling records. But in this video I'm sort of pretty boy. And I'm preening around a room. People said "He's gay." Or "He's on drugs." It was traumatizing to me. I mean, I had nothing against gays. I have a lot of gay friends. But like it or not, it was more of a sticky point then.
Take a look for yourself and you decide if it's the worst music video ever made.