Video Killed the Radio Star... but which star(s)?

Since the 30th anniversary of MTV is upon us, the question of “What was the first video played on MTV” now loses its cachet (sp?) as a bar trivia question, with the answer being, of course, The Buggles Video Killed The Radio Star.

And, of course, the song is now taken as gospel, that video really did kill the radio star… but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything about which radio stars were killed by video. Hence the discussion.

I’m sure there are a few, but IMHO, the #1 example of this, with a bullet, is poor old San Antonio native Christopher Cross.

This guy was huge. I mean, he was a freakin’ monster. His debut album was (at the time) the biggest selling album of 1979*, had 4 top-20 hits (with Sailing going to #1 and Ride Like the Wind going to #2), and because of it, Christopher Cross is the only solo artist to have won the top-4 Grammy awards in the same year: Song, Record, Album, and New Artist (and for good measure, he also won Best Arrangement, for Sailing).

And because the guy just couldn’t get enough, he goes out in 1981 and grabs himself not just an Oscar but also a Golden Globe for his song The Best That You Can Do, from the movie Arthur (co-written with Burt Bacharach, but Cross sang as well as co-wrote). This song, too, went to #1.

So in two years, the guy goes from being a nobody to having 2 #1’s, 3 more top-20’s, 5 Grammy’s, 1 Oscar, 1 Golden Globe, and the best-selling album of 1979.

In 1983, he releases his second album, Another Page, which is nowhere as well received as the first. There’s only one top-10 song on here, Think of Laura, which made it to #9 largely on the basis of its General Hospital connection.

That was it. 99% of people never heard from the man again. Why?

Because he looked like this. And this. And this.

And while Mr. Cross isn’t an ugly man, he is rather goofy looking in that Jason Alexander kind of way. And “goofy everyman” wasn’t a look the new MTV was after.

I’m sure he fuckin’ hates MTV. I would if I were him. I also would’ve cut down on the Twinkies and not worn so much pink, but that’s just me… and it wasn’t like androgyny wasn’t a thing in the '80s, just not overweight adrogyny. That had to wait for the internet. :wink:

Who else lost their way in the transition?

(I have another in mind, but want to see if others mention this act…)

*The Wall by Pink Floyd has since outsold it.

I’m not sure, but I do think that the idea that “video killed the radio star” is only true up to a point. Punk rock thrived without MTV; alternative rock and grunge did too. Now it actually seems like most “serious” music fans aren’t plugged in to MTV; the shit on MTV is for teenage girls. Serious music fans are listening to music online and on college and local alternative rock stations. (And going to shows, and shopping at local record stores.)

True, nowadays, but I’m really talking about the period from say, 1979-1985, when MTV first came out and was a driving force in the culture. Just as in the move from silents to talkies in the film industry, there were people and acts who could not make the transition from radio to video (especially in popular music). Cross is one of them, there are (I’m sure) more.

Is that really it, or is it that his sound was out of style?

In a decade which supported Phil Collins and Paul Young, Billy Joel and Chicago, adult MOR/soft rock music was quite viable. I don’t think there’s anything in Cross’s sound that would have sounded out of place had his debut album been released 4 years later… no disco rythms, etc. It’s just well-crafted adult contemporary pop, of the sort that’s never gone away (even if it’s gone in and out of fashion).

Personally, I never really understood his disappearing act. Perhaps his music was geared more for movie soundtracks? But I doubt it was his looks. Boy George was popular, Elton John. Maybe he just didn’t make music that appealed to the masses. I can’t think of another song of his that you didn’t mention in the OP.

Never be the Same.

Elton John fell off the scene too, a shadow of his former self, but that was more self-destructive and being burned-out on his part (in a 7 year period, 69-76, EJ released eleven albums (one of them a double-album)), a process that started long before MTV was even thought of.

Elton John once said there was myth that he disappeared in the 80’s and it just wasn’t true. I tend to agree.

“Little Jeannie” - 1980
“Blue Eyes” - 1982
“I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” - 1983
“I’m Still Standing” - 1983
“Sad Songs (Say So Much)” - 1984
“Nikita” - 1985
“I Don’t Wanna Go on with You Like That” - 1988
“Healing Hands” - 1989
“Sacrifice” - 1989

Even Billy Squier has said that his pastel-drenched video for “Rock Me Tonite” probably torpedoed his career.

I guess maybe Joe Jackson, although the video for “Stepping Out” was popular. After that he said something about videos not being faithful to an artistic vision and Todd Rundgren replied who wants to look at Joe Jackson anyways. Besides, changing styles every album didn’t help him much.

As far as Christopher Cross goes,I remember “Stereo Review” magazine answering a letter about “who is this guy” by describing him as yet another 10 year veteran of the music business who is an overnight sensation. He may just have been a one-hit wonder, in album form.

Grace slick once said that you had to be good looking in the MTV age, unless you went the other way and were real ugly. Apparently, average ugly didn’t cut it. Another rule that Jefferson Starship followed was “open the video big, or else the kids will turn the channel”.

It was kind of a strange era that while we think the newest groups would profit the most, the Grateful Dead had their biggest hit with “Touch of Grey” during the MTV heyday. And Bruce Springsteen’s first manager Mike Appel signed away his rights to Springsteen’s back catalog after the poor sales of “Nebraska”, thinking that was it. Little did he know that “Born in the USA” would make him a huge star and the invention of the CDs would make back catalog very important.

Interesting premise to the OP.

My take on the subject is that MTV was merely a symptom of the problem, rather than an actual cause.

The reintroduction of “paid promotion” in the early 1980’s (payola by any other name) back into corporate owned FM Radio Networks in the USA killed the radio star far more than MTV did. Radio DJ’s were no longer able to let the “true cream” rise to the top, because their overlords were being paid handsomely to push “payola product” to the top instead.

To be fair, it did take longer in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world, but it eventually happened there too.

Lookup “Independant Music Promoters” on Google - aka “payola by another name”.

I would add that I once heard a most insightful question with regards to MTV… namely…

In a world of sightless people, would Madonna have ever become famous? Honestly?

Madonna would have found a way.

Seriously, she is not an attractive woman. And she has an incredibly limited vocal range. But damned if she hasn’t spent thirty years as the biggest female pop star around, and some sort of sex goddess image to boot. I can’t stand the woman, but no one’s ever got so big with nothing but (blond) ambition.

Lord knows I badly misjuded Madonna’s career potential. When I first saw her in “Lucky Star” video, I said another blonde dancing around in her underwear…she’ll be gone in six months.How wrong can you get? But she has found a way to always change her music without going too far out where no one will follow her. And she knows PR. Like the scene in “Truth or Dare” where she is told the Toronto police think her humping the bed is obscene and not to be done.You can see the joy in her face as she realizes she has “the mean old censorship” bugaboo to exploit as she give the us BS arguments about “artistic self expression”. As Tom Lehrer once said, dirty books are fun but you can’t argue that in court.

I suppose one guy who got hurt by MTV was Rick James by openly criticizing them for not playing more Black music. I always thought they let Michael Jackson on but kept James off as punishment. But then the guy had major drug problems.

Always jumps to mind. Bouncing around like a prissy twit did not reinforce his rock cred.

Yeah, but let’s call a spade a spade here… MTV was nothing more than a marketing arm of the major labels. If MTV was even remotely interested in music, real music, they would have been playing far more than just black music. They would have been playing music from Europe, music from Africa, music from Cuba, music from Australia, Jazz, Symphony, Opera…

Man, Elvis Costello said it best… music is like water being poured onto a boulder - it flows in every direction.

MTV followed one very narrow part of that direction, quite cynically in my opinion - the direction that could get kids to part with the most money.

I don’t think that being ugly or plain or goofy-looking was necessarily a barrier to success in the MTV era—if you could surround yourself with some otherwise-intriguing visuals in your videos, and let the narratives or special effects or arresting imagery do what your lack of charisma couldn’t. (Case in point: The Alan Parsons Project had at least moderate success with songs like Don’t Answer Me whose videos didn’t show the performers at all.)

Hmm, maybe I wasn’t paying attention to the lyrics of the song – I always took it to mean that the television age ushered in the death of the radio drama during the 50s.

Oh, and as regards Christopher Cross: I’m not familiar with his entire catalog, but what I’ve heard sounds too [del]wussy[/del] adult comtemporary soft-rock to really fit the MTV niche. I don’t think he would have caught on big with the MTV generation even if he looked like David Lee Roth or Billy Idol.

It may be that MTV helped maim, if not kill, the singer-songwriter or the easy-listening pop star, but that’s a different thesis.

And, ironically, the singer was goofy-looking enough to be a radio star.