MTV Turns 35: Here Are The Channel's First Firsts

Blondie and MTV go waaaayyyy back
Blondie and MTV go waaaayyyy back
YouTube screengrab

This week, MTV turns 35-years-old. For a network that never likes to admit how old it is, having last acknowledged their age on an “MTV Turns 20” Special a whopping 15-years-ago, the youth-culture driven channel is at least hoping to tap into its past with the brand new channel MTV Classic. Yes, VH1 Classic has been rechristened MTV Classic, a new channel that promises to play whatever treasure from MTV’s storied history it still legally can. While there has been some debate online as to what programming is winding up on the network is truly worthy of being considered truly “Classic,” one inarguably awesome thing the channel did was launching with the same first hour that the original MTV ran with in 1981. By now you’ve undoubtedly heard the story about how The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” was the first video played in MTV history, and you might even know Pat Benatar’s “You Better Run” was the second. But, do you know what the first video to be re-ran was? Or who the first MTV News feature was about?

In honor of MTV’s 35th Anniversary, we at the Weekly decided to assembled a few more of MTV’s firsts. Break these babies out next time you’re at bar trivia, and win a round of drinks on us. 

REO Speedwagon Live!
First Major MTV Event

While MTV Premiered on August 1st, its first major event was the following Saturday, August 8, 1981. There was an REO Speedwagon concert, which was promoted heavily on MTV’s launch day, as well as on the week leading up to the event. MTV played 14 REO Speedwagon videos on its first day, including 1973’s “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” which was the single only clip during that first day’s rotation.

The Ramones
First MTV News Feature

The very first bit of music journalism that would become MTV News (“You hear it…{record-scratching sound/riff from Megadeth’s ‘Peace Sells’}…first!) was a feature on The Ramones and the making of/release of the then-new film Rock and Roll High School. For an all-music network one did perhaps have to have some major music stories leading in, and who better than the fathers of American punk to usher in the original MTV aesthetic?

Rockestra - “Lucille”
First Beatle on MTV

Paul McCartney’s Rockestra super-supergroup’s benefit show as part of the Concerts for the People of Kampuchea Cambodia benefit was a landmark once-in-a-lifetime gathering of major rock greats all on the same stage. How fitting an excerpt of the show was aired on the first day of MTV as well. McCartney’s leading the cover of the rock classic “Lucille” connects several generations of rock excellence to MTV’s first day on the air. Historic for many reasons, it’s also interesting that the Concerts for the People of Kampuchea album is the only full-length album from any of the artists played on MTV’s first day to not ever be released on CD.

Blondie - “Rapture”
First Rap Video on MTV

There’s been a lot of debate over the years as to what the first proper instance of “Rapping” was on MTV. Most cite Run-DMC’s 1984 breakout clip “Rock Box” as the first, as they were technically the first rap group to have a video on MTV. Hip-hop purists/trivia buffs cite the 1983 Swatches commercial featuring Fat Boys’ Prince Markie Dee as the first instance of a rapper rapping on the network. However, due to how ahead-of-the-curve the genre-crossing Blondie were, their “Rapture” video was the 48th clip played on MTV’s first day, making it the first rap video to air on the network. The nods to Grandmaster Flash and future Yo! MTV Raps host Fab 5 Freddy does give the clip and aire of credibility as Deborah Harry’s raps weren’t that far removed from where rap was at the time.

The Who - “You Better You Bet”
First Video Repeated on MTV

This classic black-and-white filmed soundstage performance of “You Better You Bet” not only captures the rawness of a mid-period Who, but just has this cool timeless vibe to it. Not only was the video the fourth clip ever played on the network, but it was the first to get an encore showing, airing as the 54th video the network played as well. If you have a copy of the infamous “MTV: The First Four Hours” bootleg, this second airing is the clip it ends on as well.

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