Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Remembering NBC's "Friday Night Videos"

When you didn't have cable, this was your only option to satisfy your music video jones:


NBC's "Friday Night Videos", complete with its confusing, phallic opening sequence.  Even as a sixth grader I knew this show was terrible.  Although the show originally started with videos from beginning to end, it wasn't long before NBC realized they had a captive audience of us non-cable havin' motherfuckers to beat over the head with NBC promotions.  (To be clear, guest hosts didn't come from just NBC shows, but they appear to have shouldered most of the guest hosting duties.)  All the mindless banter between hosts, all the "Private Reels", and "Video Votes"* - I hated that shit.  Hated it.  It seemed like the videos I wanted to see were always shown dead last.  Yet, I always sat through crap like Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam, John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, and the Jets just to watch the Stray Cats, the Kinks or Dire Straits videos.  NBC had me right where they wanted me.

Of course, music videos were a new, incredibly exciting medium in the early 1980s.  It's easy (and right) to watch them now and make fun of their unrefined, schlocky content (my favorite ones to make fun of are the ones where they act out the song); but "Friday Night Videos" provided my generation with something to talk about and in some cases, emulate.  There were at least five Duran Duran-obsessed Madonnas and one Boy George in my class, bending the St. Mary's dress code as far as would go.  I remember pestering my mom to death for a pair of parachute pants, the one Michael Jackson look that I really dug (She wisely rejected me - thank you, mom.  I love you.).  "Like A Virgin" made sex sound electrifying and virginity an unbearable burden; Chrissy Hynde had me wondering what specifically she had "winking at me".  David Lee Roth videos made me ache with desire.  And Prince?  Lock up your daughters, as the old timers say.  Popular music has always been steeped controversy, but music videos made sure that we were all on the same page as to what we were supposed to be enticed/offended by. As kids became seduced and parents become horrified, ad revenues went up.  The message was emerging loud and clear:  youth culture was was huge, powerful and profitable.

Sorry - I got carried away with myself.  MTV realized the potential of videos/youth cultures.  "Friday Night Videos" sanitized the medium as much as it could while throwing in a little raciness ("Friday Night Videos" guest host Elvira - I can guarantee I watched that whole episode) to try and remain relevant.  T&A videos or anything else that could be construed as "controversial" were usually shown dead last.  Although the show did a pretty good job of showcasing R&B, rap and soul acts next to pop and rock acts, it was decidedly ungritty, unsophisticated and noncontroversial.  MTV seemed to grasp that the college rock scene (which bloomed from the ashes of the punk movement of the 1970s) was ascending, "FNV" did not.  MTV had "120 Minutes", which featured videos from bands on up-and-coming and independent labels.  The more popular acts (for example, REM and The Cure) would trickle into the regular rotation.  "FNV" showed "Rock The Casbah" once.  Maybe twice, I don't know.

For a short while, "Friday Night Videos" even had a regional competitor:  "Rockbox".  For an hour or two on Saturdays, the local Fox affiliate (at that time known as WPDS) would show "Rockbox".  It was truly astounding to see the stuff they were playing - Utopia and the Clash being the first two that popped into mind.  I liked that I didn't recognize very many of the bands.  I thought, "this is the way to discover music".  That show, however, did not last long.  So fate forced me to "Friday Night Videos" (because NOT watching videos was not an option).

For all its weaknesses, I still remember "Friday Night Videos" fondly.  I was - and still am - totally in love with the medium.   "FNV" was the only game in town for me, but it was better then nothing (yeah I know:  90% music videos were crap, but I didn't think so at the time).  It was a part of my weekend, especially in the summertime when I was staying up late every night.  I liked being able to see the people playing the music that was all around me.  And, if you didn't pick up on it, some of the videos fueled my teen age male fantasies.  Staying up for "Friday Night Videos" became an important ritual for me. I'd boil some hot dogs or put some peanut butter on some Ritz crackers and wash it down with a cup of RC while watching Tears For Fears or Men At Work. Later in the night, (when I hit 8th grade) I'd sneak out for a smoke into the sleeping suburban world of my existence.  Quietly puffing on a Winston Light, listening to the sounds of the sprinklers on the nearby golf course - it was heaven.  I probably wouldn't've made the effort to stay up and enjoy this if "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" wasn't coming up later in the show.  Fuck, might as well smoke another:  fucking Miami Sound Machine is on again.

* - Even though winners of a "Video Vote" could only win four times before being retired, that was four times too many times for "The Big Log".  It seemed like that song was on there every week for three years.

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