Old music videos

I watched a documentary on Peter Gabriel over the weekend, and a bunch of memories came back to me. He was one of my favourite artists of the eighties, certainly in retrospect.

I can remember one of his self-titled albums coming out in 1980 that caught my ear. A few years before, he’d released Solsbury Hill, a great song, but he hadn’t really registered with me (I wasn’t a particular fan of Genesis either). Then this album came out, and I heard Games Without Frontiers, which I really liked.

Back in those days, there was a strong culture of swapping cassette tapes. This was in the era before CDs. One of your group would go out and buy the LP and tape it for anyone who wanted a copy of it. We were big into music, all of us, and it was a big topic of conversation at lunch breaks at school, and after, in a time long before social media or even the internet.

Drew Hayes (later, a barcode expert) had bought the album, I remember, and upon request, he taped it for me – I still have the cassette somewhere, I think, though I have nothing to play it on.

Peter Gabriel was an interesting, experimental artist. His music was excellent, but I admired him equally for his adventure and attitude. He was cutting edge all around and took an active interest in society and culture as well. His music reflected much of that, but so too did his actions – he was an early promoter of World Music and creator of Womad. I saw him in concert once, around 1995 I reckon, at the Melbourne tennis centre.

What I remember most vividly are his music videos. He was a real pioneer, creative and visually arresting and pretty quirky half the time. He’s most famous for his Sledgehammer video, which must be one of the most iconic ever.

It reminds me how different the times were in the eighties going into the nineties. This was when MTV burst onto the scene, and there were heaps of other music programs on TV, many of them really good.

MTV was revolutionary in its way. It brought music videos to the forefront, and a lot of money and effort was expended by artists in creating a visual show to go along with the music.

All of us watched these programs (Countdown obviously, and Soundz with Donny Sutherland, as well as MTV), which were more than just music videos. MTV was populist, like DJ’s on TV, and had broad appeal. They would do interviews between videos and discussion and features. It’s all very dated now.

I preferred the more highbrow programs, though I’d generally have MTV on in the background over a weekend. It was an era when music was taken very seriously. There would be quite earnest hosts introducing music with an in-depth analysis of the artist, their influences and often a deep selection from their albums (my favourite was Rock Arena, and Nightmoves was good, too, and there was another on SBS, Rock Around The World, I used to watch also). I liked that. I loved the music, but I wanted to understand, too.

It’s quite different now. There’s plenty of music on TV these days, but the majority of it is wall to wall videos, one after another. There’s very little analysis nor musical context. And the videos aren’t as cutting edge generally because there’s no real call for it – it’s a bit old-hat these days.

I still watch these shows, but generally in the background, and I’m much more likely to have Spotify playing – which, at least, has some musical IQ in its back-end.

It’s a big difference though it feels to me. It was woven through the culture then. We’d all watch the same programs and would speak of them together in the weeks after. I’d pick up album tips and discover artists, and I’d learn more about the artists I enjoyed. It was immersive. I miss that.

It’s all memory.

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