Video Killed the Radio Star

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"Video Killed the Radio Star"
A cartoon version of Trevor Horn (left) and Geoff Downes (right), with the blue text "Buggles Video Killed the Radio Star" on the top
Single by The Buggles
from the album The Age of Plastic
B-side "Kid Dynamo"
Released 7 September 1979
Format 7" single
Recorded 1979
Virgin's Townhouse (West London, UK)
Sarm East Studios (Brick Lane, London, UK)
Genre New wave, synthpop
Label Island
Writer(s) Geoff Downes, Trevor Horn, Bruce Woolley
Producer(s) The Buggles
Certification Gold (UK)[1]
The Buggles singles chronology
"Video Killed the Radio Star"
(1979)
"Living in the Plastic Age"
(1980)
The Age of Plastic track listing
  1. "Living in the Plastic Age"
  2. "Video Killed the Radio Star"
  3. "Kid Dynamo"
  4. "I Love You (Miss Robot)"
  5. "Clean, Clean"
  6. "Elstree"
  7. "Astroboy (And the Proles on Parade)"
  8. "Johnny on the Monorail"
"Video Killed the Radio Star"
Bruce Woolley behind a horse, with the text "Bruce Woolley Video Killed the Radio Star" on the top left
Single by Bruce Woolley and the Camera Club
from the album English Garden
Released 1979
Genre New wave, synthpop
Length 2:49
Label Epic
Writer(s) Downes, Horn, Woolley
Producer(s) Mike Hurst

"Video Killed the Radio Star" is a song written by Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes and Bruce Woolley in 1978. It was first recorded by Bruce Woolley and The Camera Club (with Thomas Dolby on keyboards) for their album English Garden, and later by British synthpop and new wave group The Buggles, consisting of Horn and Downes. The track was recorded and mixed in 1979, released as their debut single on 7 September 1979 by Island Records, and is from their first album The Age of Plastic. The backing track was recorded at Virgin's Town House in West London, and mixing and vocal recording would later take place at Sarm East Studios.

Like all the other tracks from the LP, "Video"'s theme was promotion of technology while worrying about its effects. This song relates to concerns about mixed attitudes towards 20th-century inventions and machines for the media arts. Musically, the song performs like an extended jingle, and the composition plays in the key of D♭ major, in common time and at a tempo of 132 beats per minute. The track has been positively received, with reviewers praising its unusual musical pop elements. Although the song includes several common pop characteristics and six basic chords are used in its structure, Downes and writer Timothy Warner described the piece as musically complicated, due to its use of suspended and minor ninth chords for enhancement that gave the song a "slight different feel."

The track topped several international music charts and has been covered by many recording artists. Its music video was written, directed, and edited by Russel Mulcahy, and is well-remembered as the first music video shown on MTV in the United States at 12:01am on 1 August 1981. The song has received several critical accolades, such as being ranked number 40 on VH1's 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders of the 80's.[2] Trevor Horn has done performances of the song, both at Buggles reunion performances and with The Producers, since 1998.

Writing, lyrical themes and background[edit]

The Buggles, which formed in 1977, first consisted of Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes and Bruce Woolley.[3] They all wrote "Video Killed the Radio Star" in an hour of one afternoon in 1978, six months before it was recorded, together in Downes' apartment, which was located above a monumental stonemason's in Wimbledon Park London.[4][5][6] The piece was built up from a chorus riff developed by Woolley.[5] It is one of the three Buggles songs that he assisted in writing, the two others being "Clean, Clean" and "On TV."[3] An early demo of the song they did helped the group get signed to Island Records to record and publish their debut album The Age of Plastic.[3][7] Woolley left during recording to form his own band, The Camera Club, which did their own version of "Video", as well as "Clean, Clean" for their album English Garden.[3]

Trevor Horn in the middle performing bass with The Producers
Trevor Horn (middle) has said J.G. Ballard's "The Sound-Sweep" was an inspiration for "Video Killed the Radio Star".

Horn has said that the short story "The Sound-Sweep", in which the title character—a mute boy vacuuming up stray music in a world without it—comes upon an opera singer hiding in a sewer, provided inspiration for "Video," and he felt "an era was about to pass."[8] Horn claimed that Kraftwerk was another influence of the song: "...It was like you could see the future when you heard Kraftwerk, something new is coming, something different. Different rhythm section, different mentality. So we had all of that, myself and Bruce, and we wrote this song probably six months before we recorded it."[6]

All the tracks of the The Age of Plastic deal with positives and concerns of the impact of modern technology.[7] The theme of "Video Killed the Radio Star" is thus nostalgia, with the lyrics referring to a period of technological change in the 1960s, the desire to remember the past and the disappointment that children of the current generation would not appreciate the past.[9] The lyrics relate to concerns of the varied behaviors towards 20th-century technical inventions and machines used and changed in media arts such as photography, cinema, radio, television, audio recording and record production.[10]

Production and music[edit]

Note: this section covers the production info and composition and arrangement of the Buggles version of the song, and most of it may not apply to that done by Bruce Woolley and the Camera Club or later cover versions of the song.
Composition and arrangement info
Length 4:13 (album version)
3:25 (single version)
Genre New wave, synthpop
Key D♭ major
Vocal range A3—D5
BPM 132
Time signature 4
4
(common time)
Instruments Drums, Bass Guitar, Electric Guitar, Synths, Synth Strings, Synth Brass, Synth Piano, Marimbas, Male Vocals, Female Vocals
The final chorus of "Video Killed the Radio Star". There are instruments of electric guitars, a bass guitar, drums, and synths arranged in the track, and the male and female singers' accents and effects differentiate to give a historical and tonalitic contrast.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

"Video Killed the Radio Star" is a new wave-synthpop song.[11][12] It performs like an extended jingle,[11] sharing its rhythm characteristics with disco.[13] The piece plays in common time at a bright tempo of 132 beats per minute.[14] It is in the key of D♭ major,[5][14] with the vocal range spanning from A3 to D5,[14] and six basic chords are used in the song's chord progression.[13] According to Geoff Downes, "It's actually a lot more complicated piece of music than people think, for instance part of the bridge is actually chords suspended and minor 9ths. A lot of people transcribed the song wrongly, they thought it was a straight F# chord. The song was written in D flat. The suspended gives it a slightly different feel."[5] Writing in his book, Pop Music: Technology and Creativity: Trevor Horn and the Digital Revolution, Timothy Warner said that the "relatively quiet introduction" helping the listener detect a high amount of "tape hiss" generated through the use of analogue multi-track tape recorders, as well as the timbre of the synthesized instruments, give an indication of the technical process and time of producing the song.[15]

"Video" was put in more than three months of production.[5] The instrumental track was recorded at Virgin's Town House in West London for twelve hours, with mixing and recording of vocals held at Sarm East Studios.[16][6][7] The entire song was mixed through a Trident TSM console.[7] "Video" was the first track recorded for the group's debut LP The Age of Plastic, which cost a sum of £60,000 to produce,[16] and the song had been mixed by Gary Langan four or five times.[7] According to Langan, "there was no total recall, so we just used to start again. We’d do a mix and three or four days later Trevor would go, ‘It’s not happening. We need to do this and we need to do that.’ The sound of the bass drum was one of his main concerns, along with his vocal and the backing vocals. It was all about how dry and how loud they should be in the mix without the whole thing sounding ridiculous. As it turned out, that record still had the loudest bass drum ever for its time."[7]

The song includes instrumentation of drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, synth strings, instruments, piano, glockenspiel, marimbas and other futuristic, twinkly sounds, and vocals.[13][15][5][11] Downes used a selena, minimoog and prophet-5 to create the overdubbed orchestral parts.[5] Both the male and female voices differ to give a tonalitic and historical contrast.[17] When Langan was interviewed in December 2011, he believed the male vocal was recorded through either a dynamic Shure SM57, SM58, Sennheiser 421, or STC 4038 ribbonis microphone, and that four of five takes had to be done.[7] The male voice echos the song's theme in the tone of the music, initially limited in bandwidth to give a "telephone" effect typical of early broadcasts, and uses a mid-Atlantic accent resembling that of British singers in 1950s and '60s.[17] The Vox AC30 amplifier was used to achieve the telephone effect, and Gary Lagan says he was trying to make it "loud without cutting your head off", in others words make the voice sound soft. Gary Langan and Trevor Horn also tried using a bullhorn, but they found it too harsh. Langan later compressed and EQ'd the male vocals, and he said that doing the compression for old-style vocal parts was a "real skill."[7] The female vocals are panned in the left and right audio channels,[7] and sound more modern and have a New York accent.[17]

The single version of "Video Killed the Radio Star" lasts for 3 minutes and 25 seconds. The album version plays for 4 minutes and 13 seconds, about 48 seconds longer than the single version, as it fades into a piano and synth coda, which ends with a brief sampling of the female vocals.[7]

Critical reception[edit]

Ever since its release, "Video Killed the Radio Star" has been given a mostly positive reception from music critics. Originally, the song became a Billboard Top Single Pick on 3 November 1979, whom the publication found the chorus catchy and also highlighted the orchestral instruments supporting the backing singers.[18] Although there had been a mixed review of the single from Smash Hits, who found the song to be "too tidy, like vymura" (wallpaper),[19] they listed it in a review of The Age of Plastic as one of the best tracks of the album, along with "Living in the Plastic Age".[20]

Timothy Warner wrote that, although several common pop elements were still present in the song, it included stronger originality for its own purpose than most other pop hits released at the time.[21] These unusual pop music characteristics include the timbres of the male and female vocal parts, and the use of suspended fourth and ninths chords for enhancement in its progression.[13] He also felt it was unnecessary to dislike it as a "novelty song."[21] Allmusic's Heather Phares said the track "can be looked on as a perfectly preserved new wave gem," "just as the song looks back on the radio songs of the '50s and '60s." She concluded her review by saying that it "still sounds as immediate as it did when it was released, however, and that may be the song's greatest irony."[11]

Live performances[edit]

A rare live performance of the song by Horn and Downes came at a ZTT showcase in 1998.[22] In 2004, The Buggles re-united again with Bruce Woolley at Wembley Arena to perform "Video Killed the Radio Star" and "Living in the Plastic Age" as part of a tribute event to Horn to raise money for the Prince's Trust charity. They were joined by Debi Doss and Linda Jardim (now Linda Allan), who performed the background singing on the original recording. Paul Robinson, who played drums on the original, also appeared. Both Horn and Downes have performed the song live in other acts, including Yes (which Downes and Horn joined for the Drama album and tour in 1980), Downes in the 2006–2009 revival of Asia with John Wetton on lead vocals, and Horn in his band The Producers, also in 2006.

In November 2006, The Producers played at their first gig in Camden Town. A video clip can be seen on ZTT Records of Horn singing lead vocals and playing bass in a performance of "Video Killed the Radio Star". Tina Charles appears on a YouTube video singing 'Slave to the Rhythm' with The Producers[23] and Horn reveals that Tina was the singer and originator of the "Oh Ah-Oh Ah-Oh" part of 'Video'; fellow 5000 Volt member Martin Jay was also a session musician on The Buggles record.[24]

Robbie Williams performed the song with Trevor Horn at the BBC Electric Proms on 20 October 2009.[25]

Since 2010, Horn has performed "Video" with both the Buggles and his new band, Producers. Since 2011, he has added new vocals to his live performance before the song's final chorus:[26]

Video killed the radio star,
He hit him on the head with his old guitar,
He tried to run away, but didn't get far,
That's how video killed the radio star

Music video[edit]

Production and concept[edit]

In a white studio, Geoff Downes is playing multiple keyboards and Trevor Horn playing a bass guitar, both wearing silver suits. A woman in a tube behind Horn is also wearing a silver costume.
Trevor Horn (right) and Geoff Downes (left) as they appear in the video.

The music video for "Video Killed the Radio Star", written, directed and edited by Australian Russell Mulcahy,[27][28] was produced on a budget of $50,000.[4] It was filmed in only a day in South London,[27] and was edited in a couple of days.[28] Geoff Downes said in a 2011 interview that he felt the concept of the video reflected on that of the song.[28] Mulcahy asked a friend of his, who was an aspiring actress, to play a girl who was dressed "in a silver costume and be lowered via wires in a test tube." There were about 30 takes required for shots of the actress in the tube. The tube falls over in the video, although Mulcahy claims it was not intended to be shown in the final edit.[27] Hans Zimmer can be briefly seen wearing black playing a keyboard,[29] and Debi Doss and Linda Jardim, who provided the female vocals for the song, are also seen.[30]

The video starts with a girl c. 1952, sitting in front of a radio. A black-and-white shot of Trevor Horn singing into a radio-era microphone is altered over the girl by the radio. The radio blows up by the time of the first chorus, and then in the second verse, she is seen transported into the future, where she meets Horn and a silver-jumpsuited female in a clear plastic tube. Shots of Horn and Geoff Downes are shown during the remainder of the video.[29]

Broadcasting and reception[edit]

The video was first released in 1979,[31] when it originally aired on Top of the Pops for promotion of the single, rather than doing live performances.[4] Zimmer recalled in 2001 that the video drew criticism from some viewers who watched it before it aired on MTV, due to being "too violent because we blew up a television."[4] The video is best known as marking the debut of MTV, when the U.S. channel started broadcasting at 12:01 AM on 1 August 1981.[32] On 27 February 2000, it became the one-millionth video to be aired on MTV.[33] It also opened MTV Classic in the UK and Ireland, which replaced VH1 Classic on 1 March 2010, at 6 AM.[citation needed] The video marked the closing of MTV Philippines before its shutdown on 15 February 2010 at 11:49 PM.[34][35][36] MTV co-founder Bob Pittman said the video "made an aspirational statement. We didn't expect to be competitive with radio, but it was certainly a sea-change kind of video."[4]

Charts and certifications[edit]

Accolades[edit]

Publication/TV Show/Author(s) Country Accolade Year Rank
20 to 1 Australia Top 20 One Hit Wonders[68] 2006 3
Bruce Pollock United States The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 2005 *
Giannis Petridis Greece 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century 2003
Gilles Verlant, Thomas Caussé France 3000 Rock Classics 2009
Hervé Bourhis Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
Les Inrockuptibles 1000 Indispensable Songs 2006
Mashable United States 32 Unforgettable Music Videos[69] 2013
MSN Music United Kingdom Best Song Titles Ever[70] 2003 19
NBC-10 United States The 30 Best Songs of the 80s 2006 *
Pause & Play Songs Inducted into a Time Capsule, One Track at Each Week
Popmatters The 100 Best Songs Since Johnny Rotten Roared 2003 73
Q United Kingdom The 1010 Songs You Must Own (Q50: One-hit Wonders)[71] 2004 *
Time Out 100 Songs That Changed History[72] 100
VH1 United States 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders of the 80's[2] 2009 40
Volume! France 200 Records that Changed the World 2008 *
Xfinity United States Top 10 Groundbreaking Videos[73] 10
WhatCulture! 10 Controversial Music Videos That Look Tame Today[74] 2013 *
WOXY.com The 500 Best Modern Rock Songs of All Time 2008 348
All accolades are adapted from acclaimedmusic.net,[75] except if cited by an additional source.
"*" indicates the list is unordered.

Personnel[edit]

Sources: [7][76]

Cover versions[edit]

Year Artist Album
1987 Bon Ton
1993 Jun'ichi Kanemaru Inspired Colors
1998 The Presidents of the United States of America Pure Frosting
1999 Lolita No.18 ヤリタミン (YALITAMIN)
2000 Ken Laszlo Ken Laszlo 2000
2003 Erasure Other People's Songs
2004 Dragonheart[77]
2005 Amber Pacific Punk Goes 80's
2005 Ben Folds Five Whatever and Ever Amen
2005 Len The Diary of the Madmen (in hidden track)
2005 Maria Doyle Kennedy Skull Cover
2007 Alvin and the Chipmunks Alvin and the Chipmunks video game
2007 Envy & Other Sins
2007 The Feeling Rosé (CD single)
2007 Haruko Momoi COVER BEST — Cover Densha
2008 Bitch Alert Pink Bunnies Get Hit by Big Trucks
2009 V V Brown Travelling Like the Light
2011 Pentatonix The Sing-Off: Season 3: Episode 5 - Guilty Pleasures
2012 Young London Single[78]
2012 Joyce Manor Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired
2012 Dominico but call me "D" Single
2012 Superbus Sunset

In July 2013, multiple independent artists covered "Video" for the launch of the TV channel Pivot.[79]

In other media[edit]

"Video Killed the Radio Star" was sampled in Nicki Minaj (left) and will.i.am's (right) "Check It Out".

See also[edit]

Suggested reading[edit]

No. 1 chart lists[edit]

Release history[edit]

Region Date(s) Format Label
United Kingdom[90] 7 September 1979 7" Island Records
Italy[91] 23 October 1979
United States October 1979,[92] June 1983[93]
United States[94] October 1979 7" - Promotional
Australia[95] 1979 7"
Canada[96]
France[97]
Germany[98]
Ireland[99]
Japan[100]
Netherlands[101]
New Zealand[102]
Spain[103]

References[edit]

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