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When Music Video Ruled the Airwaves....MT USA!

Updated: Apr 6

1984. A year when 50,000 souls emigrated across the pond, stateside, in hope of a job of any sort, and with it adding the unfortunate moniker of "illegal alien." Hillery was president, Fitzgerald lead a Fine Gael/Labour government as useless as a one legged man in an arse-kicking contest who got hammered in local and European elections.

We paid 54p in every Irish punt in Tax ...That's right, tax. Men worked hard for hardly nothing, no equal rights or pay for women and the dirty word "divorce" was still a shameful label in a country that was ruled by the Catholic church whose shameful secrets would only come to light in later years. It was a time when 567 year old Ronald Regan found his Irish roots in Tipperary and a Conservative British prime minister was involved in efforts to resolve the North’s problems and Sectarian fighting, having just brought the hard-working miners across the water to their knees.

That reign of tyranny would ensure there would be no joining of North and South. Orange marches down Nationalist roads. The murder of innocents. In August 1984 Detective Sargent Frank Hand was killed by the IRA as he escorted a cash delivery to a post office at Drumcree, Co Meath. Peace was depressingly a long way away. There would be a high profile release of a man falsely imprisoned. Nicky Kelly was released from prison on humanitarian grounds in 1984. He was jailed six years earlier for his alleged part in the Sallins Train Robbery. He received a presidential pardon in 1992 with over One million pound compensation.

Peace was depressingly a long way away.

Ireland had come out of a crippling late-seventies depression but with the dole queues high and work thin on the ground, we also had the added hilarity of a postal, train and bank strike to add into the mix.

RTE still started at 11am and knocked off before midnight with our "Prayer Before Bedtime" speech from a homely priest then we all stood for amhran na bhfiann.

But, there would be hope.

A saviour was at hand.

That man would be Vincent Hanley.

Born in Clonmel, on 2 April 1954, the pioneering Irish radio DJ and television presenter, nicknamed "Fab Vinny" would burst onto our screens (RTE2 to be exact) with , what seemed like at the time, a revolutionary new concept - Music videos of the biggest artists of the day, beamed into our humble homes for three hours each Sunday. Before this radio would rule the airwaves. This would include the bold, dashing, devil-may-care- rule-breakers like ABC, Suirside & WLR locally. Running to the local phone booth to wait in line and get a request played for you and more then likely an unattainable girl or boy that you fancy then darting home to hear that request for a Chicago ballad or slushy Lionel Richie number on the "Love Zone". Oh the innocence. Playstations, mobile phones and 4K televisions were a long, long way off.

Mullets were in. White socks, slip-on shoes, Chelsea boots sported by the boys. Pink mini-skirts, white stilettos and ultra permed hair for the ladies.

Both plagued by the bastard child that was acne.

But the game-changer that would become MT USA (or Music Television USA) had teenagers totally enthralled.

From Rod Stewart unashamedly caked in make-up ,tight red jeans and outrageous pin striped jackets to an English duo of George Micheal and Andrew Ridgeley who lead a British invasion , along with The Human League, Duran Duran and the ever reliable Elton John across the pond.

MT USA was like nothing before in Ireland and ran from 1984-1987.

MTV (and American cable channel first tested in 1977) , hit our screens on August 1st 1981. All of a sudden groups got fashion conscience. Making music for the masses would always be the goal but now the obligatory lip-synced performance on Top Of The Pops was not enough. Acting in front of the camera was just as important. Some used MTV to propel an image that faithful fans would follow. Big hair, make-up and shoulder pads became the order of the day....and that was just the men!

The music video would breathe new life into some aging rockers. Dire Straits would embrace this new age to maximum effect with Brothers In Arms and the unforgettable "Money for Nothing", "Walk of Life" and title track from a CD that sold an astonishing 30 million copies. Depressingly it was also the rise of Bon Jovi.

MTV ruled, but wasn't as excess-able at MT USA was.

The Walkman had passed the baton to the CD player and we rushed out in droves to try buy what we had just seen the Sunday before on RTE 2.

Vinyl was final. Thank Christ it's made a welcome (if slightly more expensive) comeback.

Predominately the music on MT USA would have an AOR flavour. Old stagers like Jefferson Starship would slim down to a Grace Slick/ Mickey Thomas duo would hit it out of the park with "We Built This City" (little did they know the song would be labelled "the worst hit single of the 1980's) and "Sarah"- a superb ballad of the times while American rockers Journey , who couldn't buy a major hit in the UK sold multi platinum albums and hard rocking videos with Steve Perry at the helm with efforts like "Who's Crying Now" "Open Arms" and of course "Don't Stop Believing"- long before half the town thought it was actually a new song made The Soprano's TV finale and sung by 8 to 80 years old's in Walsh Park on a Sunday.

In a year of firsts, 1984 saw ex-Commodore front-man Lionel Richie made the first ever stalker video in "Hello".

Well he was an old teacher trying to touch up and hassle a blind women, phoning her at home then hanging up.

It worked in the end though!

And at the helm of this wonderful new age programme was Hanley. By that stage "Fab Vinny" was well known on the Irish airwaves and had progressed seamlessly to our front sitting room televisions. Sadly he would pass away from an AIDS-related illness on the 18th of April 1987.

Local Pirate Radio would benefit from MT USA as well, particularly ABC who seemed to embody that fresh American Rock & Roll/ AOR sound . Now you didn't have to wait until Sunday afternoon to hear the likes of Bryan Adams, Foreigner, Toto etc and WLR along with Suirside could be reliable to have such hits on their turntable during the week. With the video age it also saw the rise of U2 , testing the waters across the sea with The Unforgettable Fire before they went global in '97 with the 25 million album selling Joshua Tree.

And while that Sunday four hour music marathon featured plenty of cheesy pop numbers, it was saturated somewhat with ballads, The Cars had always been a straught forward rock group but airplay for "Drive" made them global, along with the Live Aid tie in. Sadly their biggest hit was sung not by lead vocalist, the late Ric Ocasek, but bass player Benjamin Orr who passed away from pancreatic cancer aged just 53.

And it was fitting of the time. The Seventies had started with Glam Rock and ended with Punk dictating things. Disco had come and gone by the early eighties and synthesizer took over with UK groups like Depeche Mode, Ultravox, Yazoo, and the Human League leading a British invasion with new romantics Duran Duran in tow. Along with MTV USA the compact disc followed suit just as quick. Here we had an item we were told you could put spread butter, marmalade and peanut butter on and it would still play in a CD player.

That's basically the biggest pile of horse-shit ever.

I've tried it (and in doing so practically wrecked my Alan Parsons Project "Eye in the Sky" CD. That said here we are in 2024 and they still sell by the millions. Back in the day a CD of your favourite artist was around £20 whilst a CD player could set you back anything from £300 up. And though Queen will be credited for their "Bohemian Rhapsody" game changing 1975 video, it was truly in the 1980's that the music video came into it's prime. Don Hendley was annoyed at first "Now we don't just have to sing we had to fucking act as well" couldn't really complain. "Boys of Summer" was promoted by a video in heavy rotation on radio and CD which MTV championed which I've no doubt helped him hit Number 5 on the Billboard charts and the Top 20 in the UK.

Prince, who had been doing his thing since the late 70's, brought out a movie in "Purple Rain" with a title song (in all it's 8.41 album version glory) that you couldn't escape. Madonna obviously joined the party and even old hands like Huey Lewis & the News got a big boost and scored huge hits like "The Power Of Love" "Stuck With You" and "Hip To Be Square".

For many young people reading this blog, all of the above would seem sadly lost. We are not the PS4 or X-Box generation. For that try the Sinclair Spectrum or Commodore 64.

With the pandemic and the unprecedented times we went through, its amazing that RTE missed a trick by not digging into the vaults and showing us some episodes of a revolutionary pop programme that aired for the first time in February 1984. That would have been great fun as we all sat at home with huge mullets as we waited for the hairdressers to open again. Mind you our hair certainly brought us back to the Eighties!

Hopefully somewhere down the line we'll get to see the show (other then the short clips on You Tube) - that would be fun!

I'll even dig out the Chelsea boots and yellow shoulder padded suit to mark the occasion! The 1980s...... what a time to be alive!!!!!

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