4 Bands that Got a Big Boost from the Early Days of MTV

It is impossible to understate the influence that MTV had on the music we listened to when it hit the cable airwaves on August 1, 1981. While it amplified the reach of household names like Hall & Oates, Blondie, Pat Benatar, and The Police, it also made huge stars out of acts that were outside of the mainstream.

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It’s hard to imagine that any of the four acts featured below would be as well known today if not for the exposure their videos got during the early years of the cable music network. Here is a refresher on where the artists stood before their successful videos and where they wound up.

The Buggles

The Buggles never became superstars during their existence, and they never really had the chance to. After the minor success of their debut single “Video Killed the Radio Star” in 1979, the duo of Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes put The Buggles on hold in order to join the venerable progressive rock band Yes. Their time in Yes, however, was short-lived, but just as they were supposed to start recording their second album Adventures in Modern Recording, Downes left The Buggles to join the supergroup Asia. Horn completed Adventures in Modern Recording, and aside from some live dates that didn’t include Downes, that was the last we heard from the group.

That might have been the end of The Buggles’ story if not for MTV making the prescient choice of playing “Video Killed the Radio Star” as their first-ever video. The song is rarely mentioned without this fact being raised (and here we are, raising it again). Even with their one hit having peaked at No. 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, The Buggles have nearly 3 million monthly listeners on Spotify. “Video Killed the Radio Star” is what brings most listeners to their corner of the platform, having received nearly 430 million streams.

Split Enz

Though Split Enz had enjoyed success in their native New Zealand and Australia over the latter half of the ‘70s, they received little attention in the U.S. prior to the launch of MTV. “I Got You” was their biggest pre-MTV hit, though it didn’t get any higher than No. 53 on the Hot 100 during an 11-week run in 1980. Around the time MTV launched, “History Never Repeats” was receiving airplay on album-oriented rock stations, and since Split Enz had videos for this song and “I Got You,” both videos received airplay on the network on Day 1 and in the weeks that ensued. MTV also played their video for “One Step Ahead” three times on their first day, even though the single failed to reach either the Hot 100 or Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.

Less than a year later, Split Enz returned as a presence on MTV with their video for “Six Months in a Leaky Boat,” though the single only surfaced on Billboard’s Bubbling Under chart. The true breakout for vocalist/guitarist Neil Finn came when he co-founded Crowded House, which scored Top-10 hits with “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Something So Strong.” Split Enz’s drummer Paul Hester was also a co-founder of Crowded House, and Tim Finn, who co-founded Split Enz, joined Crowded House briefly in 1990. Despite their limited commercial success during the MTV era, the exposure Split Enz received on the video channel has helped them to remain relevant more than 40 years later, as they attract nearly 500,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.

Robert Palmer

Having reached the Top 20 of the Hot 100 with “Every Kinda People” and “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor),” Palmer was hardly unknown when MTV debuted, but he wasn’t the massive hitmaker that he would become just a few years later. “Looking for Clues” was one of the first videos to be played on MTV, and it was one of the most inventive clips (and songs) to be aired on the network in its early days.

But it was not “Looking for Clues” that catapulted Palmer into superstardom. One could argue that his time as the vocalist for The Power Station wasn’t responsible either, even though they reached the Top 10 with “Some Like It Hot” and “Bang a Gong” in 1985. “Discipline of Love” was the lead single from Palmer’s first post-Power Station album Riptide, and it only made it to No. 82 on the Hot 100. It took his mold-breaking video for “Addicted to Love” to give Palmer a No. 1 smash. The video is the eighth-most played clip in MTV history, and it led to Palmer making six more appearances in the Top 40 and notching a pair of Platinum albums in Riptide and Heavy Nova.

Duran Duran

Part of what made The Power Station popular was the presence of Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor and bassist John Taylor, and their star power first came from MTV airplay. Duran Duran was one of the first bands to make videos a key part of their promotional strategy. Their video for “Girls on Film,” which was made just prior to the launch of MTV, featured female nudity and was designed to be played in nightclubs. The song became Duran Duran’s first Top-10 single in the UK, and an edited version of the video eventually made its way onto MTV.

“Hungry Like the Wolf” was Duran Duran’s lead single from their second album Rio, but it took nearly six months—and heavy MTV airplay—for the song to make it onto the Hot 100. Then it took another 13 weeks for “Hungry Like the Wolf” to reach its peak position of No. 3. The cinematic video raised the bar for future clips and gave Duran Duran the first of their 11 Top-10 singles.

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Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns

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