5 Classic Rock Songs Made Famous by MTV

Remember MTV? Well, before the reality shows, that is. When the station’s moniker was more true to its word. In the 1980s and 1990s, Music Television was the preeminent source of culture for young people. And while the station played videos from artists like Madonna and Michael Jackson, a giant part of its programming came from good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. (See: MTV Unplugged.)

Videos by American Songwriter

Below, we discuss a handful of such bands, songs, and music videos that, without MTV, may not have become the smash hit sensations that they were in their heyday.

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1. “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” ZZ Top

Not only did MTV play the heck out of this video for the 1983 single from the Texas-born blues-rock band, but record executive Jeff Ayeroff even got MTV to pay for the music video’s production prior to it ever airing. As a result, the video made the song huge, which helped make the band huge. Thanks to big beards, attractive co-stars, and a song that resonates with just about anyone, this was what’s known in the industry as a win-win-win.

2. “Money For Nothing,” Dire Straits

This 1985 Dire Straits song and accompanying music video was all the rage on the channel because of its then-futuristic feel with computer graphics and because the song includes the line in the opening, “I want my MTV.” The video for the song was also the first ever to be aired on MTV Europe on August 1, 1987. And while the lyrics aren’t, shall we say politically correct, the video for the track did win Video of the Year at the 1988 MTV Video Music Awards.

3. “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Nirvana

You can’t talk MTV in the 1990s without talking grunge. One even wonders, what grunge would be without the music channel and what MTV would have been without grunge? Thankfully, we’ll never have to know. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and its accompanying video were ubiquitous on the channel, leading MTV to book Nirvana for perhaps the most famous MTV Unplugged session ever. The video was so huge, it was also parodied by Weird Al Yankovich. Today, the video has well over a billion views on YouTube, alone. Just imagine how many eyeballs it got at the height of grunge when it was released in 1991.

4. “Black Hole Sun,” Soundgarden

Speaking of grunge, this was another song and video from a Seattle-born band that was played about a billion times on MTV, thanks to both the prowess of Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, the near-perfect song itself, and the video’s nightmarish-yet-still-funny delivery. Along with songs like “Jeremy” from Pearl Jam and “Down in a Hole” from Alice in Chains, grunge provided a great deal of content for MTV and Soundgarden enjoyed a big bump in popularity as a result. This 1994 song was at the top of the list for all MTV fans.

5. “Losing My Religion,” R.E.M.

Likely R.E.M.’s most famous song and also its most famous music video, this 1991 track was given much longer legs thanks to MTV, which played it over and over. Featuring fallen angels, beautiful mandolin playing, and frontman Michael Stipe’s signature emotive voice, “Losing My Religion” was a surprise hit for the group, but it remains a lasting one more than three decades later. Why? Artistry and MTV.

Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

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