Death by Digital: 80’s Music Videos Are A Casualty Of War

Shane R. Monroe

Every war has casualties. While certainly there isn’t a direct assault going on against the decade that gave birth to the little slices of visual music known as “the music video” — the end result is the same; the systematic demise of the vignettes that reformed an industry.

I’m a proud Generation X’er. I was weened and raised on television in the 70s and 80s. I was present and accounted for on August 1, 1981 when MTV Music Television hit the airwaves (I was 12 years old).

The very first music video played?

Note the incredible crappy quality presented here. Welcome to archived 80’s music videos.

MTV became synonymous with music and with Generation X. This love affair with tiny movies set to music would continue well into the 1990s — and MTV created new markets for music and diversified greatly in those years; setting the stage for non-mainstream artists and musical genres entry into popularity.

From 1995 to 2000, MTV played 36.5% fewer music videos. Almost overnight, MTV became “the station that doesn’t play music videos anymore” and they turned to original programming. By 2008, just three total hours a day was spent playing music videos.

The rise of the internet surely plays a part in this. After all, youTube is the first stop for consuming … well, all video.

Regardless, we have almost 15 years of “music television” that shaped and defined a generation before 1995.

Therein lies a problem.

These 15 years predate “digital” — what I mean is, these industry-altering micro-films are sitting on fragile industrial video tape, film reels and in some cases? Only on fifth generation VHS bootlegs from those rich enough to own VCRs in the early 1980s (and who hasn’t thrown all those tapes away).

Surely the proliferation of youTube and video sharing is taking care of preservation of these treasures, no?

Sort of.

Music videos are an issue with video sharing services. They have music in them.

Music that is owned and executed by large corporations that really don’t want that music shared unless they are getting a slice of the pie. Reasonable.

But auto-generated copyright strikes, draconian behaviors and user’s fear of the repercussions of sharing stop a lot of content from ever becoming available. No matter how old the content may be and regardless of revenue generating potential of it.

What about the content that does make it up online?

Often digitized from VHS or from extremely low quality sources. No care given to restoration. Grainy. Tiny. Tracking lines.

In some cases, you’re just damn lucky to have access to them at all — since uploading them to youTube results in an algorithmic take-down in seconds.

Sure, if you’re dedicated to the cause — you may be able to get past the copyright police and upload to another, less popular source like Vimeo.

I uploaded this to Vimeo because youTube nuked it immediately after upload.

You’ve never heard of Aqua, right? Maybe you heard that Barbie Girl song forever ago, but why on earth would youTube be stopping me from sharing something 20 years old that (seemingly) nobody cares about? Is this song and video still making money? Or is it blanket brand protection with zero consideration for preservation?

Consider the cartoon Beavis & Butthead. This raunchy period piece of animation took 7 minute stories of teen debauchery and wedged in the two main characters often making fun of music videos from artists they didn’t like (aka “This sucks!”) or praising videos containing sexuality or pyromania (aka “Whoa! That’s cool!”).

Much like MTV and music videos themselves, Beavis & Butthead was a cultural phenomenon that was at its best being sandwiched around music videos. The show was released on home video formats eventually — but almost all the music videos were stripped from it; which frankly ruined what made the show great.

Fortunately some of these music video “cuts” are available on youTube IF you know how to search for them.

Watch the boys make fun of Debbie Gibson

Of course, if you’re hoping to find the one where they make fun of Journey’s Separate Ways; you’re out of luck.

I’ve personally spent the last 20 years gathering my own precious collection of music videos from these questionable sources. Many of them exist as dilapidated, unsupported, broken-ass formats like .AVI and .FLV and most of them won’t even survive a “conversion” to something more modern like .MP4.

Oh and on my 4k monitor they are the size of a postage stamp. Blowing them up to full screen just makes them a mess. Upscaling can’t help them in this state.

But the master tapes exist somewhere; rotting away (possibly literally) in a vault because nobody in charge cares about them. Quality copies may exist in a private collection but can’t be shared with the world because of copyright strikes and gestapo “brand protection” nonsense.

Dirty bootleg piracy is what you have to resort to if you want any semblance of this content.

Even when they do choose to restore the content — it isn’t always available. We know they did a restoration of the most important music video of all time — Michael Jackson’s Thriller for a limited 3D theatrical release — I saw it. But I can’t buy this restoration. It isn’t available anywhere. So restored — but is it truly preserved?

It is relatively certain that the Prince of Pop’s Disney attraction music video Captain EO exists in a restored format. Where can I buy that?

I can’t.

What about Madonna’s Like A Prayer? This is as good a copy as you’re apparently going to get.

Go ahead and make it full screen … I dare you.

Whether you loved 80’s music or not, there is an era of history slowly closing in on extinction and the clock is counting down right now; and nobody cares because the purveyors of this content are no longer “desired demographics”.

Once the age of physical media ends and nothing exists in a “hard copy” somewhere — digital will take more casualties of war. No one will have copies. No one will preserve. Entire time frames can and will be lost.

Generation Y and Z won’t be able to return to their childhoods in 20 years — even with postage stamp sized grainy forgotten content hidden away on third-tier streaming services that are outside the reach of corporate cronies.

This is one time I don’t have a solution to the problem. All I know is that I am pining away for content I can’t buy, rent and in some cases even confirm its existence anymore — let alone watch it.

What about you, my fellow GenX’ers? Do you still care about music videos? Should I just move on? Comment below!

Shane R. Monroe

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I write, blog, record and review anything that interests me — including humanity, parenting, gizmos & gadgets, video games and media.

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