PLAY IT AGAIN, TIM

Video may well have killed the radio star, but the song also came very close to provoking the death by strangulation of my friend Tim.

Released in September 1979, “Video Killed The Radio Star” was co-written by Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes and Bruce Woolley a year earlier. Fans of Yes will know the first two as Buggles and consequently from their brief stint in the famous progressive band circa Drama (1980).

History aside, “Video” was a bone fide one-hit wonder, topping charts around the world—the UK, Australia, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden—and having the honour of being the first song played on US MTV.

In Australia it was a monster. Even now, people of a certain vintage can identify the hit from the opening ascending/descending arpeggio and join in, on cue, with the processed robotic vocal…

I heard you on the wireless back in fifty-two

Lying awake intently tuning in on you

If I was young it didn’t stop you coming through

Oh-a-oh

It really is a perfect pop song. Catchy chorus, sung by female backing vocalists boasting accentuated American twang in their intonation; thumping bass drum beat (132 bpm, don’t you know); pop sensibilities, slightly twisted into a new shape; great lyric, for those interested in such things.

And now we meet in an abandoned studio

We hear the playback and it seems so long ago

And you remember the jingles used to go

Oh-a oh

I loved the retro-futuristic nature of the story. The song—and indeed the whole of The Age of Plastic—tackles themes of technology and progress with beat and bop but an underlying strain of angst. A nagging sense that this shiny future might not be Utopia.

I met your children

What did you tell them?

“Video Killed The Radio Star” seemed to be around forever. Certainly it was still popular a few years later when a crew of us stepped forward to run the Student Union at Melbourne College of Advanced Education. My mate Marie was elected editor of The Star, the college newspaper, and recruited a friend of hers, Tim, as chief operations manager. This meant, amongst other things, late nights pasting up pages for couriering to the printers to meet deadlines that always seemed to be snarling at the door.

Sometimes I’d be working late too, studying an impenetrable policy document for tomorrow’s Council meeting or deep in discussion with my politically savvy Education Officer, trying to work out how to remove the two-thirds of the Activities Team who were more interested in drinking than organising functions for the student populace. When I’d had enough thinking, I’d wander into the publications room, drawn by the sound of the ghetto blaster and occasional bursts of laughter.

The favoured paste-up tape was, of course, The Age Of Plastic, transferred from vinyl onto cassette from by Tim.

Tim liked the album. A lot. So for efficiency and convenience the C90 had the Buggles on both sides.

At the time, I confess I was luke-warm about the record. But it has grown on me over the years, as much for its dystopian visions clothed in day-glo pop as its stunning production values—there is so much gorgeous sonic detail in these tracks you can keep pumping up the volume and hearing more and more and more. Sometimes you can even hear tape hiss. This is pre-digital, remember.

Opening song “Living in the plastic age” is a fine example of their vision.

Every day my metal friend

Shakes my bed at 6 A.M.

Then the shiny serving clones

Run in with my telephones

This is 1979, you’ll recall. Mobile phones as consumer items were still a decade away.

The cocaine eighties were closer, perhaps…

They send the heart police

To put you under cardiac arrest

And as they drag you thru the door

They tell you that you’ve failed the test

The song opens with a vaguely disquieting collage of sound and ends with a fading heart-beat. Cardiac decay.

The hit is next, followed by the driving “Kid Dynamo” and the amusing sci-fi relational satire of “I love you (Miss Robot)”. Imagine Kraftwerk channelling deadpan English humour and pop smarts.

You make love like a metronome

Don’t drive too fast when you take me home

This is 1979, mind you. Bladerunner’s pleasure Replicants were three years away.

The second side is strong too. “Clean Clean” opens proceedings; a fast and dirty song about a future where apocalyptic conflict is far from clean, clean. The chirpy instrumental break is ridiculously incongruous. Brilliant.

“Elstree” makes the misty nostalgia hinted at in “Video” much more explicit—mid-paced, reflective, slightly sad. Also tinted with sepia-chrome is “Astroboy”, the closest thing to a ballad on this sharp synth-rock record.

The Age Of Plastic winds up with “Johnny On The Monorail” which suffers from sounding like a collection of ideas stripped from previous tracks and bolted together. But one cannot carp—this is a fabulous album sounding as fresh and engaging as ever, and deserving to be enjoyed for more than its monster single.

Talking of the single, let’s return to Tim and his cassettes.

As much as Tim appreciated The Age Of Plastic, it was the hit that really rang his bells. So much so that he made another Buggles cassette, stripping away seven superfluous songs to produce an entire C60 of “Video Killed The Radio Star”.

He put it on as we jumped in his Honda Scamp—a tiny green car with large speakers—late one night. The trip through Melbourne’s inner west was not lengthy, but it was certainly long enough for me to progress from enjoyment through “must we hear this again?” to silent teeth grinding.

The driver, however, simply loved it. When the song went “In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far”, Tim would grin maniacally and jab the rewind button (despite there being no need, due to the endless nature of the fucking tape). “OH YES WE CAN!” he’d chortle.

By the time we reached our destination, I was twitching with homicidal intent, fingers clenching involuntarily as I fumbled with the door handle. Staggering slightly, I ground out “Thanks for the lift, Tim” and went to bed.

I estimate it was at fifteen years before I could listen to the Buggles without my jaw tightening. So I recommend this album and its single hit. But be careful with the quantities.

“One-Hit Wonder” Group Event hosted by Danica @ Living a Beautiful Life

49 comments

  1. […] Play It Again, Tim [Vinyl Connection, blog] […]

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “OH YES WE CAN!” Love it — thanks for the laugh. You know, I’ve heard this song many times and invariably enjoy it… but your post made me realize I’ve never listened to all the lyrics, which is unusual for me. Like the album cover too.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, well noted! The cover is fabulous.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Agree.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. jprobichaud · · Reply

    Great tune but I can see how it could get maddening over repeat listens. I had a roommate in university who played The Smiths incessantly. It was years before I could appreciate them for myself.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There can be too much of a good thing!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Great album. I might have to hunt it out again. I like to think that you can hear echoes of it in the Yes album ‘Drama’, particularly in the tracks White Car and Into the Lens.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think that’s true. Just finished listening to the second Buggles album, ‘Adventures in Modern Recording’, which has an early version of “Into the lens”, followed by ‘Drama’ itself. Hated it at the time, but really love it now!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Oh, I didn’t know that there was an already-existing version of Into the Lens. Interesting! Nice to know that my musical perspicacity is on track.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Particularly laudable after a long-haul trans-hemispheric flight!

          Liked by 2 people

  5. When my much younger sister was about three, her and a similarly aged friend used to argue about that song. Her friend insisted it was video killed the radio store while my sister corrected star, with neither side budging. I wasn’t getting involved in that cat fight. I like the sound of your friend, Tim. I’m sure it would have lasted about three plays, with rewind, in a car, but I can’t help but wonder what he’s up to now, did he keep his incorrigible spark.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Star or Store. That a knotty one for sure.
      I liked Tim a lot too. Sadly, it was a friendship that somehow faded after university. When I was writing I was wondering where he is now. Hope he is having a good life.
      Cheers, Bruce.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Radio store doesn’t even make sense, but try telling that to a scrappy kid. I hope Tim is still giving them hell.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Showing my age: I used to think Video Killed the Radio Star was a hit by the (GASP) Mini Pops!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You ever want Minipops LPs, lemme know. I get them in at work all the time.

      Like

  7. I *loved* this song back in the day, and have to say that I still really enjoy it. It could be a meaningful addition to a time capsule, both because it was the first video played on MTV (back when MTV still played music videos) and because it includes the term ‘VCR’ in the lyrics. And I think you need to track Tim down; I’ve no doubt he’d be tickled by your homage…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. At friends home yesterday evening, the 15 year old had a t-shirt emblazoned with cassettes. I asked (not without an evil twinkle) whether he knew what they were. “Videotapes” he said, to much cruel guffawing by the elders.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Buggles were something of a controversial subject especially when they joined Yes. I love Drama now and this summer saw the Trevor Horn Band and was amazed at how many great songs he had been involved in over the years. Now lets be honest though that once a year may be enough for that song. Tom sounds a character.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I like these pop songs that are surprisingly dark – nice juxtaposition with the upbeat melodies!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. […] other is inspired by Bruces post over at Vinyl Connection Play It Again Tim  I have no Buggles but I do have Drama by Yes. I spent much of my teen years detesting this album. […]

    Like

  11. Wow. One song on a c60 cassette. Over and over and over and over.

    “Can I see that cassette Tim?”

    First: push eject. Second: zoinks right out the window into sewer drain.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You favour direct action then?
      To be honest, it wasn’t that much more repetitive than commercial radio back then!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As far as my group of high school and college friends was concerned, we didn’t pull any punches. No B.S was allowed. If we had a dispute, we fixed it right away. Things changed once I got married.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Somewhere on the coast road between Liverpool and Southport there is a Tiffany tape that met this fate, legend says on dark nights bits of brown magnetic tape can be caught in the headlights of speeding cars.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. After reading your post I will search out the album, and perhaps the one after. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great! They are both very enjoyable, particularly Plastic Age.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Wonderful, Bruce. Wonderful. I have to admit to really liking this tune, though I’ve never heard the album (but think I should). MTV has a lot to answer for… changed how folks consumed music and how labels looked at artists, before it then moved onto reality TV and dropped music videos further down the line. Of course, Queen would lament the end of radio too…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m a bit Ga Ga about this album, J!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. This post just brought back a memory of my college roommate that played Marc Cohn – Walking In Memphis over and over. The whole album was decent, but he only wanted to hear that one song. His cd “mysteriously” disappeared after a few months.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. By which time, presumably, you could perform a reasonable version of the song on demand.

      Like

    2. Man I remember Walking In Memphis. My Mom tried learning it on piano…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I just pulled out the cd and played it recently. I especially like the song Silver Thunderbird.
        There were some pretty big names on that album such as James Taylor, Steve Gadd, Mark Egan, Ada Dyer, etc.

        That would have been cool if she would have learned it. Marc’s a pretty fine pianist. so I just read she had a jukebox, and she plays piano. She sounds like one of the good ones.

        Like

        1. My Mom rocks.

          Like

  15. You’re right, this was one of the perfect pop songs. I hadn’t quite put the lyrics together that they were so far ahead of their time, but you’ve nailed it!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Ah, it’s a great song. For me, there is no other song that embodies the spirit of new wave quite like Video killed… It’s still in my music mixes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mixed with other good songs is definitely the right way to go, Jeff!

      Like

      1. A few years ago, dealing with a particularly bad case of OCD, I went through a period where I listened to Neil Young’s Travel On over and over again. That song is branded onto my brain. But I still love it.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    Heh, this tale is about as close as I’d like to get to that song again but next time I do, I’ll think of your tale now. Good one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes ear-worms rot your brain worse than Belgian beer.

      Like

      1. pinklightsabre · · Reply

        Canned Heat will never be the same for me since that night. Would like to riff on that further in person with you some day. Some very bad imagery.

        Liked by 1 person

  18. Great tale Bruce – I’ve got the single but never ventured towards the LP.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The album is excellent, Joe. If you stumble across it at the right price, highly recommended.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Stumbling across anything at the right price is getting increasingly difficult.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s the truth. ☹️

          Liked by 1 person

  19. An entire C60 of just one song? That’s commitment to the point of dadaism. I still have the 45 of Clean, Clean somewhere. I think it came with free stickers… I’m easily bought.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Clean Clean was also a single? And came with stickers? Discogs Ahoy!

      Like

  20. Never thought that “Killed” was on a record. Always thought of it as a single.. but then I never thought to check. Now I’ll have to check it out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hope you enjoy it when you do! I love the LP – Synthpop with substance.

      Like

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