Video Killed the Radio Star original

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Origins of the Video Killed the Radio Star original version

At 12:01am on 1 of August 1981, “Video Killed the Radio Star” became the first music clip aired on MTV. Although English new wave band the Buggles released the song in 1979, the song became an anthem of the 1980s. However, former Buggles member, Bruce Woolley, with his new band, the Camera Club, recorded the “Video Killed the Radio Star” original.

In 1978, Buggles members Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes and Woolley wrote the lyrics to “Video Killed the Radio Star”. It took them just one hour to write the song. Its theme was technological change, the lyrics expressing a sense of nostalgia for the 1950s and 60s.

I’d read JG Ballard and had this vision of the future where record companies would have computers in the basement and manufacture artists. I’d heard Kraftwerk’s ‘The Man-Machine’ and video was coming. You could feel things changing.”

Trevor Horn, 2018

Eerily spot on…

Horn, Downes and Woolley had two songs – “Video Killed the Radio Star” and “Clean Clean”. But couldn’t agree on how to divide up the publishing rights. Finally they decided to split one song three ways and the other two. They decided which song went to which writer with the toss of a coin. Woolley won the toss which resulted in 50% of the royalties for “Video Killed the Radio Star”.

Bruce Woolley

Woolley was the son of 50s and 60s jazz legend Brian Woolley. He played on the UK pub and club circuit as well as creating pop songs for publishing companies. However, he preferred to write material for himself. Woolley was a member of the Buggles before establishing the Camera Club in 1979. The new wave outfit featured Woolley on vocals, Thomas Dolby on keyboards, Matthew Seligman on bass, Dave Birch on guitar and Rod Johnson on drums.

The Camera Club’s version of Video Killed the Radio Star

When Woolley left the Buggles to form the Camera Club, both the Camera Club and the Buggles recorded versions of “Video Killed the Radio Star” and “Clean Clean”. Woolley and the Camera Club were the first to record “Video Killed the Radio Star”. So their version is the “Video Killed the Radio Star” original.

Woolley and the Camera Club recorded the “Video Killed the Radio Star” original for their album English Garden. In 1979, Epic Records released the song as a single months ahead of the Buggles version. I think it’s a great original version, but it failed to chart.

Comparing the two versions

While the Buggles version is pure synth-pop, the Camera Club’s “Video Killed the Radio Star” original is more rock, or post-punk. Lacking the “oh-a oh-a” it’s definitely less of a pop song. Overall, I think the “Video Killed the Radio Star” original is a simpler song, sounding less “produced” and less “groundbreaking”. But it’s a great post-punk tune and I love post-punk. And correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought I detected an XTC vibe in this version.

Many critics prefer Woolley’s version. It sounds like more of a serious song, with less of a novelty “jingle” feel. However, I think the Buggles were very clever with their use of that commercial sound. Can I sit on the fence and like both versions equally?

The Camera Club spent two years on the road touring. Then they disbanded following disagreements with their label, CBS Records, who refused to release their second album.

Woolley has an impressive musical resume. Artists like Grace Jones, Marc Almond, Tom Jones, Jason Donovan, Cliff Richard, the Killers, Tori Amos, Shirley Bassey and Sinead O’Connor recorded his songs. Woolley also co-founded the Radio Science Orchestra, a theremin-led ensemble inspired by the birth of electronic music. A keen theremin player, Woolley plays this instrument in the 2001 film Moulin Rouge.

Buggles recording

The Buggles spent over three months recording “Video Killed the Radio Star”. The result is a really very clever song. The band experimented with equipment and unorthodox recording techniques, all in an attempt to reshape pop music into something new. The song features drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, synth strings, piano, glockenspiel, marimbas and other futuristic twinkly sounds, as well as vocals.

Horn’s vocals echo the song’s theme of old technology being “killed”. They used a limited bandwidth to give a “telephone” sound effect like that of early radio broadcasts. Horn sings in a Mid-Atlantic accent resembling that of 50s and 60s British singers. The female vocals pan in the left and right audio channels, and sound more modern with a New York accent. Debi Doss (backup vocalist for the Kinks and Hot Chocolate) and Linda Jardim (member of pre-Buggles side project, Chromium) sung the female lyrics.

In September 1979, Island Records released the Buggles version of “Video Killed the Radio Star”. It was the band’s debut single from their debut album, The Age of Plastic.

An 80s hit from 1979

Reviewers praised the song for its unique pop elements. The single went to number one in 16 countries and reached the top ten in many more. It was certified gold in the UK. Only in the US, did “Video Killed the Radio Star” experience limited success, peaking at number 40. And despite being released in 1979, “Video Killed the Radio Star” ranked 40 on VH1’s 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders of the ’80s.

Video Killed the Radio Star on MTV

Australian film director Russell Mulcahy wrote, directed and edited the music video for “Video Killed the Radio Star”. Filming took just a day in South London, and editing a couple of days. As well as being the first video shown on MTV in 1981, “Video Killed the Radio Star” was the one-millionth video aired in 2000. In 2010, it was the first video shown on MTV Classic in the UK. Some viewers criticised the clip for being too violet because a television is blown up … but they’re just idiots.

Other versions

There are around 100 versions of “Video Killed the Radio Star”. An intriguing one came out in 1979, the same year as the “Video Killed the Radio Star” original. French pop singer Ringo released a French-language version called “Qui est ce grand corbeau noir”. The title translates to “Who is this big black raven?” The tune, and even Ringo’s singing, sounds very similar to the Buggles version. Just not sure why they sing about a crow…

In 2017, Woolley and the Radio Science Orchestra reworked “Video Killed the Radio Star” for modern times in this fantastically ethereal version featuring British singer Polly Scattergood.

I think “Video Killed the Radio Star” is so enduring because we are always going to feel nostalgia for the past. And technology is always going to outmode the past.

Want to keep reading? Check out other 1970s unknown originals here and more synth-pop tunes here.

References
The Buggles – “Video Killed The Radio Star”
How the classic hit Video Killed the Radio Star was born
New version of Video Killed the Radio Star by original co-writer
Video Killed the Radio Star - Bruce Woolley and the Camera Club
Wikipedia - Bruce Woolley
Wikipedia - English Garden
Wikipedia - Video Killed the Radio Star
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