The history of MTV before reality shows

Book reviews, Uncategorized



I Want My MTV,Rob Tannenbaum, Craig Marks, Plume, 2012 revised edition.


In a way I Want My MTV is very much like the reality shows their air on the channel now: everyone talks in each other’s back, we know too much details and even though there’s no actual music it manages to be entertaining.

A lot of the book is marked by ridiculous excesses and demands and egos from both the artists and the people who worked at MTV (and that goes for the people who directed videos as well). Simply put, there’s a lot of dirt on everyone, some of it humorous and some of it downright disgusting and filthy.

Those were the glory days of MTV, where the music world entered around the channel. MTV had the power to turn artists into stars seemingly overnight, offering unprecedented exposure. It’s easy to forget that at one point the VJs employees were living it up just like the artists that appeared on the channel. If you were around when all of this really happened in the 1980’s and early 90’s you’ll be enveloped in nostalgia, if not it’s a great look at a truly unique and memorable era in music, fashion and television.

I Want My MTV is in a quote by quote format. There is very little else than quotes in the book in terms of text. They’ll talk about a certain topic and then we get a page full of spaced quotes with who said them. In a way it’s perfect for what the book was going for.

However, it gets hard to remember who says what because they interviewed just about everyone right down to that girl who was in a video for four seconds and was ashamed because she didn’t like how her butt looked.

It can get boring reading page after page of quotes and I feel it’s really more of a flip through book, at least that’s how it works best. Even though I sometimes got lost remembering everyone and who did what -some big names are mentioned throughout- they really did cover just about everything and everyone who has ever worked is interviewed (or close at least).

Some of those quotes are unnecessary and will make you go “Really? They even interviewed even so and so?”, but I know some people will absolutely dig those little facts and stories.The index is a nice touch and quite useful considering the book is over 500 pages.

There are great stories told here. The changing musical landscapes. How MTV was seemed as racist several times for various reasons. Michael Jackson’s rise on MTV opening doors for black artists. The Billy Squier video that literally ruined and stopped his career, the New Wave bands from England, the Hair bands that ruled MTV, the rise of Grunge and alternative… Just about everything you can think of is in here.

Some of my favourite stories includes hair bands with no hair. For instance, how record companies spent a fortune for plugs on Great White alone. Stories about video directors trying to figure out how to keep Mick Mars’ wig from flying off his head during a video shoot. It’s all here and no one is safe from the dirt.

The stories behind videos, excess stories, VJs staying up all night on drugs, the partying, Stevie Nicks not liking her hair wanting to reeshoot a video, modifying Heart’s videos so as the make the singer appear slimmer, who used plugs and wigs, the change of direction, introducing game shows to the network….it goes on and on. I wished they would have featured a little more of the VJs as they really lived MTV but I can’t say that I’m disappointed with their coverage here.

Overall it’s probably not the perfect MTV book and if you don’t like the quotes format you’re pretty much screwed. I know I got tired of it a few times and put it down in favour of something else. Everything MTV is in here, the dirt revealed, the great stories told: it’s really all you wanted to know and didn’t want to know about MTV in the same book. The edition I own is the revised edition expanded with more interviews.

It’s a bit much at times but it’s entertaining and I learned a LOT for sure and I have interesting anecdotes I can tell people about MTV and their favourite artists. I Want My MTV is not essential reading by any means but if you’re even nostalgic or curious about what MTV used to be before reality shows on teenage girls and the Jersey Shore, then this should be of interest to you. You’ll want your MTV too.


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