MTV: The Making of a Revolution
By Tom McGrath
Running Press, 208 pages, 1996

Let’s think back — way back to the 1980s — when MTV first launched and actually played music videos 24/7. Before it was a haven for reality trash and the occasional pleasant surprise (like this year’s teen drama Finding Carter), MTV, as its acronymic name implies, was all about music.

As an ’80s teen in Canada, MTV was something else, too: exotic. We had the Toronto-based channel, MuchMusic, which as it turned out, pioneered the street-level studio concept that shows from NBC’s Today to MTV’s Total Request Live later adopted. At the time that didn’t matter. We wanted our MTV.

It was the first channel I’d turn to when on vacation with my parents in the States. Hair bands, new wave, top 40 — it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that it was MTV and I was watching it. I was a complete sucker for the brand. MTV was cool.

The story of those early years are well documented in Tom McGrath’s MTV: The Making of a Revolution. It’s about the behind-the-scenes machinations of both the business and the videos themselves throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s. But anyone looking for a glossy picture book will be disappointed. In fact, my only quibble with the book is the physical book itself. Unless it’s primarily visual in content, I can’t stand landscape-oriented books. They’re hard to read and almost impossible to balance when reading in bed. And for what is ultimately a business book, it was really unnecessary to design it this way. But then again, it was published in 1996 when there was a lot of unnecessary design going on.

If you’re a culturally curious sort who loves a good origin story with a business bent, it’s worth getting past the annoying landscape setup. But if you’re looking for lots of colour photos and ’80s visual fun, the book, Who’s Who in Rock Video: A Guide to Video Music Artists (which I wrote about here) is probably a better bet.

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