1988 Countdown: Commercial Break #1

And we go to a commercial break!

First, there’s an MTV promo touting their dedication to new music. “Every major band was a new name at one time,” says a bass voice (moderately portentous, but without enough presence to get movie-trailer work). Then they flash the names of these brand-new bands that they’re backing with the full weight of the network, hoping that they’ll last for many years:

Escape Club.
Edie Brickell & New Bohemians.
Information Society.
Living Colour.
Siouxsie & the Banshees.
White Lion.

Wait, back up–Siouxsie and the Banshees??!? When this ad aired in 1988, they had been around long enough that founding member Sid Vicious had been dead for almost exactly ten years. Their first album came out in 1978. Some of those other acts had been knocking around for a few years before they put out a major-label album, but isn’t this a bit like touting Courtney Love as the fresh new face of the twenty-first century?

“Catch tomorrow’s stars today on MTV,” says the bass voice. And apparently, yesterday’s stars, too.

Spots follow for Michelob Dry, the movie The January Man (more on this later, because even twenty years after the last time I watched this countdown, I remember that they showed this ad incessantly), the Conductor (a battery allegedly optimized for “high-drain music machines”–the commercial features a spiky-haired kid in a lecture hall blocking out a droning professor with his Walkman).

Then a cool MTV promo, featuring 20 seconds or so of jazzy animation at some speakeasy: quick cuts of a cartoony jazz band and a hep cocktail waitress, while music skronks atonally behind them.


Back to the countdown, with “Welcome to the Jungle” as the bumper music. Kevin Seal is our host. Kevin was the host of 120 Minutes (which played what people still called “college rock” at that point, before “alternative” became the preferred branding term), and seemed to have more of an ironic sheen about him than the other VJs. “The top 100!” Kevin shouts and jumps over the counter, screaming. Twice. Twenty years later, Kevin’s still charming, but much squintier than I remember.


posted 15 May 2008 in 1988 and tagged , , , , , . 2 comments

2 Comments on 1988 Countdown: Commercial Break #1

  1. Chris M. Says:

    FWIW, 1988 was the year Billboard launched its Modern Rock chart. That name alone was something of a neologism — as late as ’87 or so my high-school friends and I were calling music of this Euroweenie/postpunk ilk “new wave” (don’t laugh). But you are right that it was still too early for “alternative,” hence Billboard (more likely, the industry/radio folk they survey/service) had to make up a term, hence “modern rock.”

    Anyway, the reason I bring this up: the first No. 1 song on the chart when it launched in ’88 was none other than “Peek-a-Boo” by Siouxsie. That song also scraped the midsection of the big pop chart, the Hot 100. Prior to this, I’m pretty sure no Siouxsie songs — not even the Top 20 club hit “Cities in Dust” (’85) — had ever graced a Billboard chart.

    So, to defend MTV in ’88, S+Bs *were* “new” to the overwhelming majority of their audience and perceived as newbies on the radio. If I were programming/promoting MTV in ’88, I’d have pushed Siouxsie as a hot new act, too, if only to help them along.

  2. gavin Says:

    So was the progression

    new wave
    college rock
    modern rock


Leave a Reply

Keep up to date with new comments on this post via RSS.