Top 40 Smash Taps: “Video Killed the Radio Star”

These posts are about the songs that can accurately claim to crossed the key line of chart success, becoming Top 40 hits on Billboard, but just barely. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 40.

Now that MTV treats music videos like some syphilitic growth that it had removed, I wonder if anyone but the most hardcore nostalgists really cares about retaining the tidbit about which song was the first to cross the coaxial launching the cable channel. There was certainly a time when it was a requirement to serious music fans to have the ready capability to name “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles as the champagne bottle that smashed against the prow of that particular mass media ship. And, I think it’s fair to say, that notoriety is what caused the song to endure, becoming a familiar staple of playlists that aim to capture the quintessential sound of the nineteen-eighties.

That categorization of the song is only slightly tripped up by the small detail that the it is technically a product of the nineteen-seventies, the familiar version first arriving in late 1979. “Video Killed the Radio” star was recorded as a demo and presented to Island Records that summer. The label snapped up the band and turned around a single release right away, with the debut album The Age of Plastic not arriving until the following year, in part because it took a while for the Buggles to generate enough material to fill up two sides of vinyl.

It’s perhaps even more interesting that the song is technically a cover, at least when considered strictly in terms of chronology. Buggles members Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes are duly credited songwriters on the track, but so is their former bandmate, Bruce Woolley. In fact, by some accounts, the song is primarily his handiwork, a product of time he spent collaborating with Horn and Downes, fully intending to record with them. Wooley took the song with him when he split from the duo, and managed to release it before they did. It appears on English Garden, the debut album from Bruce Woolley & the Camera Club, a band that featured Thomas Dolby on keyboards. That version doesn’t sound jarringly different, but it’s maybe a little airier, a little brisker.

Woolley’s version is a mere footnote in music history, though, forever overshadowed by the Buggles take, which followed in short order. Even without the eventual boost from MTV, the Buggles still did better than Woolley. His version went nowhere on the charts. The Buggles at least peaked at #40.

“Just Like Heaven” by The Cure.
“I’m in Love” by Evelyn King
“Buy Me a Rose” by Kenny Rogers
“Who’s Your Baby” by The Archies
“Me and Bobby McGee” by Jerry Lee Lewis
“Angel in Blue” by J. Geils Band
“Crazy Downtown” by Allan Sherman
“I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Rhythm of Love” by Yes
“Naturally Stoned” by the Avant-Garde
“Come See” by Major Lance
“Your Old Standby” by Mary Wells
“See the Lights” by Simple Minds
“Watch Out For Lucy” by Eric Clapton
“The Alvin Twist” by Alvin and the Chipmunks
“Love Me Tender” by Percy Sledge
“Jennifer Eccles” by the Hollies

58 thoughts on “Top 40 Smash Taps: “Video Killed the Radio Star”

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