Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Listeria / Mythbusting: The Ten Ugliest Artists Whose Careers MTV Failed to Kill

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 22, 2007

Still getting their money for nothing and/or chicks for free

And who did the people want to see? It wasn’t Supertramp or Joe Jackson. In fact, it was the end of those guys’ careers. People got one look at Joe Jackson, and they said ‘Put the camera back on his shoes!'” -Dee Snider (paraphrased) on MTV, from Heavy: The Story of Metal

One of the bigger prevailing myths in the conventional narrative of rock history is that the birth of the music video, and particularly the start of MTV, sounded the death knell for all the artists of the time that weren’t as photogenic as MTV’s first wave of superstars (Duran Duran, Def Leppard, Madonna, etc.). Just like The Beatles were supposed to have wiped the teen idols of the early 60s off the map, and punk was supposed to have put the final nail in the the coffin of dinosaur rock in the late 70s, MTV, popular opinion says, single-handedly ruined the careers of dudes that could fill an arena, but couldn’t strike a pose to save their lives. It’s a rockist argument against the music video that, over 25 years later, still prevails in some circles of rock crit–people who believe that MTV signaled a shift from music being the most important thing in chart success to the image taking prominence.

Yet, take that Dee Snider quote about Joe Jackson. It sounds great, sure, but it’s not really true–in fact, Joe Jackson only had one top 40 hit in the US pre-MTV, and he had three more afterwards, including his all-time biggest (“Steppin’ Out”). This sort of thing ends up being true with really a good deal of the artists whose careers MTV is claimed to have demolished–artists who might not’ve flourished quite so much on the channel, but if you look at the actual charts and sales numbers at the time, were still doing pretty OK. Here’s ten of the better examples:

10. Kenny Rogers. All right, so Rogers might not’ve been ugly at first (though I have no idea, imagining a young Kenny Rogers is kind of like thinking about a teenage Leslie Nielsen), but by the early 80s, you wouldn’t think that the MTV generation really could’ve had much use for the proto-Silver Fox. Yet Kenny still had at least a few years of solid hitmaking left in ’em, including two top-ten duets (Sheena Easton on “We’ve Got Tonight,” Dolly Parton on “Islands in the Stream,” the last country song to top the pop charts for 17 years). For all I know, the guy never even made a music video.

9. Christopher Cross. This guy’s name gets pulled out more than almost anyone as an example of the victimization ugly people suffered as a result of MTV’s debut. And indeed, in 1980, the man won five Grammys and sold albums by the million, and by 1984, the man had no career left whatsoever. But the man did manage three more legitimate hits, including his chart-topping “Arthur’s Theme,” post-MTV debut. And honestly, was anyone actually expecting C.C. to be the next Bob Dylan, just because he won a couple Grammys? Do these same people wonder when Shawn Colvin is going to begin her reascension to pop supremacy? Any hit single past the first one, this dude should be thankful.

8. .38 Special. Maybe rock south of the Mason-Dixon line has different visual standards, but a bunch of dudes in their 30s who look like they’d sooner go to a gay disco than a barbershop or laundromat don’t particularly strike me as the kind of poster boys MTV were initially looking for. But I think MTV actually helped these guys somewhat–nearly all of their biggest hits came post-MTV, and I even remember seeing the “Hold on Loosely” vid on the channel’s all-time top 500 video countdown in 1997. Let it never be said that the kids don’t go wild for chest hair.

7. Dionne Warwick. Seems only fair to have some female representation on this list, even though I don’t think there’s ever been a time in pop history when it was easy for ugly chicks to get airplay. In any event, Dionne Warwick was probably pretty cute back in the late-60s, but from the early-80s onward I can’t think of a more terrifying-looking individual–got them crazy eyes, for certain. Still, she managed one of her all-time biggest hits with 1982’s “Heartbreaker,” and eventually was the main performer on one of the decade’s most unfortunately enduring hits, “That’s What Friends are For”. Audiences could’ve been too scared to scorn her, I suppose.

6. Chicago. Dunno if you could call Chicago ugly, exactly, but the visuals certainly weren’t their high points. I mean, for a band with over 20 years of megahits, how many of these guys could you pick out of a lineup? Even Peter Cetera is just sorta bland-looking, and he wasn’t even there for the band’s biggest post-MTV hit (“Look Away,” the #1 single of 1989). I dunno, supposedly the “Stay the Night” vid is pretty cool, but I think if MTV was half as influential on the pop charts as people think it was, Chicago should’ve disintegrated by August 2nd, 1981.

5. Rush. You’d think Rush would’ve at least compensated for their horrific looks by making a series of kick-ass, over-ambitious videos with ludicrous plots and badly dated special effects. I think they eventually made some videos with bad special effects, but that’s about it–most of their classic-period vids were just them playing live or them playing in the studio. Yet despite this slap in the face of MTV, Rush managed a half-dozen more platinum albums post-’81, and proved once and for all that when you’re dealing with Canadians, all bets are off.

4. Bob Seger. 1987. That’s when Bob Seger had his all-time biggest hit, “Shakedown,” from the Beverly Hills Cop II soundtrack. The Motor City Fatman was probably getting more ass six years after MTV’s debut then all of New Edition combined.

3. Eddie Money. Now, I know what you’re saying to yourself–“No way did Eddie Money have hits in the 80s! Maybe that fluke with Ronnie Spector, but that’s it!” How about this–SEVEN top 40 hits after 1981. Could you name any of them, or recognize them if they came on the radio? No. Could I? Absolutely not (well, at least I couldn’t if IITS compatriot Victor Lee wasn’t such an inexplicably huge fan). But even in his middle age, MTV failed to stop this quintessentially average-looking dude from swarming the airwaves. Ridiculously inexplicable.

2. Phil Collins / Genesis. Why these guys had any pop success at all, ever, will forever be a mystery to me–even their semi-decent songs seem like they should be way too weird for pop radio. But at least if it happened in the 70s it could’ve been somewhat forgivable, since maybe if people didn’t know what a tool Phil Collins looked like, or that he was still by far the best looking guy in the band, maybe they wouldn’t have held it against the dudes so much. But that MTV actually helped their career–“Land of Confusion” and “In the Air Tonight” being two of the most popular videos of the 80s–well, that’s almost as hard to explain as why anyone ever bought a Mike + the Mechanics album.

1. Toto. The quintessential ugly, anonymous band (I can’t name a member, can you?) had their two biggest hits, “Roseanna” and “Africa,” almost a year after MTV’s debut, a fact that could arguably be explained by the two-step con they pulled on MTV audiences. First, they put themselves behind a fence, obstructing view just enough to instill reasonable doubt that the men behind it might’ve been attractive in a better view. Second, they named their comeback hit after one of the hottest actresses of the decade, who the drummer (keyboardist? Tambourine player? I don’t remember) happened to be dating, furthering suspicions that these guys must at least be decent looking. By the time of the “Africa” video, it was too late–the country had already committed to at least a year’s worth of Toto as legit pop stars, and they even threw a whole bunch of Grammys at ’em to boot. But considering Foreigner and REO Speedwagon also both had #1s well after MTV’s debut, this theory is as unlikely as all the non-lookers in rock conspicuously disappearing in the second half of 1981. The uglies are always still there, creeping in the background, striking when you’d least expect.

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7 Responses to “Listeria / Mythbusting: The Ten Ugliest Artists Whose Careers MTV Failed to Kill”

  1. […] Intensities in Ten Suburbs wrote an interesting post today on Listeria / Mythbusting: The Ten Ugliest Artists Whose Careers MTV Failed to KillHere’s a quick excerptListeria / Mythbusting: The Ten Ugliest Artists Whose Careers MTV Failed to Kill October 22nd, … opinion says, single-handedly ruined the careers of dudes that could fill an arena, but couldn’t strike […]

  2. Chris said

    I don’t remember if Kenny Rogers ever made a video, but I do remember the string of “Gambler” TV movies in the ’80s. So somebody thought he was at least moderately attractive.

  3. Mynameiskenny said

    REO SPEEDWAGON, YOU FOOL.

  4. […] Nate DeYoung wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptOne of the bigger prevailing myths in the conventional narrative of rock history is that the birth of the music video, and particularly the start of MTV, sounded the death knell for all the artists of the time that weren’t as photogenic … […]

  5. Um, studio guitarist extraordinaire Steve Lukather is a member of Toto.

  6. […] Andrew Unterberger wrote an interesting post today on Listeria / Mythbusting: The Ten Ugliest Artists Whose Careers MTV …Here’s a quick excerptAny hit single past the first one, this dude should be thankful. 8. .38 Special. Maybe rock south of the Mason-Dixon line has different visual standards, but a bunch of dudes in their 30s who look like they’d sooner go to a gay disco … […]

  7. joymil rosqj xkdun kdlyps aqvjb wpvu hizeplajb

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