Video Killed the Radio Star (Buggles)

When I received the email requesting this song, the subject line said, “Did video really kill the radio star?” Reading further it was Darryl Marsh who wanted to know, so I swiftly replied, it certainly should have killed some of them! But let’s find out how the first video shown on the newly launched MTV in 1981 came about.

The guitarist, Trevor Horn came from Newcastle and the keyboard player, Geoff Downes originated from Stockport and came together after meeting as part of Tina Charles’ backing band in the mid-seventies. Horn wanted to establish himself as a producer, but he couldn’t find the right songs or the right artists.

He began writing the song after reading a science fiction story about an opera singer in a world that had no sound. He explained in an interview with, “Before I started the Buggles I was a sort of loser record producer, I spent four years producing records for various people without ever making any money out of it or having any success at all. Mainly I just produced unsuccessful records because I couldn’t seem to lay my hands on a good song. Eventually I got so fed up doing things that weren’t successful I decided that if I couldn’t find a good artist and a good song then I’d write it myself and become the artist, so I wrote this song called Video Killed the Radio Star with Bruce Wooley. I know the name’s awful, but at the time it was the era of the great punk thing. I’d got fed up of producing people who were generally idiots but called themselves all sorts of clever names like The Unwanted, The Unwashed, The Unheard… when it came to choosing our name I thought I’d pick the most disgusting name possible. In retrospect I have frequently regretted calling myself Buggles, but in those days I never really thought much about packaging or selling myself, all that really concerned me was the record.”

He then teamed up with Bruce Woolley, he and Downes wrote their own songs and then recorded them as a studio band. Downes said in the interview with Songfacts, “I came in and did all the orchestrations, the intro and the bridge section. Once we got it into that shape, we felt it had some potential, and that was it. It just came about like that.” Woolley joined The Camera Club and Horn submitted their demo of Video Killed the Radio Star which was first recorded as Bruce Woolley & the Camera Club to Island records and they signed the band.

Back in 1979, there was little in the way of clever technology; video recorders who still a fairly rare commodity and mobile phones were a long way off. People were still using telex machines as mentioned in the 1979 chart-topper I Don’t Like Monday’s by the Boomtown Rats. The whole premise of Buggles was everything was becoming artificial especially in music where clever keyboard computers were doing everything and putting many musicians out of work. He demonstrates this perfectly in the song including his singing which sound like a robot singing with a megaphone. Trevor stated in his book, I Want My MTV, “We’d seen people starting to make videos and we were excited by that. It felt like radio was the past and video was the future. There was a shift coming.”

The two female backing singers on the song are Debi Doss and Linda Jardim. Jardim later became Linda Allen and sang on a promo single by the Northampton Development Corporation in an attempt to boost the town popularity whilst Doss went out on the road as a touring singer with the Kinks.

The Buggles’ debut album, The Age of Plastic, included three more chart entries, The Plastic Age, Clean Clean and Elstree which was written about the area Horn was living in at the time. Even before Buggles disbanded in 1982, Horn single-handed replaced both Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson in Yes and recorded the album Drama in 1980.

Horn, following advice from his wife about looking a bit geeky in videos, decided to turn his attention to full time production and hit the jackpot in the 1980s having worked on all of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s three number ones, as well as ABC, Dollar, Malcolm McLaren, Pet Shop Boys, Seal, Rod Stewart, t.A.T.u, Tina Turner and Robbie Williams. Trevor has producer around 100 UK hit singles.

His son, Aaron, also had a taste of chart success; some 33 years after Trevor first topped the chart, his son did likewise as a member of Sam & the Womp when Bom Bom went to number one in 2012.

4 comments for “Video Killed the Radio Star (Buggles)

  1. Dave VanMusicMaster
    December 5, 2021 at 1:46 pm

    the original Bruce Woolley version was released on Epic/CBS as a single in 1979, just before the Buggles released theirs – my two copies are from Italy, but it actually charted in Canada.
    There’s 2 versions, basically a different intro. – UK copies of the LP “English Garden” have one version, the US release has the other version.
    Buggles versions number at least 3 – single, lp and promo edit – track is on “The Age Of Plastic” album – which also had their other three hit singles – the ignorant masses have “Buggles” down as a one hit wonder – their other3 hits were in 1980 “Living In The Plastic Age”, “Clean, Clean” (originally done by Bruce Woolley and also released as a single and on the English Garden LP), their final hit was “Elstree”.
    A follow up LP was “Adventures In Modern Recording” – notable for a single called “I Am A Camera”, which is also a single/album track by Yes called “Into The Lens” – featured on the LP “Drama” (Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes were members of the group at that time – replacing Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman) – the title track was also a single, plus “On TV”, “Lenny” was also a single in Europe – Trevor Horn’s vocals in this are very similar to Jon Anderson’s
    Also worth mentioning is another member of the “Camera Club” – Tom “Thomas” Dolby ….

  2. Dave VanMusicMaster
    December 5, 2021 at 1:51 pm

    Nearly forgot – backing singer on Buggles VKTRS, Debbie Doss recorded the track about 10 years ago – I have this CD single “Debi Doss EP (Birnam CD DD001)” – 5 tracks in there.
    Very rare, not sure how many were made

  3. Dave VanMusicMaster
    December 5, 2021 at 1:55 pm

    Bruce Woolley also rerecorded VKTRS a couple of years ago, with Polly Scattergood

    this is a rare promo CD I have – this has two versions of the song on it – Video Killed The Radio Star (Promo CDR Single)(Gramophone GRLX-001)

  4. Dave VanMusicMaster
    December 5, 2021 at 1:57 pm

    dare I add “The Horn not known at this address” ?

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