Video Killed the Radio Star — but who killed it first?

It’s one of the most widely known bits of pop culture trivia—when MTV launched in August of 1981, the very first music video it showed was the prophetic “Video Killed the Radio Star,” a popular single from the Buggles’ Age of Plastic LP. That alone made the cutesy synthpop novelty into the stuff of unforgettable legend, but the telling of the legend typically excludes the song’s origins. Multiple versions of the song predated the one we all know. Buggles Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes had been members of Bruce Woolley & The Camera Club, with whom they originally wrote and recorded the song. There were multiple single versions, like this much more revved-up take on the song than we’re used to:

Bruce Woolley and the Camera Club, “Video Killed the Radio Star,” US single
This more polished version was the UK single:

Bruce Woolley and the Camera Club, “Video Killed the Radio Star,” UK single
And here’s a live version from 1979, after the Buggles’ version had become popular:

Bruce Woolley and the Camera Club, “Video Killed the Radio Star,” live, 1979

The Camera Club was quite an incubator for talent. Thomas Dolby was an early keyboardist for the band, and Horn and Downes famously and incongruously went on from the Buggles to join Yes. Later still, Horn became the producer/architect of the radical early work of Art of Noise, while Downes stayed with Yes’ guitarist Steve Howe in the massively successful prog/pop supergroup Asia. Other Camera Club members went on to play in Re-Flex and The Soft Boys, but Woolley himself remained a mostly behind-the-scenes talent as a producer and songwriter, though he has maintained a performance and recording profile—as a theremin player! The man’s CV is actually quite enviable, with credits that include Grace Jones’ Slave to the Rhythm, plus film music for Caddyshack, Toys, and Moulin Rouge.

Motion footage of Woolley in performance is maddeningly elusive—ironically, and kind of comically, no video seems to exist of the original version of “Video Killed the Radio Star.” But on that hunt, I found this clip from 2004—evidently only the Buggles’ second ever live performance of the song, featuring Horn, Downes, and Woolley, plus the original backup singers from the ‘70s single, who still sound just absolutely terrific.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
Tiny Tim reissued—on Edison cylinder: Next, we clone the dodo!
09:08 am

One-hit wonders
Pop Culture

Tiny Tim

tiny tim lp cover pic
In a wonderful bit of news for far-gone vinyl collectors looking to up the stakes on unnecessary depths of obscurantism, the Ship to Shore Phonograph Company is releasing a version of “Nobody Else Can Love Me (Like My Old Tomato Can)” cut by musician/antiquarian/delightful freakshow Tiny Tim - on the utterly obsolete Edison Cylinder format. Per Hyperallergic‘s Allison Meier:

Only 50 of the cylinders were recorded by Benjamin Canady (aka “The Victrola Guy“) who has been working with ongoing experiments of recording on old Edison cylinder phonographs. As the Vinyl Factory points out in their coverage of this momentous music resurrection, the cylinder record hasn’t totally vanished — Beck also used this tech recently as inspiration for his tracks cut into a beer bottle this year — but there’s been no wide release for the round records since the early 20th century. And if you decide to buy one of the Tiny Tim recordings for $60, it’s quite likely you’ll have no way to play it, although they each do come with a digital recording of the song blaring from some antique phonograph horns. This isn’t the analogue age, after all.


If the only bells the name “Tiny Tim” ring for you are Dickensian, he was an out-of-left-field media star in the late ‘60s. Even in a decade as indulgent of oddities as that one was, Tim’s (nee Herbert Khaury) weirdness stuck out farther than most. He was a musician of an old-timey archivalist bent, and he might have made a fine fit for the early ‘60s folk revival if that movement hadn’t been so grimly earnest. His stage presentation was disarmingly odd - coming off as a pudgy, sartorially randomized, lysergically Jewy hybrid of Carl Sagan and Danny Devito’s Penguin, he sang hits and obscurities from the turn of the 20th Century to the Depression era in an improbable falsetto. He rose to fame and had a massive hit single with “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” thanks to appearances on TV comedy/variety shows that appreciated his eccentricity, most notably Laugh-In and The Tonight Show. It was the latter program on which, at the height of his fame, Tim notoriously got married in front of an audience of over 20 million. As he was utterly genuine in his love of the music he performed, his act fell out of step in changing times, which inevitably led to his waning popularity. Though he did eventually add some modern material to his repertoire, doing so only served to underscore his diminished stature from a popular conservator to a fringe dwelling novelty act. He died in 1996 of a heart attack suffered onstage in Minneapolis.

Here’s the seldom-seen A Special Tiny Tim from 1970:

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
Violinski: One hit wonders perform their musical shit sandwich, ‘Clog Dance,’ 1979
08:18 am

One-hit wonders


Violinski was the side project of Electric Light Orchestra’s Mik Kaminski. Their “Clog Dance” was a huge hit in the UK in 1979, reaching #17 in the singles chart after BBC Radio 1 used the instrumental number under the reading of the Top 40 countdown.

It’s terrible. Not much else to say about it. I doubt that even The League of Gentlemen‘s hapless former rocker “Les McQueen” would would look back with fondness had he been in Violinski and not the rhythm guitarist of “Crème Brulee”...

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
‘Hey Baby, I’m Your Telephone Man’: ‘Sexy’ double entendre novelty hit of the 1970s
12:45 pm

One-hit wonders

Meri WIlson


Singer/model Meri Wilson recorded several double entendre novelty songs—inane, catchy ditties totally inappropriate for little kids to sing—which is, of course, why her naughty little number “Telephone Man” became so unstoppable in the summer of 1977:

“Hey, baby, I’m your telephone man
You just show me where you want it and I’ll put it where I can
I can put it in the bedroom, I can put it in the hall
I can put it in the bathroom, I can hang it on the wall
You can have it with a buzz, you can have it with a ring
And if you really want it you can have a ding-a-ling
Because-a hey baby, I’m your telephone man”

Those of your reading this who are of a certain age are no doubt groaning in pain at the memory.

Wilson had a follow-up number called “Peter the Meter Reader.” She later updated her biggest hit to “Internet Man.”

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
‘White Bird’: The ultimate 60s hippie anthem?
11:36 am

One-hit wonders

It’s a Beautiful Day

Thomas McGrath’s post this morning about Kenneth Anger, Bobby Beausoleil and the Manson Family reminded me that I should look for a live clip of It’s A Beautiful Day’s classic “White Bird” and post that. It’s been lingering on my DM “to do” list for quite a while now.

White Bird” is a song that most music fans (at least those of us of a certain age) will instantly recognize. It’s a Beautiful Day were “Summer of Love” San Franciscan contemporaries of The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Santana and their lilting rock, jazz, folk, classical style was unique in that context. They were neither very “proggy” or “fusiony. They certainly weren’t very psychedelic, either, but they made lovely music that still evokes an era splendidly, even if they are remembered primarily for just this one song. “White Bird” is one of the ultimate hippie anthems and has been a staple of FM radio for decades.

Ironically, bandleader and violinist David LaFlamme later said of “White Bird,” that the oh so pretty ditty was inspired by living in gloomy, soggy Seattle without a car:

“Where the ‘white bird’ thing came from ... We were like caged birds in that attic. We had no money, no transportation, the weather was miserable. We were just barely getting by on a very small food allowance provided to us. It was quite an experience, but it was very creative in a way.”

The group was managed by Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape minder Matthew Katz, but the association was apparently an unhappy one and the band went through various personal changes before finally breaking up in 1974. Lead singer Patti Santos died in a 1989 automobile accident, but LaFlamme keeps the It’s A Beautiful Day flame burning with occasional live appearances and reunion shows.

In the clip below, taken from the 1972 documentary Fillmore, It’s A Beautiful Day perform “White Bird” while Bill Graham pontificates on the flower power generation. Sadly, they cut away to Graham speaking just as LaFlamme was about to go into his violin solo.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Daft Punks: Do ‘The Crunch’ with The RAH Band, 1977
09:32 am

One-hit wonders

The RAH Band

Yesterday when I posted “‘Pepper Box’: The funkiest space-disco synthpop rare groove record of 1973,” it occurred to me that I should also post another long-forgotten instrumental one-hit wonder, “The Crunch” by The RAH Band, a studio “group” helmed by Richard Anthony Hewson.

Hewson is an English producer, arranger, conductor and multi-instrumentalist who has worked with the likes of The Beatles, James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac and Carly Simon. He was the sole member of The RAH Band and played all of the instruments himself.

When the song made it to #6 in the UK pop charts in 1977, a band was put together for a Top of The Pops performance (that’s not Richard Hewson playing the keyboards). Although this video is crazy and great, the original track is still way better than even this super-flipped-out live stomper. Despite what’s seen in the clip, the original song’s arrangement used no synthesizers, only electric guitar and an organ with pedal effects.

The Rah Band returned in 1985 with another hit record (and another TOTP’s appearance), “Clouds Across the Moon.”

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
‘Pepper Box’: The funkiest space-disco synthpop rare groove record of 1973
08:38 am

One-hit wonders

Pepper Box

I dare you to listen to this insanely catchy instrumental number and then try to scrub it out of your head. As with Hot Butter’s “Popcorn” and “Apache” by The Incredible Bongo Band, two similar hit instrumental songs of the same vintage, it cannot be undone. You’re stuck with this “Pepper Box” by The Peppers for life after just one listen (mind you, not that this is a bad thing!)

‘Pepper Box’ was originally supposed to be a TV commercial jingle, but producer Roger Tokarz, thinking he might have a “Popcorn” on his hands, held back and offered his client something else. Tokarz asked Pierre Alain Dahan and Matt Camison to expand on his theme and “Pepper Box” was born, ultimately selling over 3.5 million singles.

I read the above album cover being described as “self explanatory” on the Internet. That cracked me up.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Christian anti-sex education pamphlet from 1968
06:35 am

One-hit wonders

Sex eduction

Is the School House the Proper Place to Teach Raw Sex?, written by Gordon V. Drake in 1968, was a Christian conservative pamphlet against teaching sex education in public schools.

What gets me is the “raw” part. It kind of has a porny title, right?

Via Christian Nightmares

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
The Universe is laughing behind your back

Although its, uh, cultural cachet, I suppose, has fallen in recent decades, a doofy poem called “The Desiderata of Happiness” used to be something that you’d see on the walls of doctor’s and dentist’s offices, at your grandmother’s or great aunt’s houses, or maybe in the very home you grew up in, during the late 60s and 70s. (At one point hippies even adopted it).

You don’t see it so often today, but it’s still around. Now that you’ve had your attention called to it, the next time you see it (normally as a varnished wall plaque) you’ll remember this post (and wince).

Here’s an example of the proto-New Age wisdom you will find in “The Desiderata of Happiness”:

You are a child of the universe,
No less than the trees and the stars;
You have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

“The Desiderata of Happiness” was written in 1906 by a lawyer named Max Erhmann, but it was unknown during his lifetime. Its slow burn to popularity began in the 1950s when a Baltimore pastor printed it up in some church materials. The prose poem’s advice to be humble, live a clean and moral life and to respect even thick people seems simplistic even by Forrest Gump or Sarah Palin standards, but for whatever reason this poem struck a chord with the public. (You can read more about its history at Wikipedia).
In 1971, a “groovy” American radio talkshow host by the name of Les Crane (once married to Gilligan’s Island‘s Tina Louise and considered by some to be the original “shock jock”) narrated a spoken word/musical version of the poem (avec gospel choir), that reached #8 in the Billboard charts and won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Performance of the Year. It was on the British pop charts for 14 months.

The following year, a wonderful parody version titled “Deteriorata” was created by the National Lampoon’s Michael O’Donoghue, Tony Hendra and Christopher Guest and released as a single (and on the classic Radio Dinner album). Melissa Manchester sang on the record. The humorously ponderous reading was handled by Norman Rose, a popular announcer of the day whose voice is also heard in Woody Allen’s Love & Death.

Years later, Les Crane was asked about “Desiderata” and said “I can’t listen to it now without gagging,” adding that he preferred the Lampoon’s piss-take. Eventually the parody became better-known than the original hit record due to frequent spins on the Dr. Demento radio show. Below is the original version, Les Crane version:

“Deteriorata,” The National Lampoon parody:

An excellent version of “Deteriorata” closes the new theatrical show Sketches from The National Lampoon that opened last weekend in Los Angeles. Produced by Lampoon founder Matty Simmons, with a winning cast—including our good friend the incomparable Jesse Merlin who gets to read “Deteriorata”—at the Hayworth Theatre on Wilshire Blvd.

Get tickets at National

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
‘I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman’: Whistling Jack Smith
12:01 pm

One-hit wonders

Whistling Jack Smith

I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman” was a novelty one-hit wonder by a chap who called himself Whistling Jack Smith. Actually it wasn’t one chap, it was two. Trumpeter John O’Neill (who also more famously whistled the melody to Ennio Morricone’s theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) actually recorded the song, but it was a fellow named Billy Moeller (stage name Coby Wells) who you saw on the album cover and strutting around like an idiot on the pop shows of the day.

Billy was the brother of Tommy Moeller of Unit 4 + 2 (a one-hit wonder in their own right with a song called “Concrete and Clay”) and a roadie for the band. The songwriters, Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway would late pen “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” for The Hollies.

The name Whistling Jack Smith was a take-off of ‘20s era singing sensation Whispering Jack Smith. The song’s original title was “Too Much Birdseed,” which is still good, but not nearly as good as “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman,” eh?

Regarding the video, can you imagine how humiliating a thing like this would be to do for money? Pretending to whistle? (Whistle-syncing?) And he’s not even the one doing the whistling in the first place, making him like the Milli Vanilli of whistle-syncing. Working in a McDonald’s would be a less embarrassing gig!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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