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.