Monday, July 25, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #130

This coming Sunday night/Monday morning at midnight will mark the 30th anniversary of the launch of MTV.  Over the course of three decades, MTV went from a cable television novelty playing music videos 24 hours a day (in stereo! - remember when they would simulcast on cable FM radio?  Hell, do you remember cable FM radio??) to a pop-culture powerhouse that reshaped the music industry to a sad back-of-the-dial reality-show wasteland bearing little if any resemblance to its original intent, and making the "M" ("Music" in "Music Television") utterly meaningless.

In 1981, though, it was a different world.  The very concept of a music video was often scoffed at, and the technology and production values were embryonic at best.  Additionally, MTV did not have a huge warehouse of clips to show when they started out.  Their early playlists, as a result, were a fascinating mish-mash of the well known and the unknown, as a review of the videos shown on MTV's first broadcast day shows. There was The Who, Styx, and Rod Stewart; but there was also Robin Lane & The Chartbusters, Ph.D., and one still unheralded band whose sole contribution to the music video world remains a personal favorite.  Scan down the list to the 40th video played that first day, and there, tucked between REO Speedwagon and Juice Newton, you'll find Pittsburgh, PA's The Silencers.

The Silencers were wholly a product of the era, from their skinny ties and sharkskin jackets to their wrap-around slit sunglasses to their farfisa-driven power-pop with just enough wackiness to keep them out of mundane bar-band territory.  They began playing live in and around their native Pittsburgh in 1978/79, and were good enough to land a record deal with CBS.  Their debut LP, Rock And Roll Enforcers, was issued through the subsidiary Precision label, and the band made a video clip to promote the album.

Their clip differed from most in that they did not make a video for a specific song.  Instead, their clip was a mini-movie clocking in at almost six minutes, featuring a collage of abbreviated edits of three key tracks: "The Peter Gunn Theme," "Remote Control" and "Illlegal."  Their original purpose in creating the clip was to pitch CBS about turning the entire album into a movie, but CBS dismissed that idea and began sending the existing clip out to any outlet that would play it.

The video stayed in MTV's regular rotation for the balance of 1981 before fading away. The album sold well in and around Pittsburgh, with singles like "Shiver And Shake" and the stunning "Head On Collision" seeing local airplay.  A second album, Romanic, followed soon after.  While both records showed a solidly talented band, there just wasn't enough there to make them stand out on a national or international stage.  Rock And Roll Enforcers is the one to get if you must make a choice between the two; it is more consistent and somewhat easier to track down.

In honor of MTV's upcoming anniversary, here in it's entirety is the three-song clip from The Silencers, including their straightforward take on "The Peter Gunn Theme," the clip-clopping "Remote Control," and the simply fantastic "Illegal," which is one of those songs that I'll never understand why no one has yet covered.  Enjoy!