Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: I just heard the Buggles "Video Killed the Radio Star" on Sirius, and it got me wondering.

Since this was the first video played on MTV, did the Buggles have foresight in knowing videos were going to take over the world or was this song written in hindsight, about how TV killed radio?
—Denise Hauffe, La Jolla, Calif.

DEAR DENISE: Surely the latter option is correct, and the following chronology supports that view.

The "Video Killed the Radio Star" saga begins with "The Sound-Sweep," a novelette — or short story — written by J.G. Ballard and published in the February 1960 issue of the pulp magazine "Science Fantasy" (Volume 13, Number 39).

The nitty-gritty of "The Sound-Sweep" is a futuristic view of how noise pollution endangers our people and our planet.

Anything about this sound familiar?

Flash forward 17 years, when the original Buggles trio formed in London. They were Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes, and Bruce Woolley. Together, in 1978, they wrote three songs: "On TV," "Clean, Clean!," and "Video Killed the Radio Star."

Years later, Trevor Horn explained that "Video Killed the Radio Star" was definitely inspired by Ballard's tale of "The Sound-Sweep," where a young mute boy with an ahead-of-its-time vacuum cleaner, searches for old buildings so that he can suck up and eliminate unwanted sounds.

Horn says "I had a feeling that in our music we were reflecting an age in the same way that he was."

Mission accomplished, as evidenced by looking at the song titles on their first LP, "The Age of Plastic" (Island ILSP-9585): "Living in the Plastic Age"; "Video Killed The Radio Star"; "Kid Dynamo"; "I Love You (Miss Robot)"; "Clean, Clean!"; "Elstree"; "Astroboy (And the Proles on Parade)"; and "Johnny on the Monorail."

Issued in late 1979, "The Age of Plastic" peaked at No. 27 on the UK albums chart.

Also in 1979, Woolley left the Buggles to form Bruce Woolley and the Camera Club, and they were actually the first to record "Video Killed the Radio Star."

Curiously, Woolley's single (Epic EPC-7829) came out on the Continent (Italy, France, etc.) but not in the UK.

Now a duo, the Buggles first single, their electro-synth-pop version of "Video Killed the Radio Star" charted on September 22nd, and four weeks later was Britain's No. 1 record (Island WIP 6524).

Meanwhile, "Video Killed the Radio Star" was beginning to make a move in the U.S. In mid-November the Buggles debuted on both the Billboard and Cash Box singles charts (Island 49114), but never managed to get higher than No. 40.

To the north, it was Bruce Woolley and the Camera Club's original version that excelled in Canada, especially in the Toronto market where it reached the Top 20 on the CHUM Chart (Columbia 11226).

Woolley's waxing is more traditional rock and roll than that of the Buggles.

"Video Killed the Radio Star" will always be remembered as one of a dozen or so records from 1979 that collectively made up the first wave of the upcoming New Wave of the '80s.

More noteworthy, however, is the Buggles video stands alone as the only music video to be the first one played on MTV (August 1, 1983).

And that's a claim to fame they don't have to share.

DEAR JERRY: A year or so before "The Chipmunk Song," there was another Christmas novelty that I'm sure was a hit in the Bay Area.

Other than the funny male voice, I think it is about his getting a hat for Christmas that was much too big to wear.

Oddly enough, unlike most Christmas hits that get played every year, this one was never heard from again.

Have you ever run across such a recording? It seems no one else has.
—Gail O'Connor, Sebastopol, Calif.

DEAR GAIL: I know of only one song, Christmas or otherwise, funny voice or not, about someone gifted with an oversize hat.

This delightful little tune, "The Hat I Got for Christmas Is Too Beeg," and its flip side, "Pancho's Christmas," are by the legendary Mel Blanc, appropriately known worldwide as "The Man of a Thousand Voices."

On this single (Capitol 3902), Blanc sings in the voice of "Sy the Little Mexican," an hombre of few words who answers most questions with "si."

Sy frequently worked in comedy skits on the Jack Benny TV Show in the 1950s.

In the '60s, Mel Blanc provided a very similar voice for Speedy Gonzalez, appearing in cartoons and on records.

In keeping with his south-of-the-border character, the beeg hat, one that for some reason cannot be exchanged for one the right size, is really a sombrero.

At that time, KYA was the dominant Top 40 station in the San Francisco-Oakland market, and their "Official Top 30 Tunes" survey for the week of December 2, 1957 lists "The Hat I Got for Christmas Is Too Beeg" at No. 15.

Of just four Christmas songs on that week's survey, a Buchanan and Goodman novelty/break-in is the only one with a higher chart position than Mel Blanc's tune:

3. "Santa and the Satellite" (Buchanan and Goodman)
20. "White Christmas" (Elvis Presley)
27. "Little Sandy Sleighfoot" (Jimmy Dean)

You were right in referring to "The Hat I Got for Christmas Is Too Beeg" as "a hit in the Bay area."

That you don't hear it in recent years is probably due to its non-PC status.

IZ ZAT SO? Mel Blanc provided over 400 different and individually recognizable voices and sound effects, for more than 5,000 cartoons.

Here are just a few of your animated friends who relied on Mel Blanc to speak on their behalf:

Barney Rubble
Bugs Bunny
Captain Caveman
Daffy Duck
Dino the Dinosaur
Elmer Fudd
Foghorn Leghorn
Marvin the Martian
Mr. Spacely
Pepé Le Pew
Porky Pig
Road Runner
Secret Squirrel
Speedy Gonzales
Sylvester the Pussycat
Tasmanian Devil
Tweety Bird
Wile E. Coyote
Woody Woodpecker
Yosemite Sam

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