Donielle Flynn

MTV sign

Before we talk about the most played videos on MTV, do you remember the first video you saw on MTV? I do. It was “Rock the Casbah” by The Clash. My mind was blown. I have to give MTV credit for exposing me to music that I didn’t know existed.  Because of this, I attribute my lasting love of 80’s-90’s Alternative Rock to my days of watching MTV.

As much as I loved my MTV, it was back in the early days when MTV really was MUSIC TELEVISION.. that’s when you had me, fools. One of our recent Throwback Thursday tracks, “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel, made me think about MTV and wonder… “What were the most played videos on MTV?”

My Money Is On Sledgehammer

“Sledgehammer” HAS to be on the list. In my opinion, this video was groundbreaking. It was one of the first to use stop-motion claymation. “Sledgehammer” had Stephen Johnson directing the video… he had given a similar treatment to The Talking Heads’ “Road To Nowhere” the year before.

These types of videos are not plentiful. I have to believe that the budget dollars and time required to put them together were all insanely high.

The “Sledgehammer” video cost a ton of money and had some crazy issues. Peter Gabriel kept getting electrocuted by his light-up suit. They had to Scotchlite tape HIM and THE ENTIRE SET to fix the problem. 

I read that they also used model chickens for the chicken dances in the video.  The chickens are postmortem.  As a result, the shelf life was an issue. I’m going out on a limb and saying they went through a LOT of chicken models. I know. It is gross.  Suddenly, the chicken dances seem less funny to me, but let’s move along.

MTV logo... used in some articles as part of a conversation about the most played videos on MTV
(Photo by Steve Finn/Getty Images)
One of MTV Music Television logos. The logo was constantly changing as a way of reinforcing the constantly changing music and culture of MTV.

At the end of the day, “Sledgehammer” was a ground-breaking video and well received. In 1987, “Sledgehammer” swept the MTV Video Music Awards.

What Were the FIRST videos played on MTV?

MTV debuted on August 1st, 1981. Chances are good you and I both know the first song: “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles.  I have recently rewatched Pat Benatar’s “You Better Run” video.  It’s so great to see her at a time when she’s about to take off. Third: Rod Stewart’s “She Won’t Dance With Me.”

Oh, and a sidenote of trivia that I love, did you know that the first “rap” song played on MTV was Blondie’s “Rapture?” To check out more of the first day of MTV’s videos CLICK HERE.  Now let’s find out which songs were the most played videos on MTV.  My list is reflective of actual play on MTV.

The 8 Most Played Videos on MTV

  • #8 "Addicted to Love" - Robert Palmer

    Dear Lord… the boobs.  Models who did not know how to play instruments were deliberately chosen and it shows.  The biggest thing I remember about this video from back in the day was the one model that didn’t seem to have as much “support” as the others.  This was discussed in our high school lunches.  How come NO ONE told her? tracked all the ladies in the video down and interviewed them roughly 30 years after the video was made.

  • #7 "Sabotage" - The Beastie Boys

    “Sabotage” started out as a joke. Songfacts talks about Beastie Boys’ producer, Mario Caldato, was beyond frustrated at the lack of work getting done on the album (the studio had a basketball hoop and skate ramp that might have been distracting). Ad-Rock responded by spitting out a verse about how Caldato was ruining their fun.  It became the theme of the song, the biggest single on the album, and one of the most played video on MTV.

  • #6 "Sweet Child 'O Mine" - GNR

    Side note:  I have not heard this song the same way since I discovered the story behind the lyrics “Where do we go now?”  You can read the whole story here: Classic Rock Songs that Started as Jokes. Axl was asking the question, “Where do we go now?” to the producer.

  • #5 "Walk This Way" - Aerosmith / Run DMC

    Many would agree that this collaboration revived Aerosmith’s career. Rick Rubin said in the book I Want My MTV: “The record and the video had a huge effect on both groups. It opened the door to Run-D.M.C.’s full suburban crossover, and it reminded people how great Aerosmith was.”

  • #4 "Sledgehammer" - Peter Gabriel

    I KNEW it had to be one of the top videos!  “Sledgehammer” earned a record-setting 10 nominations at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards. The video won nine VMAs, which was also a record.

  • #3 "Smells Like Teen Spirit" - Nirvana

    Not only is this song one of the most played by MTV, but it also has more than 1.5 BILLION hits on YouTube. I love a lot of the music that gets put in the box of “grunge.” When “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came out, it was a game changer, It was different than anything I’d heard before it. I remember where I was when I first heard this song.  That is impact.

  • #2 "Vogue" - Madonna

    The director of this video, David Fincher, also directed Alien 3.  He went on to direct several more videos for Madonna and several more blockbuster movies including Fight Club, Seven, and Panic Room.

  • #1 "Thriller" - Michael Jackson

    “Thriller” is 100% iconic. This video stands the test of time and is still bad a$$ in my book. “Thriller” has been changing Halloween costumes and wedding party entrances since its inception.

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