There were a few musical references in Ready Player One that got me nostalgia tripping on the Good Old Days when MTV actually played music videos. But even back then, MTV was 95% crap. If you were lucky and could stomach endless hours of Bryan Adams, Lionel Richie, Def Leppard, and the omnipresent Michael Jackson, you just might be rewarded with a video by Devo, The Cure, or Oingo Boingo. But that meant enduring tons of insufferable garbage to find a scrap. In fact, you were more likely to see the video for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” twice before catching a glimpse of Robert Smith’s magical mane.
Then in 1986, something curious happened. For two hours once a week, MTV didn’t play total dreck. You had to stay up late on Sunday nights to catch it, and for those of us who did, it became something of a religion. The righteous followers were rewarded with merciful heavenly glowing pixels emanating from the teevee screen like beacon in a vast landscape of soul-crushing Top 40 banality. The hymnal featured the gospel of The Damned, The Stranglers, Robyn Hitchcock, The Jazz Butcher, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cocteau Twins, and so many more. It was enough to make even the most jaded Echo and the Bunnymen fan believe that MTV was not so bad after all. It was called 120 Minutes. Two blessed hours a week wasn’t much, but we took it gladly.
But it wasn’t all alternative awesomeness. There were some genuine turds floating in the pool. Like Stump.
I was never sure what to make of Stump, but it got played enough times that it became a joke to me and a couple of my high school friends who would greet each other with a hearty “How much is tha fish?!” I seem to remember an episode where Stump agreed to an interview only if they could be recorded in “Stumpophonics” which was basically the band talking into plastic cups attached to string like the children’s “telephone” game. I remember it being amusing and nearly unintelligible.
“I Wanna Be A Flintstone” by the Screaming Blue Messiahs was one of the videos that actually made me feel embarrassed to be watching 120 Minutes. But it couldn’t hold a candle to Gary Young.
It was amazing to me that this somehow managed to sneak past the bigwigs at MTV and be aired multiple times. It was also the butt of many jokes between me and my friends and was even lampooned on Beavis and Butthead years later. At the time, I thought it was probably the stupidest video on 120 Minutes. Never in my wildest teenage imagination could I have predicted the idiot responsible for this musical atrocity would go on to be the drummer in Pavement and make one of the best records of the early ’90s, Slanted and Enchanted.
Even the bad stuff on 120 Minutes was better than what was on MTV the rest of the time. So those of us who dared to be different grinned and made fun of Plant Man and swinging big bottoms and wanting to be Flintstones. Believe it or not, 120 Minutes has been rebooted nearly a decade after it was rechristened “Subterranean.” There’s a good archive of all the videos played from most of the shows back in the day here. Click on any of the ’80s links for a trip in the wayback machine.