I Want My MTV: The Uncensored History of the Music Video Revolution (2011) [BOOK]

The Cinderella story of MTV is a case study all of us know by heart by know. Either by simply having been a MTV junky in the 80s or 90s or because we studied it in business school. Nevertheless, I found I Want My MTV: The Uncensored History of the Music Video Revolution by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum, first edition published on October 27, 2011, to be a tremendously captivating read. The interview-style recount of the story gave it a more VH1 Behind The Music character than simple documentary character, which in this case fits the concept perfectly.

Instead of spoiling it for you or simply paraphrasing what has been written about this book, I decided to give you the arguably most popular reviews from established journalists below. I can definitely recommend reading the book while listening to some 80s and 90s music and guarantee it will virtually catapult you back to those days.

What the critics wrote about this book:

“I read this mild narcotic of a book, which covers the network’s glory years from 1981 to 1992, pretty happily. It reminded me of those long days watching MTV, back when it still played videos. Reading this, you prop up your eyelids with toothpicks and stick around for the good bits.” – Dwight Garner, nytimes.com

“I Want My MTV consists almost entirely of direct quotes from interviewees [such as Cindy Crawford, Tom Petty, Nikki Six, Sebastian Bach, Bob Geldof, Courtney Love, James Hetfield, Rick Rubin, Jon Landau, the Cure, and Sir Mix-A-Lot]. An uncharitable reader might dismiss the approach as laziness on the part of the authors, as if, having done the research, they couldn’t be bothered to write the book. But just as MTV, especially at first, hypnotized viewers with rolling hours of three-minute fragments, so the bitty, jump-cut structure of I Want My MTV swiftly compels. Especially when the anecdotes are of the caliber of, for example, Devo co-founder and renowned video director Jerry Casale reminiscing about the high-rolling hubris of MTV’s mid-’80s peak. He remembers, in one instance, traveling to California to rendezvous with a coke-addled cowboy to retrieve the one steer that singer Jane Siberry would consent to walk on a leash for the shoot.” – Andrew Mueller, bloomberg.com

“Based on hundreds of interviews, the book also deftly unpacks a genius business model. By accident or design, the MTV braintrust lucked on an absurdly win-win arrangement: it was the record companies that financed and supplied virtually all of the channel’s programming, yet MTV could play a video hundreds of times and never pay a dime in royalties—or never play the video at all, regardless of how much the label and artist had invested in making it. (“They looked at it like airplay was your payment,” Tom Petty says, “but we weren’t guaranteed that airplay.”) Eventually the major labels did convince MTV to cut multimillion-dollar deals in exchange for exclusivity rights, but even this concession only cemented the channel’s hold on the music-video market.” – Jessica Winter, time.com

Sebastiano Mereu

YouTuber + host of the #FHTZ online music show with co-producer @simonkurt + marketing & digital content producer + university lecturer