An inside look at the world’s very first music compilation for video cassette
In the late 1970s, I was working in London as an assistant to the European head of a US marketing company.
The business specialized in compiling hit songs onto vinyl records and music cassettes. Each compilation had a theme. Usually “12 Greatest Hits of 1970-something”. Because the 12 songs were all from different record companies and artists, we were able to obtain the licenses by not competing with the hit-driven companies. They were focused on finding and promoting the next Beatles or Rolling Stones.
The company’s founder started out on the boardwalks of Atlantic City hawking gadgets to passing buyers. One night while lying on his uncomfortable flophouse bed, he was watching local car dealers pitching their used cars on local television. Suddenly he saw the potential to sell his gadgets the same way, supplying the products to his customers by mail. Hence the term mail-order. This proved so immediately successful that he branched out to music with the help of his cousin, who was a record salesman in a Colorado department store. And then they found a removal lint brush they renamed the “Miracle Brush” and sold 28 million units through TV advertising.
The founder’s cousin is who I worked for, first in Tel Aviv. There we set up Orange Records, signing and releasing Disco Groups like the Village People and Boney M. Then, during a recession, he sold the branch to Polygram, and I transferred to work in London.
VIDEO: Boney M. “Rasputin”
Although I had the title “International Marketing Manager” my job consisted of bringing new projects to life and turning old failing ones into profit centers. Like convincing advertising agencies to include one of our special music compilations as premiums with their client’s products. Like creating an album for the launch of a new western-themed coffee with a western-themed album. Also finding a way to sell the newly acquired Disney Talking Book Catalogue (25-page color photo book with the dialogue of the story on audio cassette). I did that by convincing the toy buyers of major department stores to move the line from the children’s book section, where the previous licensee had positioned it to the toy department. Disney was very grateful as well as my boss.
Another cousin of the family in America was among the first to manufacture helium-filled silver foil balloons. It became my responsibility to introduce these to the UK market. We were able to tie in with the largest retailer in the country by supplying the helium as a joint venture with Air Products. And by training salespeople in each store to fill and seal the balloons.
While, as much fun as all of the above meant, I didn’t feel my career was going anywhere. It did not compare to working with ABBA, Supertramp, ELO and the Eagles in my previous company. So when I was asked to look into the potential of distributing music or movies on videotape, I jumped at the task. With an associate at the company, I felt strongly that the new “Video Business” would one day be more robust than the music record business. But when we presented the potential with back up material before our boss, he didn’t think we were right. Still, if we wanted to make something on the side, he added, we could outside of company time.
And so we began to put together the world’s first music compilation on videotape. Aimed at the consumer market. Although excellent promotional music videos were being made for TV, consumers had no way of owning a copy at the time. Videotape machines were new around the world, and taping off of television required knowing when something was going to appear. There were no schedules, no internet.
First, we had to get over the legal and logistical problems. No contracts or terms existed. Initially, we explained to the promotional clip owners our concept, then separately negotiated licenses with them based on a percentage of income. To make the job easier, we tried to keep the strength of each individual performer relatively the same as each other. And as there was no precedent, we weren’t sure how to divide the income pie between the publishers, performers, and film director.
A guy named Les, who we knew from the past, was managing the English branch of the world’s biggest music distribution company: Thorn-EMI Screen Entertainment. And when we presented him with our concept music video, he immediately agreed to distribute it under their EMI label. That gave us the backing we needed to complete the signing of the tracklisting. Buggles’ song: “Video Killed the Radio Star” was picked as the lead song and VIDEOSTARS became the title. A brief introduction featuring my associate, and I was created for us by the fledgling firm of Mullaney-Grant Productions. Brian Grant has since directed or produced videos for Duran Duran, Olivia Newton-John, Donna Summer, Tina Turner, Elvis Costello, Kim Wilde, Queen, Human League, Peter Gabriel, AC/DC, Stevie Nicks and Whitney Houston.
VIDEO: Buggles “Video Killed The Radio Star”
Of course, once our project looked marketable, the company where we were still employed wanted to take it over. Faced with the choice of leaving the company, or becoming fulltime independents, we agreed to go. Yet I was nervous about my decision. I had no idea if VIDEOSTARS would be a commercial success. Without a job, I might be banking on just a “pile of used tapes.” There was a mortgage to pay and a family to feed. But before I left his office, the company President reassured me I could come back to work for him at any future time. And so, with the door no longer completely shut, I thanked him, shook his hand, and left. The rest is as they say the history of music video.
The project did not make money. Because talented as we all were, videotapes were rented not sold. Almost all of the pre-recorded tapes at that time were movies, which VideoStars was not. But we opened that door for the industry. Until its release, the only outlet for the brilliant and creative music videos being made was on the six-month-old Cable Channel: MTV.
For me, the upside was the publicity from the launch in Billboard and Music Week about the product launch. It launched me into a new career as Vice President of a publicly funded Video company.
I was included in its initial public offering (IPO), mostly due to the publicity surrounding VIDEOSTARS.
VIDEOSTARS, 40 years later, is still listed on the Internet as available on VHS-Tape and LASERDISC.
VideoStars Track Listing
Buggles Video Killed The Radio Star
Kiki Dee Star
Genesis No Reply At All
Hazel O’Connor Hanging Around
Phil Collins In The Air Tonight
Eddy Grant Can’t Get Enough Of You
Bad Manners Walking In The Sunshine
Barbara Jones Just When I Need You Most
Imagination In And Out Of Love
The Three Degrees My Simple Heart
Kelly Marie Feels Like I’m In Love
Robert Palmer Johnny And Mary
Leo Sayer Thunder In My Heart
Imagination Body Talk
Korgis Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime
Depeche Mode Just Can’t Get Enough
Japan Quiet Life
Dire Straits Tunnel Of Love
VIDEO: VIDEOSTARS Recompiled