Guitar Hero Live comes out tomorrow, and perhaps the most exciting thing about it is Guitar Hero TV. Activision has set up 24-hour music video channels that you can play along with on a Guitar Hero controller. Although you can use in-game currency (or even real money) to play videos on demand, it mostly operates like the MTV of old, with programmed blocks of videos coming up one after another. It’s a brilliant time-waster, and reminds me of the hours and hours I spent watching music videos back in the 1980s and ‘90s.
What I miss the most about watching music television isn’t necessarily the music. It’s that responsibility-free aimlessness of watching hours of TV in a row without even realizing it. It’s handing control over to the programmers at MTV or VH1 or the viewers of the Box, hoping that something good is coming up next but realizing the odds are stacked against that. As idle and wasteful as that might sound, it never felt like a waste of time when I was a kid. I was engaging with the culture, learning about music, forming opinions that have influenced the way I’ve thought about music and film for years after.
Guitar Hero TV replicates that experience while turning it into a game, and it’s pretty much the only thing I wanted to do all weekend long. The roster of videos will be updated regularly, so it’s an exciting opportunity to not just learn about new bands and songs but to see some of the classics of the medium again. Here are 12 videos I’d love to see eventually added to Guitar Hero TV.
1. Talking Heads—“Once in a Lifetime”
Early proof that music videos could have artistic value of their own, “Once in a Lifetime” basically sealed David Byrne’s image forever. Nervy and cerebral, and instantly evocative of the early ‘80’s, this is one of the most iconic videos ever made.
2. Peter Gabriel—“Sledgehammer”
Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s MTV would regularly run countdowns of the greatest videos of all time. For years “Sledgehammer” would come in at number two, right after “Thriller.” That is the way it should always be. At some point in the early ‘90s “Sledgehammer” was shuttled down a couple dozen spots, behind stuff like Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” and who knows what else. That was embarrassing, MTV. “Sledgehammer” holds up still today, its surreal visuals and inventive combination of animation techniques influencing so many videos that came after, and even nudging MTV’s in-house advertising into an artier direction.
3. The Replacements—“Bastards of Young”
I probably didn’t see this video when it was actually released—I don’t know if MTV ever played it during regular hours, and as a third-grader I still had a pretty tight bedtime. When I think about the music I’ve loved most in my life, college rock or indie rock or whatever you want to call it, this is the video I think of first, though. It sums up the conflict that defined that music at the time, the desire to make a living creating what they love without having to compromise their values. The Replacements have always seemed like a weird group to antagonize major labels—as great as they were, they were only a few steps removed from a pretty good bar band—but if they didn’t have that attitude they wouldn’t have made this biting “fuck you” of a video. There’s also an honesty to it that’s rarely seen in music videos, though: this is how you listened to music before technology changed everything. You sat back on a couch with a drink or a smoke and let it fill the room.
4. R.E.M.—“It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”
The beauty of watching music videos was its aimlessness. This video captures an entirely different kind of aimlessness, and pulls us right back to those days when we could spend endless hours watching videos, and when at least one cable network was still devoted to making that possible. It also encapsulates that mix of fatalism yet optimism that ran through 1980s college rock—this little guy might be hanging out in squalor on the outskirts of Athens, but he’s having a pretty damn good time doing so.