How VH1 Brought Classic Rock Into the Video Age
After little more than three years on the air, MTV had proven itself to be a success in changing the way Americans consumed music. Bolstered by MTV's popularity, the network launched its second venture, Video Hits One – known colloquially as VH1 – on Jan. 1, 1985.
With MTV cornering the market on Top 40, VH1 started as basically an adult contemporary station. It showcased mostly the lighter side of the pop and R&B charts, providing plenty of exposure for acts like Elton John, Billy Joel and Sting. It also made room for the classic rock music that its target audience grew up with. It wasn’t uncommon to see the Rolling Stones’ original promotional clip for "It’s Only Rock ’N Roll" sandwiched between current hits by, say, Phil Collins and Whitney Houston.
As the network evolved, classic rock became a bigger part of its programming. Beginning in the late ‘80s, Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits hosted a show called "My Generation," which featured the music of the ’60s as Noone recanted inside stories of what being a rock star was like back in the day.
By the mid-‘90s, as its sister network focused on alternative and hip-hop videos, as well as its burgeoning reality programming, VH1 started airing even more classic rock. Its "Archives" series featured re-broadcasts of famous television programs, such as the week that John Lennon and Yoko Ono co-hosted The Mike Douglas Show and the episode of The Dick Cavett Show where David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Jefferson Airplane came straight from Woodstock to discuss their experiences at the festival. "Storytellers" featured artists like Ray Davies, Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen playing their music and talking about the craft of songwriting in front of a small audience.
Its most popular and influential program, "Behind the Music," launched in 1997, as a one-hour documentary series that told the inside stories of artists like Styx, Journey and Genesis, often revealing the inner tensions that tore the bands apart.
As with MTV, videos have since given way to reality series on VH1. But in 2000, VH1 Classic went on the air, bringing back many of MTV's and VH1's classic programs, and adding new content like "That Metal Show" and "Rock N Roll Fantasy Camp," both of which are far removed from the network’s origins in soft rock back in 1985.
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