How Classic Rock Took Over the MTV Video Music Awards in 1989
Going into the MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 6, 1989, the good money was on Michael Jackson to sweep most of the categories. After all, he was nominated for a nine awards. As it turned out however, the King of Pop left home nearly empty-handed – with only one award for Best Special Effects.
What happened instead could be rightly called the Year of Classic Rock. Neil Young claimed Video of the Year honors for "This Note’s for You," (more on that here) while Elvis Costello's innovative clip for "Veronica" took home Best Male Video. U2 won for Best Video From a Film for "When Love Comes to Town," with an assist from B.B. King. Living Colour also came away with three awards for Best Group Video, Best New Artist in a Video, and Best Stage Performance in a Video for "Cult of Personality," even as Guns N’ Roses claimed the Best Heavy Metal Video Award for "Sweet Child O’ Mine."
Madonna and Paula Abdul, with four each, leaving with the most moon-man statues that evening. But this edition of the MTV Video Music Awards clearly belonged classic rockers – and it wasn't measured by statuettes alone.
Check out some of the performers from this 1989 program: Axl Rose joined Tom Petty for a rendition of "Free Fallin'." The Rolling Stones were in the house to play "Mixed Emotions," as was Bon Jovi, who performed both "Livin’ on a Prayer" and "Wanted Dead or Alive." (The acoustic mini-set paved the way for the debut of MTV's Unplugged series a few months later.) Def Leppard also played the Hysteria b-side "Tear It Down."
See Def Leppard and Other Rockers in the Top 100 Albums of the '80s