Today, the television channel VH-1 is synonymous with trashy reality shows and '80s pop culture specials. Aside from a brief flirtation with Bret Michaels' Rock Of Love, I've largely avoided VH-1 in the years since its format change. But as a kid in the late '90s and early 2000s I couldn't get enough of it. Yes, VH-1 was once a respectable music channel!
VH-1 launched in 1985 with a format resembling something like MTV for an older crowd. The programming highlighted both classic artists and softer current acts. During the '90s, it catered to adult alternative and top 40. It also aired numerous specials about older acts -- from '70s classic rock giants to lesser-known new wave groups from the '80s. Their motto was simple: "Music First." These were the days before VH-1 began wasting our collective time with "celebreality."
I was in middle school during the late '90s and early 2000s. As the only child left at home, I spent a lot of time on my own. Once I decided that I was too old for the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, I turned my attention to VH-1 and occasionally MTV. Thusly my pop music education began.
As I've previously written, I grew up in a family of music lovers. Those golden days of VH-1 opened my eyes to a lot of music that I hadn't previously known -- mainly from the '80s and early '90s. My sixth grade-self was perfectly content to watch a special on hair metal (hello, misplaced childhood crush on Brent Muscat from Faster Pussycat!) or the music debate show The List. My musical world was expanded to include artists like the Plasmatics and My Bloody Valentine, bands that would never be mentioned on VH-1 today. I have a vivid memory of watching 1999's countdown of the greatest women in rock 'n' roll and having my mind blown by the extensive list of talented, fierce female musicians.
As I progressed into teenhood, VH-1's programming changed drastically. I countered it by looking forward to summers spent at my eldest sister's house. We spent our afternoons watching We Are the '80s on VH-1 Classic where we caught everything from Tears For Fears to Joy Division. It's true that in 2012 VH-1 Classic has filled the void left by its sister station but as one would imagine, it caters to aging rocker dudes and less to those of us interested in post-punk, new wave and '90s alternative. This isn't to say that I haven't enjoyed my fair share of Saturday mornings watching Dio videos on Metal Mania but one cannot survive on metal alone.
I pine for the VH-1 days of yore when I could catch footage of Wendy O. Williams sawing a guitar in half on stage or someone waxing poetic about Thomas Dolby on Sound Affects. I suppose thanks to the rise of the Internet if some bored middle schooler wants to further his or her rock 'n' roll education he or she can simply read Wikipedia. In VH-1's defense, I have noticed that they are at least attempting to echo back to what I consider its golden age. Behind the Music is back which is a wonderful start.
I'm grateful that VH-1 provided a welcome transition when I was ready to trade in Lizzie McGuire for a copy of Loveless. Nothing stays the same and thanks to YouTube, we don't need stations that play music videos 24/7, but the basic cable airwaves are in need of a station that focuses less on reality TV and more on music.