Satellite TV arrived in my life in 1988 when I was eleven years old, and it felt like I sudden leap into the future. My dad had seen a ‘you can’t afford not to’ offer in the newspaper that got us a dish and 16-channel decoder supplied and fitted for next to nothing. Turning it on for the first time was a big event — we were the first people I know to get a dish and I remember having lots of friends and neighbours over to see it. We were all falling over each other in the lounge as we looked with wonder at the new channels.
Dishes all over Western Europe pointed skyward to the Astra satellite, and we all received the same programming. There were only 16 channels on the service, but this was a crazy amount compared to the four that we got through our terrestrial aerial. Only a few of the new channels were British — Sky One, followed eventually by Sky Movies and Sky News — with a significant number of others in German. The most fun were those that were aimed at everyone over Europe, typically in English, such as Eurosport and Screensport. The king of them all was MTV Europe, the channel that was probably the reason we got the dish in the first place. From that point on, when I wasn’t in front of my home computer you could usually find me in front of the TV.
Music was a big deal in our house when I was growing up. The radio, a tape or CD were playing all the time, whether we were at home or in the car. As it was for millions of others, for me Friday at school was spent talking about all of the bands that we’d seen on Top Of The Pops the night before. Having MTV Europe in the house meant that I no longer had to wait for Thursday. Back then, the ‘M’ in MTV meant something, and music was front and centre in the programming. When a specialist show such as 120 Minutes, Most Wanted or Yo! MTV Raps wasn’t showing, we would get a stream of videos from the MTV playlist one after the other. It was brilliant.
One of the big benefits of having a pan-European station was that the songs on heavy rotation often hadn’t gone far up the charts in the UK. They even had a specific chart programme, the MTV European Top 20 countdown, hosted by Pip Dann. Compared to our national chart, this one seemed to change at a glacial pace, and Dann must have been challenged to keep her commentary fresh every week.
Over the years I’ve noticed that there are a whole bunch of songs that I remember from those days that my friends don’t seem to be aware of. With the help of a wonderfully old-school-looking website, I’ve scoured my memories to pick out the weird and wonderful songs that got tons of airplay on MTV Europe but are relatively unknown here in the UK.
Lambada — Kaoma (1989)
People seem to know this song but aren’t aware of the band that made it big. A video filled with Latin dancing, revealing clothes, Orangina, a silent angst between children who want to dance with each other, and an angry adult who slaps a young girl.
Got to Get — Rob ‘n’ Raz featuring Leila K (1990)
I could never make my mind up as to whether this was ‘so bad it’s good’ or actually good. One thing I do know is that it burrowed into my brain very, very deeply. I’ve never met anyone else who has heard of Leila K, “a Swedish Eurodance singer and rapper of Moroccan descent.”
Heading for a Fall — Vaya Con Dios (1992)
Not the sort of thing I would have gone out and bought, but it had something about that I enjoyed. Everything seemed vaguely ‘adult’ about the music. Listening again now, the vocals are superb. I have no idea what the video’s all about though.
Still Got The Blues — Gary Moore (1990)
Always had my dad playing air guitar within half a second of appearing on TV. People seem to have heard about Gary Moore, formerly of Thin Lizzy and Skid Row, but this song only made it to number 31 in the UK. The Belgians (#1), Dutch (#2), Norwegians (#3), Swedes (#4), and Finns and Poles (both #7) must have driven the amount of airplay that this got on MTV.
Die Da!?! — Die Fantastischen Vier (1992)
This could have so nearly been the first song to have an interrobang in it’s title. To this day I have no idea what they are singing about (“that one!?!”), but the fantastic four showed me that German rap is fun!
Tag am Meer — Die Fantastischen Vier (1994)
A totally different vibe with this one. Like the Beastie Boys moving on from their (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) phase, the band seem to have matured, got serious, and increased the video budget. Chilled out rapping in front of a video that reminds me of Neneh Cherry’s Manchild. Weird. Great.
Cose Della Vita — Eros Ramazzotti (1993)
Italian power pop, complete with a truck driver’s gear change. Apparently Ramazzotti is massive in Europe, and this song made it to #1 in Belgium, #3 in Spain and #4 in Italy. I bought a tape copy (quite literally) of the album on a family holiday in Bulgaria in 1994. This is the best song on there.
Bakerman — Laid Back (1989)
Fancy dress sky diving to Danish electro-pop with Prince-style backing vocals in a video directed by Lars von Trier. What could be better? Made it to #44 in the UK chart, but the Austrians took it all the way to #1.
Wind of Change — Scorpions (1991)
“I followed them on squark, down to gonky park.” Those immortal misheard opening lines from this German metal band were seemingly played every few minutes on MTV Europe in 1991. Despite the video being a montage of recent news footage, I had no idea at the time that this was such an important song with associations to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, with viewers of the German ZDF network in 1999 choosing this as ‘the song of the century’. 14 million copies sold. Made it to #2 in the UK, but you never hear of it here now.
(I Wanna Give You) Devotion — Nomad featuring MC Mikee Freedom (1991)
I love this song, a one-hit wonder from Nomad. The video is super low-budget but completely memorable. And I saw it a lot. Much, much better than other songs of the time that ‘featured’ a rapper. Take-it-a-down-now-Mikee!
Go For It — Joey B Ellis featuring Tynetta Hare (1990)
The first three CDs I ever bought were George Michael’s Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, a Do The Bartman single and the Rocky V soundtrack. This was the lead song from the somewhat patchy soundtrack and for a short time I thought it was superb. These days Joey B Ellis is known as MC Breeze.
Crucified — Army Of Lovers (1991)
The only other person I know who has ever heard of Army of Lovers was a young Russian chap I worked with over a decade ago. They had a dark-haired male singer that looked like Paul King, and everyone seemed to flounce around in revealing underwear. Swedish euro pop was all a bit too much for me at 13 years old.
From looking at the charts, as the 1990s progressed it seems as though the number of big European Top 20 hits that were unknown in the UK seemed to diminish. We were all listening to the same songs. As the number of available satellite channels grew, MTV Europe was replaced with regional broadcasts, which further reduced exposure to massive hits from the continent. I drifted away from MTV as studying, exams and going out with friends replaced the time I had spent at home on the couch. But these tunes are still with me.