Original MTV VJ Martha Quinn doesn’t just remember the ’80s — she’s a bona fide ’80s pop culture icon. She saw it, she lived it, she was there when. Along with fellow VJs Alan Hunter, Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, and the late J.J. Jackson, Martha helped usher in the Age of the Music Video.
Though her MTV days have long since passed, Martha helps you relive that heyday every week on SiriusXM 80s on 8, where she hosts the Big 40 Countdown. We sat down with Martha to talk about everything from this weekend’s Top 40 countdown, to why Milli Vanilli was treated unfairly by the recording industry to why MTV doesn’t play music videos anymore (and what it would look like if they did).
And what would an ’80s-centric conversation be without remembering the decade’s number one boy band? Martha, unsurprisingly, still has a major soft spot for New Kids on the Block’s late-’80s jam Hangin’ Tough (ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, OH). “Why do I love Hangin’ Tough so much? I will tell you,” says Martha. “It’s the ref whistle. When you hear a ref whistle in a song, you totally know a party is about to ensue. You get on the floor and do the New Kids dance?? That is what’s going to happen.”
Also included (twice!) in this week’s countdown is Milli Vanilli, who many might associate not with their music, but instead with their lip-synching debacle. Martha, for her part, sympathizes with Robert Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan, and even goes so far as to describe their story as “a Greek tragedy.” “[Milli Vanilli have one of] the most fascinating stories, not just of the ’80s, but of pop culture ever,” says Martha. “If I were a Broadway producer, I would put this Broadway show as a Greek tragedy, and I would have the final scene ending with Fab holding Rob, who passed away … and Rob is dying in Fab’s arms, and Fab opens up his mouth and starts singing Blame it on the Rain.”
“What a tragedy!” she continues. “These two kids were basically homeless in Germany, an enterprising behind-the-scenes record producer (Frank Farian) says to them, ‘Hey, we want you guys to act like you’re singing the song. You guys sing, and we’re gonna hire these other people to act like they’re singing.”
“[Milli Vanilli’s downfall was] especially a tragedy for Rob and Fab, who totally took the hit. Nobody stepped forward when they had to give back that Grammy. they were the only two people sitting at that table. That producer was not sitting at the table saying, ‘Hang on, this was my idea. I’m gonna take the hit for this.’ They were doing what they were hired to do and doing it to the best of their ability, and they were sick about it. So much that Rob Pilatus ultimately died of a drug overdose. This is an incredible story, I’m telling you right now: Make the Milli Vanilli story a Broadway show. And here’s what you call it: Blame It On The Fame.”
As much as Martha frowns upon the late-’80s/early ’90s music industry for pushing Milli Vanilli to fame, then participating in the duo’s downfall, there are certain qualities about the era’s music she really misses, like, for example, when rock stars had body hair. “I love [Winger’s] Headed for a Heartbreak for its video. You must watch this video. It’s like the most ’80s of all videos. There’s hair, there’s guitar solos, there’s giant drum kits, there’s rain, there’s everything you want in an ’80s video. This is what Hollywood overlooks; it’s what Rock of Ages overlooked (Tom Cruise was waxed!), and it made me crazy — guys in bands in the ’80s had body hair. Look at Kip Winger in the ’80s. I don’t know if he’s caved into modern pressure, new millennium pressure and gone the waxing route, which I pray he hasn’t. Kip Winger had the body hair and was rockin’; it with teeny tiny tank tops, no shirt, a gold chain, and this guy is covered! Only his eyes don’t have body hair.”
Finally, I had to ask: How many times a day do people ask Martha why MTV doesn’t play music videos anymore, and what does she say when they do? Martha, for her part, empathizes with contemporary MTV naysayers, most of whom are around her age, but she maintains that even if MTV did go back to its former business model, nostalgists still wouldn’t be satisfied. “I must get a tweet three times a day saying, #IWantMyMTVBack. They’re all pretty much from people my age: people who are longing for the ’80s,” says Martha. I think it’s very sweet, because [they want] the original MTV DJs: me, Mark [Goodman], the late J.J. Jackson, Nina Blackwood, Alan Hunter — we were very much part of people’s lives, and I value that so greatly.”
“But the problem with feeling like ‘I want my MTV back’ is, somehow what comes of that is the assumption is that [MTV] will be Debbie Gibson, Simply Red, Madonna, Skid Row, and New Kids On The Block. But it won’t! If MTV had the exact format today, 24/hour video music channel with VJs, it would be Cher Lloyd, Rihanna, Imagine Dragons, Pitbull and One Direction… We can’t ever go back. We just can’t. But what we DO have is SiriusXM 80s on 8, SiriusXM 90s on 9, and we can relive that era.”
Hear Martha Quinn on 80s on 8 Weekdays 10 am – 1 pm & 7 pm – 9 pm ET, and listen to the 80s on 8 Big 40 Countdown Fridays at 9 pm ET.
For a free 30-Day trial, check out http://www.siriusxm.com/fbtrial