Is it a cover if you’re just playing the music again with different people? When MTV used The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star” to open the channel in 1981, very few people realized that they were hearing something between a cover and a remake. The original version was written by a trio of British artists and recorded in early 1979. Half a year later, two of the three got back together as “The Buggles” and recorded the definitive variant.
While looking for the lyrics of “Video” today for an Avoidable Contact column, I came across the above live peformance from 2004. Trevor Horn, the bassist and vocalist, is in fine form, as are the original backup signers from 25 years prior. It’s a true pleasure to watch, even if Horn commits one of the few mortal sins in music by playing the electric bass with a pick.
Were The Buggles a one-hit wonder? Possibly — but Trevor Horn was anything but. He produced everything from “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” to Seal’s debut album. Along the way, he was executive producer on Jeff Beck’s infamous “Emotion & Commotion”. Oh, and he also was the actual musician behind Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax”, playing all the parts himself after the band couldn’t quite make it work in the studio.
It’s easy to see Trevor Horn, the prototype of the inventive and technically flawless musician/producer, as a dying breed. But not only is the idea of the bass-playing producer alive and well (cf. Fiona Apple’s dueling bassist/producers, Jon Brion and Mike Elizondo), Horn is also partially responsible for the changes in music between his performing heyday and today. In the course of producing Poison Arrow by ABC, he learned how to program the Roland TR-808, then learned how to trigger it via MIDI. So in a way, Horn wasn’t just a prophet of video killing the radio star, but also an instrument of digital music killing the analog star. Oh-a, Oh-a!