It was rad, it was chill and it was totally tubular.
The launch of MTV just after midnight on Aug. 1, 1981, sparked a musical revolution and cultural shift that both reflected and defined Generation X, the “baby busters” born between 1965 and 1979, now with a median age of roughly 50 and numbering 65 million people.
With the powerful influence MTV had over music, fashion, lifestyle trends and politics, it's no surprise Gen Xers became known as the MTV Generation. The channel's early years delivered a dizzying diversity of memorable videos that boosted careers and fueled sales of iconic albums. Pop open the ultimate soundtrack to the Big ‘80s with our guide to the MTV-fueled albums and stars that defined a generation.
Thriller, Michael Jackson (1982)
The music: Jackson's masterful R&B-infused pop album, produced by Quincy Jones, became his first No. 1 album, spent 37 weeks at the top of Billboard's album chart and set a record for the most top 10 hits from a single album with “Thriller,” “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” “The Girl Is Mine,” “Human Nature,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” and “PYT (Pretty Young Thing)."
The video: "Billie Jean's” debut on MTV in 1983 was the first clip by a Black artist to get regular airplay and is credited with breaking the channel's color barrier. It also sent Thriller sales into orbit.
Watch it: Billie Jean, on YouTube
Rio, Duran Duran (1982)
The music: The British pretty boy band's second album, packed with shiny synth-pop and new wave, fared poorly in the U.S. until videos on MTV began stirring excitement months later.
The video: Rio captures the glitz, glam and camp posturing of both the group and the ‘80s. The band wore designer silk suits while cavorting with a painted leggy model on a yacht off Antigua, and fans lapped up the fantasy.
Watch it: Rio, on YouTube
She's So Unusual, Cyndi Lauper (1983)
The music: The eccentric singer's debut album, a blast of up-tempo pop-rock and power ballads, peaked at No. 4 on the strength of such hits as “She Bop,” “Time After Time” and “Money Changes Everything.” Lauper won the Grammy for best new artist.
The video: “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” Lauper's breakthrough hit, yielded a low-budget, wildly popular MTV clip featuring Dan Aykroyd in his Conehead role.
Watch it: Girls Just Want to Have Fun, on YouTube
Let's Dance, David Bowie (1983)
The music: Leaving behind personas Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom and the Thin White Duke, the mercurial Bowie delivered his most successful album ever with this dance-rock collection coproduced by Chic's Nile Rodgers. Pushed by the popularity of such singles as “Modern Love” and “Let's Dance,” the album sold nearly 11 million copies worldwide and rode the U.S. chart for 69 weeks.
The video: MTV viewers were mesmerized by the heady “China Girl” video, which attacks racism by portraying Asian stereotypes and includes a reference to From Here to Eternity.
Watch it: China Girl, on YouTube
An Innocent Man, Billy Joel (1983)
The music: The Piano Man's ninth studio disc was a concept album toasting American pop music styles from the late ‘50s to early ‘60s, including R&B and doo-wop. Driven by such singles as “Tell Her About It,” “The Longest Time,” “Keeping the Faith” and the title track, the album spent 111 weeks on the Billboard chart.
The video: Supermodel Christie Brinkley, his future wife, stars in the video for “Uptown Girl,” a song that expressed Joel's astonishment at his ability to attract glamorous women.
Watch it: Uptown Girl, on YouTube
Synchronicity, the Police (1983)
The music: The last album by the British trio topped the chart and sold 8 million copies thanks to such hits as “King of Pain” and “Every Breath You Take,” which won the song of the year Grammy.
The video: Celebrated video production duo Godley & Crème crafted the atmospheric “Wrapped Around Your Finger” by creating a maze of tall lighted candles in a dark room and having the Police mime while the song played at a high speed. Slowed to normal speed, the band appeared to move in slow motion.
Watch it: Wrapped Around Your Finger, on YouTube