The importance of MTV

June 29, 2023

The recent Foo Fighters album feels so familiar, in a good way. I’ll often find myself listening to it and being reminded of so many of the old Foo’s songs that I know and love.

Of those the Colour and The Shape*  is the definitive Foo Fighters album of my youth, my first proper introduction to the band, I discovered the debut later. One track has always stood out for me above all others, not the now ubiquitous Everlong which appears to have grown in stature over the last 30 years. For me it’s Monkey Wrench, a track that seemed to be everywhere during the MTV period.

Back in the late 90s MTV was huge, music TV in general was huge, and it’s so easy to forget that. In an age when MTV is more about reality shows than music a lot of younger people will have no idea about the cultural behemoth that MTV was back in the day. Even to those without cable or satellite who didn’t really get to watch MTV it loomed large over the entire music scene. We didn’t have MTV at home yet I can still remember heading to school with my MTV branded pencil case stuffed into my bag (even cool kids** need pencil cases). I remember catching glimpses and picking up albums of the legendary MTV unplugged sessions – Nirvana’s probably the biggest of all of these. A pre YouTube era so there was no mass sharing of videos and clips online.

I have a vivid memory during this period of the MTV VMAs (video music awards) and the Foo Fighters performing ahead of them on an open top bus in New York. Which shows the fallacy or memory. When I’ve found the video online the band were actually on a balcony performing to a group of fans on the top deck of an open top bus. At least there was a bus in there somewhere.

Again we didn’t have MTV at home and remember gathering round at a friends house to watch this, it may not have been the actual VMAs themselves, it was probably on repeat for much of the following weeks and months on the channel. It was mixed in with raiding my friends older brother’s CD collection to rip such nu metal classics like Limp Bizkit, and Korn to burgeoning digital music collections.

This track though drops me back in, I can remember the bedroom, the dodgy grainy 90s TV. The rush of the guitar into the song and then the sudden STOP.

It hits, the aggressive f**k you of what is at essence a break up song. “One last thing before I quit” screams Dave Grohl as he heads into a breathless roar that I’m sure so many Foo Fighters fans have tried to do before collapsing out of breath before reaching the “I was always caged but now I’m free”. No chance of holding onto that “freeeeee” as long as the Foo’s front man and just marvelling at the lung power.

It sits so nicely in the album as well, the low slow intro of Doll giving an almost false sense of calm and the follow up of Hey Johnny Park opening with it’s drum fill. It’s a powerhouse track, it’s a statement, it’s a f**k you, it’s sheer force of will to leave this relationship. A late 90s grunge masterpiece that cut through to the mainstream for a band on the up and up.

But that mainstream was MTV, sure there was the music press, the NME, Q, Melody Maker in the UK but for transatlantic taste making there was one game in town and that was MTV.

*which I’ve only just noticed carries the English spelling of colour, weird

** yes me

Creator of Mumubl, sharing various songs I've loved from my past - big famous classics, little quirky unknowns, anything that I enjoyed once upon a time.

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