More on ‘The Odyssey Network’

Some time ago while posting the series “Favorite Music Videos” I mentioned a UHF-type overnight music video station broadcasting out of Cocoa Beach, Florida called “ODYSSEY” or “The Odyssey Network.” Before writing that post I had searched online for hours–unsuccessfully–looking for some information about the music service, both to give more insight about it and also to provide a link for more information.

I’ve had several readers since weigh in with their recollections of Odyssey. While I’ve enabled their comments here, I wanted to share the contents of a Billboard magazine article dated March 16, 1985 about the channel. (My thanks to “cj” for sending me a Comment with the link. I apologize for the delay in acknowledging it.)

Here is the article, reproduced in its entirety:

Odyssey Surviving Without Advertising
(New Music Video Service Claims Eight Million Viewers)

By Faye Zuckerman

LOS ANGELES With a viewership claimed at nearly eight million, the fledgling Odyssey Network 24-hour video music service still reports losses at $250,000 monthly, has incurred startup costs nearing $2.5 million, and has yet to secure any advertising revenue.

In fact, admits Tom Shaw, director of programming for the Cocoa Beach, Fla. based network, ‘We have received zero revenue from advertising.’ He adds. however, ‘When we went on the air Jan. 5, we had zero affiliates, and expected to pick up 400,000 viewers in 35 days.’

By Jan. 6, Odyssey had reached the 400,000 subscriber mark, airing on selected cable services and VHF and UHF tv stations. Three days later, Shaw says, the network saw its viewership jump to three million. ‘We projected reaching that figure in two years,’ he notes.

When will the supposedly advertising-supported music service break even, and can it stay afloat until then? Shaw contends the parent company, Nova Communications Network, is committed to keeping the channel alive for at least two years. ‘We have enough money to stay broadcasting for two years with selling a single ad,’ he claims.

Odyssey’s Shaw expresses confidence about securing advertising dollars for the two-month-old network, which he notes is just now approaching Madison Ave. with market research on its operations. Its programming primarily features urban contemporary music, with some pop mixed in, according to Shaw.

He admits that getting a foothold in the advertising arena might not be as easy as securing affiliates, especially when the programming is free. ‘It’s a step-by-step process. First we needed subscribers. Now it’s time to get the advertisers by making them aware of us and who we are reaching,’ Shaw observes.

‘We are the first national 24-hour music service on-line and broadcasting to areas not yet wired for cable. Many of our viewers are getting exposure to clips on a constant basis for the first time.’

Odyssey’s only other competitor to date is Discovery Music Network, which will go on-line June 1. A spokesperson for the channel says that company officials are not ready to say how many tv stations or cable services it has secured.

Odyssey Network currently boasts of having already signed broadcast contracts with 93 cable services and 24 television stations, nine of which are network affiliates. Participating stations include WRBV in Philadelphia, Tulsa’s WGTV, Salt Lake City’s KUTB and KTNV in Las Vegas.

The television stations generally air the channel six hours daily. Shaw says certain ABC and NBC affiliates broadcast the music channel as late night programming. ‘CBS provides after-hours tv shows for its stations, so they didn’t sign on with us,’ he explains.

Thus far, Odyssey’s programming hasn’t attempted to match the programming style of MTV, the premier 24-hour music video service. There are no VJs, no contests, few voiceovers and only one special segment, a top 12 video countdown.

Odyssey airs clips back-to-back, with designated unsold advertising spots. By early fall, Shaw plans to start featuring a VJ. ‘We have already started a nationwide search for one,’ he adds.

‘We are getting negative reactions to VJs,’ Shaw contends. ‘Only the record companies seem to like them because they promote their artists.’

As for MTV’s exclusivity pacts with several major record labels, Shaw asserts that Odyssey feels little if any impact. ‘Many of the artists we feature are not included in the agreements. We don’t care about waiting out a grace period. Most of our viewers are not cable households anyway.

‘Besides, maybe a 24-hour music service will come along and offer record companies a better price for videos.’ Meanwhile, Odyssey prides itself on airing a combination of urban and suburban video fare not generally shown on MTV or its sister service VH-1.”

While this article is certainly a big help in understanding how Odyssey began, it tells only part of the story. What happened to it? Did it merge with another service, or did it just fade away?

If anyone knows of, or has any more knowledge about the Odyssey Network, please send it along in the Comments section. Thanks in advance.

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My Favorite Music Videos, Part Twenty-One: ‘Til Tuesday’s ‘Voices Carry’

Sometimes being good isn’t good enough…it can be hard to catch lightning in a bottle more than once.

An good example can be found with today’s entry in the Favorite Music Videos series, ‘Til Tuesday‘s 1985 hit “Voices Carry.” The song is haunting enough…but the clever way the music and lyrics are linked to the story told in the video easily make it one of my favorites.

That story features the band’s lyricist and singer Aimee Mann and her involvement with a high-society pretty boy who doesn’t understand her blonde spiky hair with braided rat tail, the punk/new wave style of dress or the music she plays with her band (the rest of ‘Til Tuesday), and wants her to conform so she can better fit in to his upper-class society. After several attempts to rebuff her style he confronts her, forcing her to sexually yield to him.

As the video ends we see the couple seated amongst a well-dressed audience at a Carnegie Hall concert, waiting for the performance to start. Mann’s partner turns toward her and his eye falls on the braided hair tail, and he pulls his arm away in apparent disgust. Slowly at first she starts to sing along with the song’s words–“He said, shut up! He said, shut up! Oh God, can’t you keep it down?”–her voice gets louder and louder and soon she is standing and has removed her hat, revealing her spiky blond hair, while he is hiding his face in his hands. By the end she is waving her arms and enthusiastically belting out the words.

(If the video fails to load or play click here.)

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Early success came with a price for ‘Til Tuesday. The band did not have another major hit after “Voices Carry”…and although they were critically acclaimed, the record sales steadily declined. They had disbanded by the 1990 release of their third album Everything’s Different Now, mostly due to Mann’s departure to pursue a solo career. She was hampered by the band’s contract with Epic Records, however, which prevented her from releasing her first solo album (Whatever) until 1993. Since then she has released seven more solo works and has contributed to various tribute albums and soundtracks.

Mann remains very active in writing, recording and releasing music, as well as the occasional television or film appearance.

My Favorite Music Videos Part Eighteen: Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love’

Robert Palmer was a semi-successful recording artist in 1985 when he released his eighth album, Riptide. He had worked with various artists–Little Feat, Bernard Edwards, Nile Rogers and Tony Thompson of Chic, and Duran Duran amongst them–and had spanned several different musical styles, from New Orleans funk to jazz-rock to R&B to blues.

He formed the band The Power Station in late 1984 with Edwards, Rogers, Thompson on drums, guitarist Andy Taylor and bassist John Taylor, both of Duran Duran. The resulting self-titled album went platinum. He began work on Riptide in early 1985 and recruited Andy Taylor, Edwards and Thompson to play on the record, with the latter two also working as producers.

He struck gold when his video for “Addicted to Love” was overwhelmingly successful. Film director Ted Emery discussed how Palmer might have gotten the idea:

We got so many warnings about him. We were told ‘this man is not mainstream, he has a message’. His song was Doctor Doctor so I made the film clip, got all these models in lipstick and swimsuits. He came into the studio and all the dry ice starts flowing out and the models with the guitars start moving. Palmer looks around and the record company guy starts panicking. It hit the fan like you wouldn’t believe. We had to pull it all down, change the look of the studio. Years later he used it in a film clip.

The “models with guitars” were all that most people remembered and were talking about when director Terence Donovan’s music video for that first album single was released.

Imagine five very attractive women, dressed nearly identically–each in a plain black long-sleeved dress with a small black studded belt, black stockings and pumps–each with dark hair pulled back, dark eye makeup and bright red lipstick. These are the drummer, keyboardist, lead guitar, bass guitar and rhythm guitar. They sway back and forth in time with the music, each staring blankly ahead, very rarely at the camera, and with only a very few changes of expression.

Of course they aren’t really playing the instruments. Those that thought the women to be attractive and perhaps even sexy in a cooly detached way probably weren’t too concerned about that.

Palmer lip-synced along with his vocal, moving convincingly as he performed, dressed fashionably in a black tie, white shirt and black pants.

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(Try this link if the video above won’t load or play.)

With this video and the two similarly-themed ones that followed–“I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On” and “Simply Irresistible,” from his 1988 album Heavy Nova–Palmer cemented his place in the Music Video Hall of Fame as an early pioneer in the medium, and a creator of a theme that has been parodied and imitated many times since.

A heavy smoker, Palmer suffered a heart attack in September 2003 and died at the age of 54.

My Favorite Music Videos, Part Seventeen: Paul Simon’s ‘You Can Call Me Al’ (with Chevy Chase)

There are performance music videos and then there are…mock performance music videos. As I’ve said before, most performance videos aren’t very good, if the only purpose of the video is to show an artist/band doing just that. The worst part of the performance video is usually–they’re not really playing the instruments.  But it’s set up to look like they are.

Many videos show the subjects “playing” instruments…but that’s usually in the background and not the point (or plot) of the video. It’s more to show us the band members and give them some face time.

Today’s video, 1986’s “You Can Call Me Al,” features Paul Simon and Chevy Chase “performing” the video. The best part is Simon starting to lip-sync the lead vocal track–then, upon seeing that Chase has instead taken over the vocals, he quits with a hurt betrayed self-pitying look on his face.

Along the way Simon “plays” a penny whistle, a saxophone, a conga drum and a bass guitar along with the appropriate musical parts in the song.

Chase, meanwhile, really overplays his part, with exaggerated hand gestures and comical facial expressions.

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(If the video won’t load or play for you, try this link instead.)

Wikipedia says this about the video:

Paul Simon did not like the original music video that was made, which was a performance of the song Simon gave during the monologue when he hosted Saturday Night Live in the perspective of a video monitor. A replacement video was conceived partly by Lorne Michaels and directed by Gary Weis, wherein Chevy Chase lip-synced all of Simon’s vocals in an upbeat presentation, with gestures punctuating the lyrics. Chase, at 6’4″, towered over the much shorter (5’3″) Simon.

My Favorite Music Videos, Part Sixteen: Genesis’ ‘I Can’t Dance’

Today’s Favorite Video offering is Genesis’ 1991 song “I Can’t Dance.”

The original band known as Genesis was started in 1967–Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks are the only founding members remaining, Phil Collins having joined in 1970. In the early years “their concerts became theatrical experiences with innovative stage design, pyrotechnics, extravagant costumes and on-stage stories,” according to Wikipedia. Peter Gabriel was the lead singer, with Anthony Phillips and Chris Stewart rounding out the band.

By 1979 Genesis had been reduced to Rutherford, Banks and Collins. Gradually the band moved from the progressive rock sound and performances for which they were previously well known to the more mainstream pop sound that made them a success in the 1980s.

In 1986 Genesis released the album “invisible Touch.” By now the band’s videos had become an amusing assortment of parodies, self-deprecating humor and political satire. This last genre was evident in the video for the album’s “Land of Confusion” track, which featured puppets made popular by the 80s British TV show Spitting Image. The story goes that Collins had seen a caricatured image of himself on the show, and was so amused that he asked the show’s creators to make similar puppets of the entire band. The video also features political leaders and well-known singers, musicians and personalities, all of whom appear in a feverish Ronald Reagan-styled puppet’s nightmare.

Here is that video:

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However, in my opinion the band’s music videos peaked with “I Can’t Dance,” from the 1991 album We Can’t Dance. I believe this by far is the most humorous of all of them. Collins’ self-deprecating performance as the hapless loser who thinks he’s cool, along with the band’s “synchronized walk” schtick and Collins’ Michael Jackson parody at the clip’s end, is fun from start to finish.

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From the Wikipedia entry for “I Can’t Dance”:

The humorous music video (directed by Jim Yukich) illustrates the artifice and false glamour of television advertisementsPhil Collins comments that the video was designed to poke fun of the models in jeans commercials, and each verse refers to things that models in these commercials do. The ending is a parody to the “Black or White” music video, depicting Collins parodying the “Panther ending” in which Michael Jackson dances erratically. Banks and Rutherford eventually arrive to escort Collins off the set, at which point he goes limp and they have to drag him away.

The song created the “I Can’t Dance dance” (a series of stiff, stylized motions). Collins explained in an interview that when he was at stage school, that he would see kids that would always use the same hand and the same foot when they were tap dancing, meaning they could not coordinate. He then copied their movements and the “dance” was born.

My Favorite Music Videos, Part Eleven: Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’

I have this love/hate thing going on with the artist that was Michael Jackson.

The love started with little Michael singing “ABC” and “Rockin’ Robin” with the rest of the Jackson 5. And it continued on through “Never Can Say Goodbye,” through the “Off the Wall” album, and even into “Thriller.” But it started going the other direction not long after that.

Since 1950 we’ve been fortunate enough to see four artists who were musical geniuses: Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, the Beatles (collectively)…and Michael Jackson.

There is no question that Jackson’s music is an amazing body of work…although, toward the end, his personal life started to interfere with his public persona, his popularity was down and he wasn’t selling records like before.

His life seemed full of odd events: sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber, creating his personal theme park (Neverland), the endless plastic surgeries, the skin bleaching, the odd relationships he had with women, the strange way he seemed to be raising his children.

And, of course, the alleged molestation of young boys.

We’d seen before how being too rich could ruin a person. Howard Hughes’ odd behavior as he grew older is the stuff of legend; as was that of Elvis.

It’s said that you grow to trust no one, that you suspect everyone–even loved ones and close friends–wants something from you, so you withdraw to a solitary existence. When you do exhibit odd behavior, there’s no one that you can trust to point it out (not that you would likely listen anyway).

You are very rich and whatever the cost, it’s of no concern…so you create your own reality–to paraphrase a punchline from an old dirty joke–because you can.

Fortunately, we have Michael Jackson on film, videotape and digital media to enjoy…before all the weird stuff started to happen (or, at least before we learned about it).

“Billie Jean” was the second single released from the 1982 “Thriller” album, which went on to become the best selling record of all time. The previous music video and single was “Beat It,” which was a classic in its own right…but I like “Billie Jean” much much better.

Jackson said the song was about the groupies that would hang around the backstage door of a Jackson 5 concert. However, in the book “Michael Jackson–The Music and the Madness,” author J Randy Taraborrelli says it’s actually about a 1981 real-life experience with a mentally unstable fan who claimed that Jackson had slept with her and conceived a child. She wrote many letters to him, professing her great love for him and asking when they could be together to raise the child. Her demands grew more and more bizarre until she was eventually committed to a state mental hospital.

The gimmick or “hook” in this video is that almost everything Jackson touches lights up with an eerie internal glow. Also, he does not appear in photographs by a paparazzi who is stalking him.

I say almost because, if you watch carefully, not all of the squares on the sidewalk light up as Jackson makes contact with them. I recall hearing a story that there were problems with the squares, that sometimes they would not light up properly. Also, not all squares had lights in them. They did a “dry run” of Jackson’s walk and dance moves, and installed lights in the ones he stepped on. In the course of shooting, even though he was advised which squares had the lights, sometimes he accidentally stepped onto the non-lit ones. After several takes they figured it was the best they were going to get.

Also, the handrail of the staircase doesn’t light up, although the steps do as he walks up them…and, the “H O T E L” sign illuminates from bottom to top to match his ascent.

Watching it now, it all seems so simple, compared to what we are seeing in the present tense. But this was thirty years ago…years before the powerful computer animation that’s often utilized and we take so much for granted.

This was a powerful video from an artist whose work has changed the musical world forever, and will continue to inspire others in the future.

(Click here to see it if the video above doesn’t load or play properly)

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(On March 25, 1983 Jackson performed on the Motown Records: 25th Anniversary broadcast with his brothers as the Jackson 5, who then left him alone onstage to perform “Billie Jean.” It’s within this video [actually, at about the 3:35 mark] that Jackson breaks into his now-signature Moonwalk, which as it turns out was actually performed by many others prior to his demonstration of it.

Yeah, he lip-synced it, but so what? It’s a classic. You can see that video here.)

Favorite Music Videos, Part Ten: a-ha’s ‘Take on Me’

There are several examples that would clearly stand out in the discussion of music video’s evolution as an art form (at least in its beginning). These few should be considered the best that the genre has given us…and due to the originality of each, should be in the Music Video Hall of Fame (if there was such a thing).

Some of these are still to be revealed on this List. There should be no question that tonight’s offering would belong there.

This is what Wikipedia has to say about the music video for a-ha’s “Take on Me”:

At the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards, the video for “Take on Me” won six awards—Best New Artist in a VideoBest Concept VideoMost Experimental VideoBest DirectionBest Special Effects, and Viewer’s Choice—and was nominated for two others, Best Group Video and Video of the Year. It was also nominated for Favorite Pop/Rock Video at the 13th American Music Awards in 1986.

The famous ending sequence–where the singer bashes himself against the wall again and again so that he becomes human–is based on a similar scene at the end of the 1980 film Altered States.

(The story in this video actually concludes at the beginning of another a-ha music video, “The Sun Always Shines on TV,” which can be found here.