Episode 165: Martha Quinn

Episode 165: Martha Quinn
Pat and Christy take a road trip to Martha Quinn's house to get the inside scoop about the early days of MTV.
From September 11, 2014

With your hosts:

Pat Francis

Christy Stratton

00:00:00 Pat welcomes us to the show. Today, Pat and Christy are not in the studio, but they are in a studio. Located in a beautiful home in Malibu, California, Pat and Christy are here in the home studio of today's special guest: MTV VJ Martha Quinn!
Christy can't believe this is happening. Her husband Gary knows Martha well. Martha looks amazing. All the VJs look good, but especially Martha. She has all her original hair, which is a female thing, I guess? Christy says she doesn't have all her own hair. What?! She says she needs a little boost, apparently. Martha is part of the book "VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV's First Wave".
So let's start at the beginning. Martha got into music from her two older brothers. It was all about The Beatles and the Casey Kasem countdowns. She got into college radio and had her own show.
00:05:00 Pat asks Martha if she met any Beatles. John died in 1980 when she was a college senior, but she did meet Yoko Ono. She didn't meet George or Ringo, but she did meet Paul. Paul told Martha that he wrote the song "Martha My Dear" for her. Oh Paul, you coy bastard.
During senior year, Martha was an intern at WNBC for Don Imus. A record company executive came by the station talking about this new upstart channel, MTV, and a friend recommended Martha to be a VJ. This was 1981. Martha thought being a VJ meant playing actual records on the TV. This was brand new, it didn't make sense back then. But then they explained that they were playing music videos. Martha was hesitant at first. But then she auditioned and got the part a few days later. The audition process was reading copy off a prompter and talking about an Earth, Wind, and Fire concert. She left the audition and realized that it was the perfect job for her.
00:10:00 Martha was 21-years-old. She was going to be flying around the world, interviewing rockstars and being on TV. She got paid the least of anybody because she just took the job out of excitement. Were there any favored nations? Mark Goodman was the most favored. The first VJs were a nice mix of personalities. But it was a long time before they realized that MTV was a thing. Martha kept her day job because she didn't know if it was going to last. Martha remembers renting a car to pick up the other VJs and see Judas Priest in concert. She was on the air two weeks after her audition.
"Us VJs are the flags planted atop a mountain of visionaries."
- Martha, with the line of the episode.
00:15:00 Day one: August 1, 1981. The first video played, as most know, is "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles off the album The Age of Plastic. Martha gets a lump in her throat whenever she hears the song because it brings back the memories. The Buggles had no idea they were igniting this cultural juggernaut. It was the perfect song to start it.
The second video played was "You Better Run" by Pat Benatar off her album Crimes of Passion. Pat (Francis) has a lot of vinyl autographs. But Pat (Benatar) still refuses to sign his vinyl. He doesn't know why. Neil Giraldo refuses too.
00:20:00 Anyone know the third song played? Christy does. "She Won't Dance with Me" by Rod Stewart from the album Foolish Behaviour. Rod was the most played artist in those early days. Some of those songs are now hard to find. The way it worked was, the VJs taped their bits, then they were edited in between the videos. In the beginning, it was not a well-oiled machine. They were there for hours. The VJs are still close together. Pat judged the VJs' books by their covers. He thought Nina was the party girl and Alan was pompous.
00:25:00 Pat asks Martha if there were any videos they thought weren't good. Not really. She remembers the VJs watching the video to "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" by Eurythmics over and over again because it was so crazy. Pat brings up the theory of MTV not playing black artists. Martha thinks it wasn't deliberate. Everyone who started MTV was in a rock and roll mindset. The executives thought "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson was too pop, but he broke down the doors for a wider format. David Bowie once accosted Mark Goodman about not playing black artists' videos, but Martha says it wasn't that big a deal.
When Martha was in college, her radio name was Tiffany. She jokes that she started the trend of one-named females (Madonna, we're looking at you). Christy remembers videos from black artists like Herbie Hancock, Rockwell, and Stevie Wonder being played. Martha doesn't like hearing Michael Jackson's name because he gave her an authentic "Beat It" jacket and she lost it!
00:30:00 Martha didn't save a lot of her old MTV swag. Tina Turner sent her the Private Dancer dress from the video, which she then gave to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We listen to "Private Dancer" from the album Private Dancer. Pat asks about the first Music Video Awards. Martha said that people didn't think MTV would last, but the VJs believed in it. Who would watch videos over and over again? It turns out, everybody. Plus the fact that there were big events like Kiss finally unmasking. For the first VMAs, they got big music heavyweights to come to the ceremony to make them seem legit.
00:35:00 When Martha meets a rockstar, she is always a fan. She tells a story about interviewing David Lee Roth. Martha thought that she was gonna get David Lee Roth to take off his clown makeup and reveal the "real" David Lee Roth underneath. Then David would take Martha on his diamond-studded chariot and they would become Mr. and Mrs. David Lee Roth forever and ever until the end of time. She tried giving a super serious interview, but David was his usual, wacky self. Martha didn't realize that the beauty of David Lee Roth is that you get to go on this magic carpet ride of nonsensical metaphors and anecdotes. Speaking of clowns, Martha went bowling with Paul Stanley. Paul is very, very competitive. Martha hit a strike, so Paul thought the lane was tilted and wanted to change lanes.
00:40:00 God bless Kiss, because they've got a business model and it works. It's also a great longevity tool to keep using the makeup. Martha's first interview was with Hall & Oates, who were huge at the time with the album Voices. We listen to "You Make My Dreams". There was no Wikipedia back then, so how did the VJs do research? Reading a lot of magazines, like Billboard, Rolling Stone, Creem, Hit Parader, etc. Hall & Oates became a fixture on MTV for 4 or 5 years straight.
00:45:00 It helps that Hall & Oates were good looking. Christy throws some shade at Scorpions for not being the most handsome guys in the beer hall. It seems that the guys who look good back then don't look good now. Geddy Lee actually looks better now. Robert Plant has not aged well at all. Who knew that John Paul Jones would turn out to be the hunk of Led Zeppelin? Martha thinks Rick Springfield has held up. But Christy disagrees! Pat says that he's seen Rick recently. The body and hair have held up, but the faceā€¦ well, it's a bit tweaked. Springsteen has always looked good.
We get into Live Aid. Christy stayed up before dawn to watch the Australia concert. Pat and his family were on vacation, and he kept going up to the hotel room to watch the show. Martha thinks Live Aid was the pinnacle of MTV. And Queen's performance is the ultimate zenith. No arguments here. We listen to a little of "Radio Ga Ga" from the concert.
Freddie Mercury: A God Among Men
00:50:00 Queen was the show. We hear a bit of Freddie playing with the crowd at Wembley. Queen was good friends with J.J. Jackson. The Who, Led Zeppelin, and Rod Stewart were all good friends with J.J. and only talked with him. Even before MTV, J.J. was big. Led Zeppelin credits J.J. for launching them in the United States! What did J.J. think about the black artists controversy? J.J. always played rock radio. He didn't care at first, but then he started thinking that since these 80s white artists were singing like the black artists, why not just play the black artists? Pat says that at the end of the day, it was Music Television. Not Rock Television or Rap Television.
00:55:00 So the VJs were starting to become a lot more famous. Martha was a young girl getting a lot of fan letters. You can never get back to that level of fame, you just have to be happy that you were there. She got some creepy letters. No need for restraining orders, thankfully. Did she meet anyone famous at Live Aid? Jack Nicholson knew who she was, so that was pretty fucking cool. Pat, Christy, and Martha talk a bit more about Live Aid tidbits like Bernard Watson, the opening act, and Phil Collins.
01:00:00 Collins touched down in America during The Cars' setlist, so they cut away from The Cars to show the plane. That made Christy really mad. Phil Collins always looks like Phil Collins, by the way. Martha is a vegetarian. Does she get recognized a lot these days? Every once in a while. Her kids are confused by the whole thing. Pat tried explaining to his daughters how important Martha was on MTV back in the day, but they obviously didn't care. Too busy with their Tamagachis, or whatever doodad those young kids are playing with today.
It was the end of 1986, and Martha was let go from MTV. She was on unemployment. Then MTV wanted to bring her back. Martha wanted to get paid more. And they paid. Oh, did they pay. Martha was there during the next generation of VJs.
01:05:00 Martha did a lot of little projects. There's not a lot of work out there for VJs. She co-hosted Star Search with Ed McMahon. Being there live, it was devastating to see people lose. What was Ed McMahon like? He was a legend. He was from a different generation.
01:10:00 Christy tries to dance around the question of Ed's coherence, but let's face it: Was he drunk? Martha says that he was fine. Martha was also Mrs. Bobby Brady on the very short-lived TV show The Bradys. She got invited recently to a Brady Bunch convention, but she politely declined. After Martha became a mother, she put her career on hold. When her kids were old enough, she needed something to do so she got into satellite radio. Pat and Martha both think that having young kids when you're older keeps you young.
01:15:00 Are there any gigs that Martha turned down? She turned down an infomercial for a meat cooking product. She doesn't do stuff that has to do with meat products. Martha wanted to do the VJ book because it gave her a chance to do something with the VJs. The book wasn't her idea because her memory is terrible. The VJs remember things differently. Martha was making very little money in comparison to the other VJs. The other VJs also scoffed at her for listening to bands like ABBA and Earth, Wind and Fire because they weren't rock and roll. But Martha doesn't give a shit. She thought outside the box, dammit! Another interesting revelation: Mark Goodman was sleeping with contest winners. In the early days, people thought the VJs were rich because they were on TV, but that was obviously wrong.
01:20:00 Martha doesn't go to concerts and she makes no effort to remain relevant with new music. Christy wants to know about Martha's clothes. Martha's husband Jordan makes a guest appearance in the background. The VJs bought and wore their own clothes. The first MTV years were rather strange for Martha's outfits. Like caddy outfits, she says. Afterwards, she stuck to wearing tuxedo jackets, t-shirts, jeans, and sneakers. Downtown Julie Brown was a style game changer because she made being a VJ look more celebrity.
01:25:00 The executives gave the VJs a little wardrobe allowance at first. But in typical fashion, they gave the other VJs a lot more allowance than Martha!
Unfortunately Martha has to go. Well, technically, Pat and Christy have to go because it's Martha's house. This was a very fun interview. You can find Martha on twitter at @MarthaQuinn. Pat plays us out with the very appropriate "Money for Nothing" by Dire Straits from the album Brothers in Arms.
Time Song Album Artist Who
00:15:00 Video Killed the Radio Star The Age of Plastic The Buggles N/A
00:15:00 You Better Run Crimes of Passion Pat Benatar N/A
00:20:00 She Won't Dance with Me Foolish Behaviour Rod Stewart N/A
00:30:00 Private Dancer Private Dancer Tina Turner N/A
00:40:00 You Make My Dreams Voices Hall & Oates N/A
00:45:00 Radio Ga Ga Live Aid Queen N/A
01:25:00 Money for Nothing Brothers in Arms Dire Straits N/A