Often a song that was being panned by its own company became a big video hit and this translated into increased radio airplay and sales. It was a force with which to be reckoned; as radio programmer, you bet I paid attention to what the VJs were playing in heavy rotation, as I would be doing the same in very short order. It changed the music business as would YouTube has in recent years.
Outside of The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the song that is most associated with MTV is Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing.” Its rudimentary computer-animated video and the obvious pandering to the channel with Sting repeating their tagline of “I want my MTV” hit home with video and radio audiences everywhere. In fact, when MTV Europe went live on this date in 1987, “Money for Nothing” was the first video to air.
Mark Knopfler said that he was inspired to write the song as he heard some employees at an appliance store in New York City were making comments about the videos on MTV – some of these show up in the lines used by the song’s narrator-protagonist. Because ZZ Top was an MTV staple, Knopfler did his best imitation of Billy Gibbons’ guitar sound.
“Money for Nothing” was the second of five singles from their multi-platinum album “Brothers in Arms.” The song did very well everywhere it was played. In the US and Canada, it was a number one single. “Get your money for nothing and your chicks for free.”