The Buggles’ ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ heralded a then-unknown age

Released on Feb. 4, 1980 in the UK, The Age of Plastic heralded a period that no one knew was coming yet — the MTV era. In fact, more than a year would pass before this album’s breakout single, “Video Killed the Radio Star,” became the new music-video channel’s premiere clip at 12:01 a.m. August 1, 1981.

That definitively confirmed what the Buggles seemed to know all along: Technological advances were overtaking the music industry and, in a larger sense, reshaping the world. That was the message of The Age of Plastic then, offered with a synthy sheen of pop coolness by Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, and it still resonates today.

“That was the whole essence of the song,” Geoff Downes tells us, in an exclusive Something Else! Sitdown. “It wasn’t specifically about video succeeding over radio. The song was about how technology was changing lives. In many ways, that was a very prophetic statement — when you look at the way that people receive music now. Technology is very much the medium now. The lyrics talk about machines writing music, and that’s actually happened, too. All things considered, it was a very prophetic song.”

Written by Horn, Downes and Bruce Woolley in 1978, “Video Killed the Radio Star” was first recorded by Woolley’s band the Camera Club, which featured a pre-fame Thomas Dolby on keys. A year later, the Buggles made another pass — and the song, released via Island Records in September 1979, would hurtle them to the top of the charts in the UK and 15 other countries.

Curiously, though, “Video Killed the Radio Star” barely crept into the American Top 40, and the Buggles seemed doomed to relative stateside obscurity. Then, MTV came along.

A promo clip for “Video Killer the Radio Star,” constructed by Russell Mulachy, gave shape to the looming industry — and societal — changes. The Age of Plastic was indeed upon us. And the Buggles remained very much a video band, releasing a series of singles (including “Clean, Clean” and the title cut from this debut) — but never performing a full-length concert before their 1981 breakup.

A smattering of one-off performances began to take shape in the late 1990s. It wasn’t until a charity show in 2010, however, that Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes finally performed a full slate of music. The winkingly titled “Lost Gig” found the pair — who’ve also collaborated on Yes’ Drama and Fly From Here albums — playing many of the Buggles’ songs from The Age of Plastic for the very first time.

Horn and Downes return to the stage once more on March 5, 2015 as part of a Trevor Horn Band concert to be held at 02 Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London. Other performers for this new show include Seal, with whom Horn has worked extensively, and Lol Creme of 10cc fame.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso