After debuting on March 10, 1986, 120 Minutes became a showcase for non-mainstream music of various stripes until around the year 2000 when it first got shuffled to the side in favor of reality programming. But during its heyday, 120 Minutes introduced a generation and more to music by artists that pretty much never got airplay on most pop and rock stations across America.
In addition to showing the video for "Where the Hell is Crispin Glover?" by Denver's own Warlock Pinchers, 120 Minutes helped to break what came to be called "alternative" music to people who didn't travel those circles or exposed those that did to a broader range of music than would have been easily possible in the pre-Internet age. Here's five videos that helped to define an era.
5. XTC - "Dear God"
Already known to those who either saw Urgh! A Music War or had been listening to college radio, XTC got exposed to wider audiences with the release of 1986's Skylarking, and this single that saw plenty of airplay on 120 Minutes. The caustic wit of Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding made the band immediately popular with anyone with intelligence and imagination, and after being in circulation on 120 Minutes, "Dear God" went into regular rotation and became something of a mainstream hit. Not nearly enough people got to see XTC live before it became a studio band early in its career, but 120 Minutes made this band stars of underground music in the '80s.
4. Sonic Youth - "Kool Thing"
Maybe 1988's Daydream Nation was the groundbreaking masterpiece that started pulling Sonic Youth out of the underground circuit a little, but it was Goo from 1990, and the video for this song, that exposed thousands, if not millions, more young people to the band's innovative guitar work and gritty, New York avant-garde art world aesthetic. Kim Gordon's sensual cool was striking and mysterious and if you were in the middle of no-art-to-speak-of-nowhere, seeing this video gave you a window into a world that seemed more dangerous, raw and interesting.
3. Jane's Addiction - "Been Caught Stealing"
Anyone in college in the late '80s probably heard a bit of Nothing's Shocking's lurid mythmaking, but it was this darkly humorous and playful single and video from 1990's Ritual De Lo Habitual that broke this band to a broader audience, partly through the good graces of 120 Minutes. The success of this song among wider and wider audiences meant that not only was the general public eager for something a little different, it meant that the non-mainstream music being championed by the 120 Minutes programmers might be commercially viable in a way it hadn't been previously.
2. Joy Division - "Love Will Tear Us Apart"
Yes, this song came out at least six years before the premier of 120 Minutes, but that program undoubtedly had a hand in making a younger generation aware of "that band that became New Order." Probably more than a few of the latest wave of post-punk musicians saw this video on 120 Minutes or learned about Joy Division from someone who did. This song was apparently deemed important enough to make it on to one of the Nevermind The Mainstream: The Best of MTV's 120 Minutes compilations alongside New Order.
1. Nirvana - "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Support Our Journalism
A song that defined a generation and killed off heavy metal. While such sentiments are debatable at best, there is no denying that this song, which premiered on 120 Minutes, quickly became too huge to ignore and blew the doors open for all kinds of music to be taken seriously before the corporate ogre stepped in to find a way to commodify one of the last great waves of youth culture to run through America and across cultural and social barriers. When Nevermind came out on September 24, 1991, it inexplicably and ultimately changed the rules of the music industry for a few years without even trying.