More than four decades after its release, “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles is typically credited with greater pop-cultural significance than musical influence. Perhaps this is fitting for the song whose video was the very first to air on MTV. But if you listen closely to the song’s recording by The Buggles (as opposed to the concurrently produced version by Bruce Woolley and the Camera Club, which also has its fans), you’ll notice an unexpected degree of compositional and instrumental complexity. Trevor Horn, co-founder of the Buggles, has since stated that the band’s inspirations include not only other musical genres but also literature.
Horn stated in a 2018 Guardian interview, “I’d read J. G. Ballard and had this vision of the future where record companies would have computers in the basement and manufacture artists.” “I had heard The Man-Machine by Kraftwerk, and a video was forthcoming. You could feel the world shifting. The Buggles, Horn, and their collaborator Geoff Downes utilised all available technology. According to his calculations, “Video Killed the Radio Star” would require 26 musicians to recreate it live. Paying proper homage to Kraftwerk requires not only using machinery but also learning at least a little German; hence, perhaps, Hans Zimmer’s brief appearance in the song’s video at 2:50.
“Hey, I like the concept of combining visuals and music,” Zimmer recalled recently thinking at the time. “This is where I intend to travel.” And so he did: Today, Zimmer is arguably the most famous living film composer, sought after by a number of our most acclaimed directors.
In fact, he and Horn worked together again in the early 1990s on the soundtrack for Barry Levinson’s Toys (whose other contributors included no less an eighties video icon than Thomas Dolby, who had played keyboards on Bruce Woolley’s “Video Killed the Radio Star”). By that point, Horn had retired from performing and become a super-producer for artists such as Yes, Seal, and the Pet Shop Boys. The Buggles disbanded rapidly, but it is unlikely that Horn or Zimmer lose much sleep over this fact today.