Music Video of the Day: Rockit by Herbie Hancock (1983, dir. Godley & Creme)

I don’t have much to say about this music video that I assume everyone has seen at this point. MTV & VH1 used to bring it up all the time whenever they would look at their early history and for good reason. Not only is it amazing, but it also won five VMAs at the first Video Music Awards in 1984. That’s particularly notable since it was the year people generally agree is when the color barrier at MTV basically disappeared.

In the time since I wrote about Rapture by Blondie, I went and read the article on Wikipedia about the color barrier at MTV. There seems to be only three things that people agree on.

  1. MTV started off deciding to go with the radio format known as Album-oriented Rock, or AOR for short, before moving to a Top 40 model in 1984.
  2. They had really bad research about their audience that they ran with to one degree or another.
  3. Billie Jean broke the color barrier.

Even that third one is in dispute and isn’t entirely accurate. Some people believe that Pass The Dutchie by Musical Youth broke the color barrier. Also, while Billie Jean certainly put a big crack in the barrier, it really didn’t fully come down till the summer of 1983 with other music videos by black artists, which I imagine included this one.

The fact that there was even a barrier in the sense that people think of when they hear the word “barrier” is disputable. Rapture by Blondie aired as the 48th music video on the very first day of MTV, and it is basically Debbie Harry advertising rap music along with numerous black artists featured in the music video and some names included in the song. It seems like there was an almost day to day set of decisions about which videos would fly with their audience. I really would love to know the details about when Eddy Grant’s music video Electric Avenue aired. It must have been a confusing time for all the parties involved at MTV, the record companies, and the artists because they all had to know they were leaving a bunch of money on the table.

I put up that this music video came out in 1983 because while IMVDb says 1984, both mvdbase and the music video itself say 1983. I would love to know for sure if we got such an experimental music video with minimal insertions of Hancock because of the color barrier. An article on How We Get To Next seems to indicate so with a link to the book I Want My MTV (the pages were locked so I couldn’t view them). The other thing that hints that he was relegated to the TV is because it is smashed at the end. Regardless, I love that Hancock only shows up on short shots of the TV. It’s as if he isn’t just performing the song, but is a person behind the scenes controlling both the robots and the video itself through his song. In the process, it also places a heavy emphasis on the music and its visual representation.

It is a great example of an early MTV music video that really showcased the potential for the medium. The song itself helped to popularize scratching and turntablism, which was done by Grand Mixer DXT.

Roo Aiken was the Editor.

Jim Whiting and Roger Deacon were art directors.

Lexi Godfrey and John Gayden/Gaydon were producers.

Hancock still gets around today. He is slated to appear in an upcoming Luc Besson sci-fi movie and even made a cameo appearance on Girl Meets World.


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