Wednesday, January 23, 2008

50. SuperRock

I would bet that a majority of people who are reading this probably had never heard of this show before and that's not surprising. Usually when I write one of these entries I do a bit of Internet research on Wikipedia or Google, but I haven't been able to find anything about this show, so there will be no title card graphic today.

During the early to mid 1990s, MTV was in its genesis of getting more and more segmented both musically and how they programmed their channel. The sad state of affairs that MTV is in today (no music, crappy reality show after crappy reality show) is the direct result of the people that complain about the sad state of affairs that MTV is in. When MTV first hit the airwaves, it was literally like radio on television, pretty much wall-to-wall videos with some band interviews and some general information from one of the five VJs about the artists.

First the channel became a phenomena with the youth of America with some thinking that it was a passing fad. Once MTV proved it had staying power, the advertising and marketing executives descended on the channel and came up with an idea on how to make money off MTV's youthful audience. It's basic targeted advertising, their rational was that it was difficult to market a product where the audience was an unknown. Put it this way if you run a block of videos that has Pat Benatar, Michael Jackson, Journey and W.A.S.P. in it, who knows who's watching. It could be a heavy metal fan, a pop fan, etc. However, if you bundle these genres up you have a good idea of what your audience is going to be.

That is how shows like “Club MTV”, “Yo! MTV Raps” and “Headbangers Ball” came to exist. Many of the same commercials ran during these shows, but others were specifically targeted toward the demographic of each program and that was determined by the normal guidelines: race, gender, income bracket. Not surprisingly, these shows were hits. Instead of waiting two hours with the slight hope of watching the latest Public Enemy or Slaughter video, you could just tune into one of the shows and check them out.

Also around this time, (the late 80s) MTV started experimenting with non-music shows. The first that I can remember was “Remote Control”, which was a brilliant game show that combined humor with useless trivia. I loved it and it turned out that it was one of the biggest hits on MTV. As most successful business are wont to do, MTV built on their success and produced other shows that became just as successful like “The Real World”, “Beavis and Butthead”, “The State”, “Singled Out”. Unlike today, these shows were sprinkled through their lineup and while some were aired ad nauseam during marathons, the music was still the backbone of the channel. This all changed in the late 90s when MTV turned their back on music and became a youth-culture channel, but that is another story for another day.

During this time where MTV is going through its growing pains, a new type of music is coming to the scene: alternative. By about 1993, alternative had grown to become the most popular type of rock (causing some to ask what was the alternative to alternative music) and MTV quickly jumped on and exploited this trend too, by having two late-night shows centered around alternative rock. One was the daily “Alternative Nation” which starred the annoying alterna-chick Kennedy. The show pretty much played the staples of the day, the more mainstream alternative stuff: Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Live, Soundgarden, etc. During Sunday nights, MTV allowed the real alt stuff to come out with “120 Minutes”. This was two hours of the videos that were a little off-centered or from England that “serious” music fans really liked.

This brings us to the subject of today's blog, “SuperRock”. Unlike “Alternative Nation” and “120 Minutes” and MTV's entire programming philosophy, “SuperRock” was much different. To me, SR was a throwback to the days of early FM radio, where you could literally hear anything. Not that I was around to hear the early days of FM, but I've read stories of Boston's WBCN playing a rock song, followed by a classical piece, followed by a blues album in the span of 20 minutes. SR wasn't that extreme, but it was the one place where diversity was worshipped.

Most of the videos were of the alternative type; but there was a bunch of rap, older stuff and hard rock mixed in. It was the prototype for the iPod shuffle setting. One minute you'd see Eric B and Rakim and then you'd see Biohazard followed by Alice In Chains and then a cut from the Beastie Boy's “Paul's Boutique”.

Another aspect that made this show unique was that there were no VJs yammering at you or trying to impress you with their obnoxious antics. By this time in MTV's history, VJs began to think that they were the talent and that the videos interrupted what they had to say—you can probably blame this phenomena on Pauly Shore. In any event, this and “Unplugged” were probably the last shows on MTV where the music was actually the focus.

Aside from the “randomness” of the play list, seeing videos from two or three years prior was a novelty. There weren't music sharing sites or iTunes where you could download a song that popped into your head. If you didn't have the tape or CD, you were out of luck. Not so with “SuperRock”, one of the videos that I remember them playing was Urban Dance Squad's “A Deeper Shade of Soul”, which has always been a favorite of mine.

The main downfall of the program was that the show was on at a really crappy time: Saturdays at midnight so there wasn't an audience for it. Anyone who'd be into a show like this was probably at a bar or at a party or simply not in front of their televisions. And after 12 weeks, it died a quick death—the death knell was that it was preempted for an MTV special of Madonna's release of her shit album “Bedtime Stories”. After that, SR never returned. Chalk that up as another crime Madonna has perpetrated on the American pop culture landscape.

Inevitably, “SuperRock” was a half decade ahead of its time. If the show was shelved for five more years (it was first broadcast in the winter of 1994) I am confident that it would've been a hit. The late 1990s were the hay days of the rap-rock cross over and with the seemingly randomness of the playlists—rock spliced with rap—it probably would've been something.


Paul Kobelt said...

How timely! My wife and I were talking about the decline of MTV (though she happens to enjoy it in its current iteration) just this weekend. I found your blog on a search for "SuperRock".

SuperRock was IMO the greatest segment MTV ever aired. Even though it was on after midnight, it's like it was yesterday I bummed on the couch for the evening watching Matt Cameron's guitar on fire in The Day I Tried to Live. Thanks for the nod to quality insomniac entertainment!


matt cameron was the drummer, actually.

Menkerios said...

Wow, I have a tape of that someplace. The episode where the host (some punky chick with a raspy voice) interviews slayer. The in-between footage transitioning in and out of commercial breaks was clips of 60's italian spy movies with goofy voiceovers, then a woman whispering "superrockkkkk..."

The mix was so cool and eclectic. You could see vintage judas priest next to.. well, anything.

The good old days.

Erica said...

I just found your post on a google search for "superrock" also. I don't know many other people who remember it! I know I have at least one episode taped on VHS, Courtney Love was the host or guest.

Steve said...

I have some tapes of this - Must dig them out. Didn't realise there were so few episodes.

Squishi said...

Wow, I thought I was the only one who watched SuperRock. That and Liquid Television were the only thing worth watching back then. MTV seems to have no clue on what is good, even got rid of Headbanger's Ball. MTV sucks now.

Chris Jermyn said...

The version of Superrock I saw (I live in the UK so we got MTV Europe) was presented by an annoying VJ called Julia Valet and wasn't much cop. They enjoyed playing ADIDAS by KoRn rather a lot...