How Billy Squier Ended up Leading an On-Air MTV Holiday Singalong
MTV had a big year in 1981, soaring from scrappy upstart to hotly demanded cable network during the few months that followed its Aug. 1 debut. Billy Squier had a banner year as well, enjoying triple-platinum Top 5 success with his second solo effort, Don't Say No. So, it only made sense that he and MTV would get together to celebrate the channel's first holiday season on the air.
In those early days, the network's aesthetic was far more low-budget, with a studio that felt truly lived in and on-air personalities who seemed like a de facto family. Although videos were definitely the focus, there was still room for the unexpected during MTV's live bits, and it wasn't totally out of the ordinary to see deviations from standard programming – like "Weird Al" Yankovic's network takeover on April Fool's Day of 1984. All of which is to say that while it'd be surreal today to see a recording artist leading MTV VJs and staffers through an on-air holiday singalong, at the time, it was a perfectly MTV thing to do.
"It was taped at our original Teletronics Studio on West 33rd Street and featured our original studio crew, who we all loved and were very close to, along with all the people from the MTV offices," VJ Nina Blackwood later recalled. "Everybody traipsed down to the studio from 44th Street & 6th Ave for the taping. Billy Squier’s career was on fire at this time, and since he lived in NYC, he was a frequent guest at the studio, so it was appropriate that he was chosen for the video."
For Blackwood's fellow VJ Martha Quinn, the experience has remained her favorite MTV moment. "If I had to go back in time and revisit one day, like if I could get into the DeLorean and go back to one moment, it probably be this," she told Yahoo! Music. "What you see in that video, it was recorded within months of our launch, and we were all so starry-eyed, such believers. We were rebels with a cause. Everyone you see in that video, they’re the technicians, the secretaries, the executives, the production assistants. We were all one big happy family, fighting for MTV. We believed so strongly in the power of rock ‘n’ roll. And you can really see it there."
Squier, performing his B-side cut "Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You," helped begin an MTV tradition that lasted for the first five years of the channel's existence, cutting the first in a series of Christmas videos that would later grow to include appearances by George Thorogood, Bryan Adams, Yes singer Jon Anderson, and the Monkees. As the network grew into a ratings powerhouse — and was ultimately absorbed into a corporate structure — priorities shifted and those holiday videos, along with the shaggy spirit that shone through during the early years, faded away. But for those who were there, it remains goofily entertaining proof of what you can accomplish with a few cameras and a dream.
"Pretty much what you see on camera is an accurate representation of the celebratory and fun feeling that was happening," Blackwood said. "It was like one big happy family, which sums up the entire vibe of the early days of MTV. One of a kind experience. When I watch all of these early MTV Christmas videos, the overwhelming sensation I come away with is that of joyous love."