Theme Ride Thursday: Pedaling Down Memory Lane for MTV’s Launch Anniversary

From its inception in 1981, MTV has been a driving force in music culture, providing countless unforgettable moments. On August 1 of that year, the Music Television Network aired its very first broadcast. It opens with footage of the Apollo 11 rocket launch and transitions to an astronaut planting an MTV flag on the moon. An announcement from MTV creator John Lack announces, “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.” And the rest is history.

For the generation that grew up during that era, MTV represented a seismic shift in the way music was experienced, breaking traditional barriers and becoming a cultural phenomenon. I was in college at the time and, yes, I thought it was cool, but my roommate’s adulation of MTV took it to another level. I remember coming home from class and there she was, kneeling in front of the television, smiling from ear to ear, gleefully watching music videos. I can’t remember if she ditched classes to do this, but I wouldn’t have doubted it!

Most indoor cycling instructors I know love to create 1980s theme rides, especially if their demographic leans a little (…ahem) older. 

The iconic MTV channel, which revolutionized the way we experience music, celebrates its launch anniversary on August 1. What better way to commemorate this milestone than with an indoor cycling class fueled by a special playlist from the songs that graced its first day on air? 

The inaugural tunes of MTV hold a special place in the hearts of music enthusiasts, marking a pivotal moment in music history. Crafting an indoor cycling playlist featuring these historic tracks will not only bring back cherished memories for older participants but will also introduce younger riders to the foundation of modern music videos. So, gear up and get ready to groove to the beats that made MTV’s debut an unforgettable event!

Here are MTV’s first two hours, including its iconic opening footage of the Apollo 11 launch.

Your MTV-themed theme ride can go in several directions. One option, as mentioned above, is to select songs from among the first 100 videos that appeared on MTV (I’m planning on going this route and will have a profile created soon). Another option is to highlight groups that found their fame thanks to MTV. You can also focus just on the 30 years of MTV Unplugged acts.

Let’s take a look at a few of the videos that first appeared on MTV on August 1, 1981, and how you can use them in the cycling studio.

Video Killed the Radio Star, The Buggles, 3:17, 130 bpm
No MTV launch anniversary playlist would be complete without the song that started it all. “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles was the very first music video to air on MTV. Its catchy tune and futuristic video set the stage for the revolution that was about to unfold. The tempo makes for a fun climb. You can choose to stand on the chorus or stay seated for most of the song, adding small amounts of resistance at the start of the chorus at 0:49, 1:22, and 2:05, and then a final time at 2:45, this time out of the saddle. This song is listed in our One Hit Wonder TRT post. (Note: For most purposes, you’ll want to use the single version of the song that is 3:17. The album version is 4:13, but it fades out at about 3:15. The remainder of the song has some quiet piano for about a minute, which could actually work well for a short recovery if you need one.)

You Better Run, Pat Benatar, 3:04, 126 bpm
Next up on the first day of MTV was Pat Benatar’s “You Better Run.” This powerful rock anthem paired with an electrifying music video showcased Benatar’s incredible vocals and captivating stage presence. It became an instant hit and contributed significantly to the success of MTV’s early days, as well as Benatar’s success. Climb at 63 rpm, standing on the chorus if desired.

She Won’t Dance With Me, Rod Stewart, 2:30, 154 bpm (explicit)
Rod Stewart’s energetic track “She Won’t Dance with Me” brought a mix of rock and pop to MTV’s inaugural lineup. Its lively rhythm and Stewart’s signature charisma made it an engaging addition to the early rotation of music videos. You’ll want to rock a fast climb with this one—keep the intensity moderately high and stay seated until 1:52, then push it hard to the end (the song fades early at 2:17).

Tusk, Fleetwood Mac, 3:37, 90 bpm
Among the many iconic music videos that graced MTV’s early days, Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” stands out as a true masterpiece. “Tusk” was not just another music video; it was a groundbreaking display of visual artistry and unconventional creativity. The story of its genesis and filming makes for an interesting read and the song became an official fight song for the USC marching band. Upon release, the song was at first savaged by critics but it quickly became a top 10 hit for the group. As for me, I’d place it in my top 10 indoor cycling songs of all time—I don’t need an excuse to use this song but you can be sure it will be in my MTV launch theme ride playlist! It’s a quintessential higher-cadence interval in the saddle at threshold or above (Zone 4 or 5) for 3.5 minutes. I’ve even used it for short (3-minute) FTP tests. 

We Don’t Talk Anymore, Cliff Richard, 4:17, 112 bpm
The soothing ballad “We Don’t Talk Anymore” by Cliff Richard brought a change of pace to the first day’s lineup. Its heartfelt lyrics and Richard’s emotive delivery showcased the diversity of music styles MTV aimed to represent. Slot this one in as your cool-down (dissociating from the beat). 

Brass in Pocket, The Pretenders, 3:05, 99 bpm
The Pretenders’ “Brass in Pocket” served up a healthy dose of rock ‘n’ roll, making it a standout on MTV’s launch day. With Chrissie Hynde’s commanding vocals and the band’s edgy sound, the song became an instant classic. In the cycling studio, the tempo challenges you with a steady high cadence of around 100 rpm. You can also ride below the beat on the verse and surge the legs toward 100 rpm on the chorus, increasing the intensity.

Take It On the Run, REO Speedwagon, 3:59, 155 bpm (the YouTube tempo is 83 bpm)
REO Speedwagon’s “Take It on the Run,” one of the numerous tracks by this group featured on MTV, brought the power of rock ballads to MTV’s early rotation. “Take it on the Run” can work as a warm-up, a moderate working effort, or a longer active recovery. You can amp up the intensity on the guitar riffs if desired. 

Remote Control, Silencers, 3:40 87 bpm
It may be tempting to use tracks that still get airtime on retro stations or playlists, but you’d be missing out on all the fun! For those who loved music, the avant-garde “Remote Control” became a symbol of MTV’s commitment to celebrating music in all its forms. The Silencers’ distinctive sound and quirky visuals challenged traditional music norms and served as a reminder that the channel was not just about playing chart-topping hits but also about providing a platform for innovative artists and unusual sounds. “Remote Control” is perfect for a seated hard interval at 87 rpm. (Note: I couldn’t find the original video on YouTube. This video is a blend of “Remote Control” and “Illegal,” one of their other songs that appeared on the first day of MTV. Below the video, it says that “Remote Control” was the 40th song in MTV’s lineup.)


Curating an indoor cycling playlist featuring the songs that marked MTV’s inaugural day is a fantastic and entertaining way to celebrate this memorable occasion that meant so much to many of your riders who grew up or went to college during that time period (which may include yourself!). Riding to the tracks that once graced the screens of early MTV will evoke nostalgia for your older participants while introducing your younger riders to the roots of music video culture. So, let’s hop on our bikes, immerse ourselves in the magic of MTV’s inception, and pedal to the rhythms that defined an era of music television. 

Share in the comments your favorite early MTV songs!

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