On January 1, 1985, MTV’s parent corporation launched a new music video network aimed at building upon what the original music channel had created, but it focused on a slightly older demographic. When VH1 first came into existence, it was all about music videos and music shows. Favorites like “Behind the Music”, “VH1 Legends”, “Best Week Ever”, and “Pop-Up Video” kept us up long past our bedtime. The anticipation of what was to come was always such a thrill to us music lovers. “Behind the Music” in particular, was truly the forerunner to today’s biopics about the people and bands we loved from the 60s to the 90s, and beyond.
A brief history on the show: “Behind the Music” came to be after Paul Gallagher and George Moll produced a one-hour special entitled “Dying in Vein” which first aired on VH1 in December 1996. While “Dying in Vein” was a magazine-style show, its approach to storytelling served as the prototype for “Behind the Music.” A short-lived half-hour spin-off series titled “BTM2” (short for Behind the Music 2), chronicled the careers of newer, up and coming artists.
The show focused primarily on those artists who were no longer in the music industry, were moderately successful, were up and coming, and/or had a more niche market than those who were spotlighted on “VH1 Legends.” Today, we are going to revisit some of the bands that were featured on the show.
The Carpenters were a pop duo composed of siblings Karen and Richard Carpenter. During their 14-year career, the Carpenters recorded ten albums, along with numerous singles and several television specials. They started performing in 1965 and struck gold with their 1969 smash hit “Close to You”. The brother-sister soft rock duo would dominate the charts throughout the 70s while one of its members hid a deadly eating disorder. Sadly, Karen lost her battle with the disease in February 1983, succumbing to a heart condition brought on by anorexia nervosa. Post Carpenters, Richard has continued on writing and producing for himself and others and has released several Carpenters albums since Karen’s death. Richard is married and lives with his wife and 5 children in Thousand Oaks, CA. One of his daughters is named Mindi Karen, after his sister.
Jim Croce was a singer/songwriter who is best known for his hits “Time in A Bottle”, “Operator”, “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”, and “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” as well as others. Between 1966 and 1973, Croce released five studio albums and numerous singles. Unfortunately, he was killed, along with five others, in a plane crash in September of 1973, at the height of his popularity. This tragedy occurred just one day before his song “I’ve Got A Name” was released. The album of the same name was released posthumously, in December of the same year and a greatest hits album entitled “Photographs & Memories” followed in 1974.
One of the most bizarre music acts to come out of the late 80s was that of Milli Vanilli. They were a German R&B/dance-pop duo founded by Frank Farian in 1988 and consisted of Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus. They became one of the most popular pop acts in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with millions of records sold. However, their success quickly turned to infamy when Morvan, Pilatus, and their agent Sergio Vendero confessed that Morvan and Pilatus did not sing any of the vocals heard on their music releases. They were forced to give back their Best New Artist Grammy due to their deceit. Sadly, this wouldn’t be the end of this tragedy, as Rob Pilatus would be found dead from an accidental drug and alcohol overdose in April 1998. Even more tragic, the duo had recorded an album of their own work in an attempt to reinvent themselves, but that recording would never see the light of day after Pilatus’ death. The recordings have since been destroyed.
One of the best bands to ever come out of Athens, GA was R.E.M. They were a rock and alternative band formed in 1980 by drummer Bill Berry, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist/backing vocalist Mike Mills, and lead vocalist Michael Stipe. They started out playing gigs at the University of Georgia, where they attended and quickly became an underground favorite. The band developed an almost cult-like following in Athens and quickly were signed to I.R.S. Records. Their unique, pre-grunge sound helped make them an international success. R.E.M. was pivotal in the creation and development of the alternative rock genre. AllMusic stated, “R.E.M. mark the point when post-punk turned into alternative rock. They would record over 15 albums on both I.R.S. and Warner Brothers before finally calling it quits. Years later, Peter Buck said “We hadn’t made an announcement or anything. We got together, and Michael said, ‘I think you guys will understand. I need to be away from this for a long time.’ And I said, ‘How about forever?’ Michael looked at Mike, and Mike said, ‘Sounds right to me.’ That’s how it was decided.” In September 2011, the band announced via its website that it was “calling it a day as a band”.
The original “super freak” Rick James began his musical career in his teen years in various bands and groups before entering the U.S. Navy to avoid being drafted in the early 1960s. However, due to his repeatedly missing his twice a month training session as a naval reservist, he was ordered to Viet Nam, which led him to flee to Canada in 1965. Eventually, his legal troubles caught up with him and he served about six months in a federal naval brig. Upon release, James moved to California where he started a variety of rock and funk groups in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While he was initially mildly successful as a performer, his composition and production work were very successful, and some of the artists his songs were licensed by included Teena Marie, the Mary Jane Girls, the Temptations, Eddie Murphy and Smokey Robinson. His star continued to rise, but it wouldn’t be until 1991 that he would finally achieve the industry recognition he craved when he received a Grammy for MC Hammer’s sampling of James’ song “Super Freak” in Hammer’s hit “Can’t Touch This”. Unfortunately, James’ career was hampered by his drug addiction. In 1993, James was convicted for two separate instances of kidnapping and torturing two different women while under the influence of crack cocaine, resulting in a three-year sentence at Folsom State Prison. After his release in 1996, James’s health problems halted his career again after a mild stroke during a concert in 1998 and he announced a semi-retirement. He would return to perform in 2004, only to pass away from heart failure later that year.
Amazingly, “Behind the Music” is still available on VH1 Classics, and some shows are still in production! It was such a pleasant surprise to find out “Behind the Music” still exists, and to date, they have done 246 shows. There were also “Behind the Music” specials, that chronicled pop culture phenomena like movies and plays, different years and eras, and individuals that helped shape and influence the direction of music.
Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of Operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected].