Turn It On, Leave It On: MTV's 10 Best Music Series

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the beginning of MTV, that loud, hyper-colored behemoth that changed pop culture and the music industry forever, endlessly providing viewers with visual and mental stimulation upstairs and plenty of titillation downstairs. The cable channel helped foster bands as much they helped destroy them, with looks overtaking catchiness in some cases. Sorry, Christopher Cross.

But MTV hasn't always been crass commercialism, crying Guidettes, and teen parents. At one time you could tune and settle in for one- and two-hour blocks of great music videos, or at least memorable ones. Series like Headbanger's Ball and 120 Minutes showed people bands that they may have never knew existed outside of radio and magazines, and people actually made time with friends to watch these shows.

You can blame all of these shows for most of the past 30 years of music, good or bad. And it wasn't just the rockers who were getting indoctrinated. Shows like Yo! MTV Raps brought hip-hop into your living room, and through The Grind we all gained an appreciation for silver bikinis and heavenly abs.

If it wasn't for AMP, some people may have never heard electronica outside of a dance club, or yes, even a strip club. Not that many strippers were shaking it to Underworld and Orbital...

Headbanger's Ball

The Ball was a weekly event for suburban metalheads and thrashers when there wasn't a show to sneak into in the big city. Hosts like Riki Rachtman showed us how metal dudes were supposed to dress, act and talk, while interviewing a line of bands from Pantera to Guns N' Roses. And Slayer. Always Slayer. The Ball was cancelled in 1995, but the show came back in 2003 to MTV2 with Hatebreed's Jamey Jasta at the helm.

120 Minutes

This show helped the world get to know Radiohead, XTC, The Jesus & Mary Chain and Oasis, among other '80s and '90s indie and college-rock touchstones. For two hours each weekend, a whole audience was indoctrinated for life. Now we have hipsters. Thanks, MTV.


When 120 Minutes ended in 2000, there was no place on MTV for indie-rock and other weirdo, fringe music. The show moved over to MTV2 for two years in 2001 until 2003, when Subterranean debuted in its stead. Host Jim Shearer was no Kennedy or Matt Pinfield.

Alternative Nation

After Nirvana happened, the channel knew they had to have a show geared a new breed of flannel-clad youth, something to sell acne cream companies on. Hosted by Kennedy, Alternative Nation was a snarky and awkward answer to Headbanger's Ball, and less serious than 120 Minutes.

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Yo! MTV Raps

From 1988 to 1995, Yo! was MTV's first hip-hop showcase, featuring performances by the biggest acts of the day, and new videos. It would be followed by Direct Effect and Sucker Free before MTV went to an almost all-reality show format.

Total Request Live

TRL was on the front lines of the teen-pop and nu-metal explosions of the late '90s, and lasted until late 2008 when it was shuttered. For over a decade, it was where teens and creepy old people congregated every afternoon to see their favorite Limp Bizkit, Britney Spears, and Kid Rock videos when it was first unleashed on the world. By the end, it was all Taylor Swift, Jonas Brothers, and emo.


When electronica went sorta mainstream in 1997, AMP was there to help new fans of the genre discover new forms of the sound - from trance and house to trip-hop, AMP had it all.


It started as a simple idea to get the biggest bands of the day to unplug and do acoustic, stripped-down versions of their hits, and today it still makes appearances though the acts fudge a little on the unplugged part. If you are a novice to the series, start with the Nirvana and Eric Clapton episodes. More on Unplugged later this week on Rocks Off.

The Grind

The Grind was literally 22 minutes of softcore ass-shaking and dirty dancing to the biggest club and dance hits of the day. It ran from 1992 to 1997, and worked in a pinch if you couldn't find a JCPenney's or Victoria's Secret catalog to look at.

Club MTV

Wubba-wubba-wubba? If you don't know what that means, or have never heard that phrase, then you are young and stupid, and we envy you. Club MTV was basically like Dick Clark's American Bandstand but with Downtown Julie Brown, and a tad raunchier.

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