That Time When Hans Zimmer Helped Kill the Radio Star

Before he became the mastermind behind Hollywood’s most memorable scores, iconic composer Hans Zimmer played a surprising role in a video that would change the music world forever.

Dive in, and discover how Zimmer’s journey intersected with music video history in the most unexpected way.

The Buggles: Setting the Stage for MTV’s Reign

On September 7, 1979, a band named the Buggles unleashed their game-changing anthem, “Video Killed the Radio Star,” shattering the music scene and igniting a revolution that would forever alter the course of musical history. The tune was their debut single from their first album, “The Age of Plastic.”

This timeless masterpiece boldly claimed the crown as the very first music video to grace the iconic screens of MTV.

The theme of the song—addressing the impact of technology on popular culture—was prophetic, with the rise of videos and MTV soon becoming the zeitgeist.

The song featured Linda Jardim, an opera singer, playing a Stargirl-like character and using a plastic tube to make the unusual twinkly sounds heard in the track.

The Ageless Anthem of the 20th-Century

Trevor Horn, a multi-talented musician, wrote the song in 1978 with Geoff Downes and Bruce Woolley, another musician and producer who also wrote “Slave to the Rhythm” with Grace Jones.

The Buggles, which consisted of Horn and Downes, only later recorded it after Bruce Woolley and The Camera Club (with Thomas Dolby on keyboards) did so for their album “English Garden.”

Trevor Horn played the bass guitar, keyboards, and provided the vocal recording for the entire song. The instrumentation of drums, electric guitar, and synth strings was integral to the song’s characteristically catchy and energetic sound.

The inception of “Video Killed the Radio Star” was deeply rooted in Trevor Horn’s inspiration from a science fiction story about an opera singer in a soundless world.

This concept of obsolescence, of being replaced by something new and technologically advanced, resonated with Horn. His frustrations as a “loser record producer” led him to take matters into his own hands, resulting in the creation of this iconic song. 

“Video Killed the Radio Star” achieved almost instant hit status in the international music charts. Apart from topping the Kent Music Report in Australia, the tune also reached notable positions on the following music charts:

  1. UK Singles Chart – It peaked at number one.
  2. Billboard Hot 100 (United States) – The song reached number 40.
  3. Canada’s Top Singles – It peaked at number 8.
  4. Irish Singles Chart – The song reached number 2.
  5. South African Singles Chart – It peaked at number 5.

Owing to its catchy tune and bold lyrics, it quickly turned into a perfect pop song for many.

Hans Zimmer’s Role in the Music Video

The one-hit wonder was recorded at Virgin’s Town House studio in West London, where acclaimed film and music composer Hans Zimmer acted as a session musician on the synthesizer.

Bruce Woolley, Trevor Horn, and Hans Zimmer, who were friends at the time, all collaborated to produce the song. Island Records initially released it, and ZTT Records of Horn later did so.

During the production of the video, Zimmer made an appearance, performing as a keytarist,” a combination of a keyboard and guitar.

Along with Horn and keyboardist Geoffrey Downes, Zimmer received his five minutes of early fame under Russell Mulcahy’s direction, establishing the futuristic and inventive atmosphere that would come to represent the MTV era.

Early Life and Career of Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer was born on September 12, 1957, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. He displayed an early interest in music and began playing the piano at a young age. However, he was mostly self-taught and did not receive formal music education. In the late 1970s, Zimmer moved to London, where he pursued a career in music.

He attended Hurtwood House, a boarding school in Surrey, England, but his aspirations to receive formal music training were met with rejection. The London music schools he applied to turned him down due to his lack of traditional schooling, as he hadn’t completed his A-levels.

However, this setback didn’t deter Zimmer.

During his time in London, Zimmer joined the band Krakatoa, where he played keyboards and synthesizers. In the late 1970s, that led him to collaborate with the Buggles, and the rest is music video history.

Later Career of Hans Zimmer

After working with The Buggles and several bands, Zimmer began composing music for commercials, which led to his involvement in film scoring. He worked with British film composer Stanley Myers, where he contributed to the scores for movies such as “My Beautiful Laundrette” (1985) and “Moonlighting” (1982).

In the late 1980s, Zimmer gained recognition for his work on the scores for “A World Apart” (1988) and “Rain Man” (1988), the latter of which earned him his first Academy Award nomination.

These projects marked the beginning of his highly successful career as a film composer, known for his innovative use of electronic elements in orchestral scores.

Here’s a table showcasing some of the important scoring work of Hans Zimmer throughout the years:

1988“Rain Man”Zimmer’s first major Hollywood score.
1994“The Lion King”Won the Academy Award for Best Original Score.
1995“Crimson Tide”Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score.
2000“Gladiator”Co-composed with Lisa Gerrard. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score.
2003“The Last Samurai”Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score.
2008“The Dark Knight”Co-composed with James Newton Howard. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score.
2010“Inception”Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score.
2013“12 Years a Slave”Co-composed with Benjamin Wallfisch and Pharrell Williams.
2014“Interstellar”Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score.
2017“Dunkirk”Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score.

It’s worth noting that Zimmer has composed music for many other films and projects throughout his career, and the above list is not exhaustive.

Impact and Legacy of “Video Killed the Radio Star”

The impact was most evident when “Video Killed the Radio Star” was chosen as the first music video to air on MTV, the new 24-hour music channel, in 1981. This historical moment showcased the power of videos to transform the way people consumed music and brought artists and their work to the forefront.

“From inspiring bands like Frankie Goes to Hollywood to sparking a wave of catchy 1980s tunes, the legacy of “Video Killed the Radio Star” is undeniable. Artists like Ben Folds Five and the Presidents of the United States of America have reimagined it.

But its influence isn’t just musical—it’s popped up in movies like “Take Me Home Tonight” and “The Wedding Singer,” and even got a shoutout in TV shows like “Family Guy.” Clearly, this song’s impact goes way beyond the radio.”

As for Hans Zimmer, who would’ve thought that the same guy who played in the “Video Killed the Radio Star” video would go on to score some of Hollywood’s biggest hits?

It’s a fun reminder that life is full of unexpected twists, and Zimmer’s journey is a testament to that. From MTV to the big screen, he’s truly done it all.