The late 2011 return of the venerable MTV program, “120 Minutes,” was met with loud aplomb and nostalgic guffaws. There was always the sinister notion that the show, lauded for delivering a platform to unappreciated and underground bands, rarely accomplished its goal. A strong argument against the show’s philosophy is evident when combing through the show’s archives. As the years ticked away toward the end of the show’s original run, the playlists became riddled with manufactured alterna-rock and rap-rock angst that burdened the second half of the 90s.
“120 Minutes” had its fair share of marquee moments during 1995, with pretty boys Bush guest-hosting the first episode of the new year and mainstream breakouts such as Alanis Morissette and Blind Melon receiving top billing on the show. But it’s the lesser moments—of which there are many—that solidified the show as must-see television for a large set of music fans trapped in closed markets and surrounded by computerized radio playlists. A surprise would always shake up the status quo, but “120 Minutes” offered up those moments across a wide array of alternative, underground, college and punk rock. Bands seeking a reputation built on hard touring and niche record sales, such as Ween, Mike Watt and Tripping Daisy found themselves on set and able to intro videos–perhaps discussing their musical philosophies.
(Juliana Hatfield discusses her pop star aspirations)
But 1995 was integral to “120 Minutes” lore due to Matt Pinfield. Bands on the cusp but needing a swell of support found it often during the 1995 run of “120 Minutes.” The radio DJ had garnered a reputation among the NY/NJ crowd for being knowledgeable, respectful and thorough. His credentials were varied but vetted. Though most of his audience on Sunday nights was unaware of his resume, they came to know it quickly when he assumed full-time hosting duties in October after a string of guest hosts, providing a rejuvenated platform for many alternative acts.
Under Pinfield, a bevy of musical directions were given as much equal time as MTV executives would allow. As the lustfully curious taped “120 Minutes” just to stare into Gavin Rossdale’s reflective eyes, many more were hoping to catch the new song, video or band that best captured their personality. Music fans continue to gnash teeth at critics who dare trash a beloved artist—it’s a reflection of us and by tearing down that band, you are accused of tearing down one’s identity. Pinfield, however, wasn’t caught in this cyclical trap. No one was threatened or intimidated by his presence, and though Lewis Largent was equally adept at delivering thought-provoking interviews and catering to the creative class, his rock façade somehow made him harder to grasp. Pinfield’s short and stout likeability gave the awkward and weird a respected visage and a graveled voice.
(Matt Pinfield interviews Jerry Cantrell)
Inherent in the DNA of “120 Minutes” was longevity. Despite a narrowing focus as the years passed by, bands that were fixtures on the MTV programs have found themselves in great positions in modern times. Stadium lynchpins Radiohead and Foo Fighters found their audiences via “120 Minutes” before being unleashed into regular rotation; the program test-driving minor hits such as “Just,” “High & Dry” and “I’ll Stick Around” in the comfort of a midnight slot. Bumpers from Oasis, No Doubt, and Veruca Salt helped lend the show a glossy sheen but also provided those bands with the audience to propel them into the mainstream (no matter how fleeting success may have been).
(Radiohead – “Fake Plastic Trees”)
(Foo Fighters – “I’ll Stick Around”)
Artists destined for superstardom weren’t the only benefactors of “120 Minutes.” Acts recently grandfathered into modern independent music (though always a part of it) such as Archers of Loaf, The Flaming Lips, Hum and Guided By Voices were all welcomed with open arms.
(Hum perform “I’d Like Your Hair Long” live on “120 Minutes”)
Despite being on MTV– a network careful in its pop culture curating– there was an oasis (slightly polluted but drinkable all the same) for those stuck in Podunk towns with little relief from terrestrial waves and no knowledge of underground scenes and zines. “120 Minutes” offered a look and a listen to bands you otherwise may have never laid eyes upon.
(Ween hosts “120 Minutes”)
“120 Minutes” wasn’t without its faults as its age and demographics shrank to become part of the MTV modus operandi, but without rose-colored glasses the program’s heydays in the late 80s through the mid-90s are still well worth the praise. Pinpointing the downfall of the show is a discussion for another day (as is the resurrected version that caters to breaking blog artists rather than digging up new gems), but it was a glorious moment through much of 1995 to turn on “120 Minutes” in the still of the night to forget about the day ahead in a few short hours.