Boomers Watched Music Videos Before MTV

MTV turned 40 this week. Certainly it left its mark on the culture, especially the generation immediately following the boomers. Many of us were out working jobs and raising families by the time MTV began broadcasting on July 31, 1981. However, it occurred to Mister Boomer that even though there had not been a channel devoted to music videos 24/7 before MTV, boomers still saw many music videos as far back as the 1950s, aired on various TV shows like the British Top of the Pops, and both national and local programs in the U.S.

The pairing of music and film goes all the way back to the first talkies in the 1920s. In the boomer years, one might argue that every Elvis movie was a promotional spot for the release of a record, and each song in the movie a music video. However, can anyone deny Elvis’ performance of Jaihouse Rock (1957), in that wonderful two-story set, wasn’t a music video? Certainly the Beatles’ movies contained music videos within the plotlines to support record releases, too; but we are talking TV here, not on the big screen.

Music videos in the boomer years were often promotional in nature. Bands in the 1950s and later released them to TV programs around the globe in regions where they weren’t able to tour in person. Others were not intended for public consumption, but found their way to local stations looking to attract a young audience.

Here are just a few early examples:

The Big Bopper– Chantilly Lace (1959)
Many rock historians (and NPR) point to The Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson) as the father of modern music videos. He is also credited with coining the phrase, “music video,” in an interview with an English magazine in 1958.

The Animals — The House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Gary Burdon stared directly at the camera several times in this video, and the band even moved around a little at one point. Of course, like many TV performances, there is not a cord in sight; the instruments are not plugged in. But with several camera angles, a minimal set design, and a moving camera, this was an early music video.

Martha and the Vandelas — Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide (1964)
Motown filmed the group singing inside a Ford factory in Detroit.

Bob Dylan — Subterranean Homesick Blues (1965)
This “video” was actually the opening sequence of a documentary called Don’t Look Back by D.A. Pennebake, about Dylan’s first tour in England. What is so memorable about it now is how Dylan, standing in an alley, flips cards with words from the song on them. This scenario has been imitated hundreds of times since by bands of all types.

The Beatles released many promotional videos, including Strawberry Fields, Paperback Writer, Rain, Day Tripper, We Can Work It Out, Penny Lane and many more. Their video for Something (1969) featured them with their wives!

David Bowie was also an early-adopter, releasing the video for Space Oddity in 1969.

The Monkees — TV Show (1966-68)
Like The Beatles and Elvis before them, the show was basically a promotion for their records. Each episode introduced their new music in a video within the plot. The difference was, this was made for TV.

The Rolling Stones — We Love You (1967)
This song was the B side of Dandelion in the U.S., but it was the A-side in England. The video, like many of the Beatles’ videos, was a mini-movie in and of itself, purported to be a re-enactment of the 1895 trial of Oscar Wilde. You’ve got to see it to believe it, then you’ll say, “yeah, that was 1967 all right”:

Once you go down that road and search for these early music videos, you’ll see how much influence they had on the next generation that appeared on MTV.

How about you, boomers? Do you recall watching music videos 50-60 years ago?

Boomers Watched Shepard Go Into Space

In case you somehow missed it, Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world and former CEO of Amazon, rocketed into space in his own Blue Origin spacecraft this past week. As a nod to the beginning of American spaceflight, Bezos named his rocket and capsule New Shepard after Alan Shepard, the first U.S. astronaut to fly into space on May 5, 1961. (The first was Soviet Union cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin 23 days earlier.)

Obviously a lot has changed in space travel in the past 60 years, but since we boomers were around for the first launch and this first commercial launch with human passengers, it’s interesting to compare the two.

How the two flights compare:
Government agency mission control: National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA)
Project Name: Mercury 7
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, Florida
Flight Date: May 5, 1961
Rocket Base: Redstone booster
Capsule Name: Freedom 7
Pilot and Crew: Alan Shepard; capsule built for one occupant only
Duration of Flight: 15 1/2 minutes
Height Flown: 116 miles
Landing: Splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, 190 nautical miles from Cape Canaveral
Estimated cost of project: Congress allocated $277 million to start the program of putting a man into space

Private company mission control: Blue Origin (Amazon)
Project Name: New Shepard
Launch Site: Company owned facility in the West Texas desert, near Van Horn, Texas
Flight Date: July 20, 2021 (the 52-year anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission landing man on the moon)
Rocket Base: New Shepard reusable booster and capsule (the booster rocket lands safely back on earth after being disengaged from the capsule.)
Capsule Name: New Shepard (same as booster)
Pilot and Crew: Automated pilot, trajectory controlled from ground computers. Four passengers, including Wally Funk, now the oldest person to fly into space; Jeff Bezos and his brother, Mark; and Oliver Daemon, an 18-year old student from Amsterdam, the youngest person to fly into space
Duration of Flight: 11 minutes
Height Flown: 62 miles
Landing: Parachute landing near the company’s West Texas desert launch site
Estimated cost of project: Bezos isn’t saying, but has revealed that his upcoming project for orbital travel, the New Glenn, is clocking in at $2.5 billion.

Other fun facts:
• The number “seven” placed after each capsule name in the Project Mercury missions was a nod to the original seven men named as astronauts: Alan Shepard, Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra and Deke Slayton. All seven made it into space, most more than once. Virgil “Gus” Grissom was scheduled to fly in the Apollo 1 mission to land on the moon, when he was killed in a fire in the command module along with Edward White and Roger Chaffee, during a test on the launchpad on January 27, 1967.

• Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark are now the first siblings to fly into space together.

• Blue Origin’s next project, New Glenn, is named after original Mercury astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn.

• John Glenn had been the oldest person to fly into space when he returned on a Space Shuttle mission on January 16, 1998. He was 77 at the time. Wally Funk, now the oldest person to fly into space, is 82.

• Wally Funk was a 22-year old pilot when she was chosen as one of 13 women (the Mercury 13) to be tested alongside the original seven male astronauts in February of 1961, in a privately-funded effort called the Lovelace Project. The 13 women ultimately chosen from a pool of 25 had all passed the same tests as the men; Wally Funk even had higher scores on some tests than John Glenn. NASA chose to cancel the program before the final test could be given, using the excuse that their astronauts had to be military test pilots. Consequently, the first woman in space was Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, on June 16, 1963. The first American woman in space was Astronaut Sally Ride, on January 16, 1978.

• On February 6, 1971, Alan Shepard not only walked on the moon, he hit two golf balls with a 6-iron he sneaked onboard.

• The first Space Race was between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. This Billionaire’s Space Race (as it has been termed) pits Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin against Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Virgin Galactic successful ushered two pilots, three mission specialists and Richard Branson into space on July 11, 2021. Blue Origin flew approximately 12 miles higher than the Virgin Galactic flight. SpaceX has yet to launch humans into space.

Mister Boomer saw the first Shepard launch on a TV wheeled into his classroom at school in 1961. He watched this past week’s Blue Origin launch as highlights on the internet. How about it, boomers? Did you watch both launches? Did it stir memories of those early days of space travel?