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?