Music videos have been around much longer than Mtv. Possibly the very first music “video” was produced in 1894 by the sheet music publishers of “The Little Lost Child“. Called an “illustrated song”, the operator projected still images pertinent to the lyrics, in time with a live performance of the song using what was called a magic lantern similar to that pictured below. This became a very popular promotional avenue for music sheet publishers. “The Little Lost Child” ended up selling over 2 million copies of its sheet music. By today’s standards, it would have been certified double platinum!
In the 1920’s, sing-along cartoons called Screen Songs made their debut. They featured an animated short with lyrics on the screen and a bouncing ball intended to invite the audience to sing along. The very first karaoke!!
Mtv came along nearly 100 years after the first “videos”, debuting in 1981, broadcasting their very first video on August 1. It was likely intentional, but certainly ironic that the first video was The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star”…how did they know? I like videos generally, and call me low brow if you want, but I hate the concept style videos where the visual has absolutely nothing to do with the actual story of the song. Watch Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” to see what I’m talking about. The ONLY thing even resembling the song is the creepy kids with bright eyes. It has nothing to do with fighting for love. Of course Mtv no longer has anything to do with music. Want a good laugh? Watch the “Literal Video” version of “Total Eclipse Of The Heart”. I laugh every time I watch it.
Everybody – 1982
Directed by Ed Steinberg, this thinly veiled techno disco song masquerading as early pop doesn’t even try to hide the fact that it is low budget disco in disguise. Complete with requisite dancers, colored lights, a wall of light bulbs and yes, even a disco ball (look closely), this first video certainly didn’t herald what would soon be America’s biggest pop star. Thankfully, the Material Girl found her groove with Borderline, Papa Don’t Preach, and Like A Virgin to name a few, and turned what might have been a flash in the pan into an extraordinary career spanning 3 decades….so far.
Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough – 1979
This video was Jackson’s first as a solo artist. Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough shows a very handsome, fresh-faced (pre-surgery) Michael looking very happy and upbeat dancing and superimposed over a variety of abstract motion backgrounds. Considered innovative at the time, there is a scene where two more “Michael’s” appear and dance together. Michael Jackson’s dance style is legendary, with several signature moves, and you can see the precursor to his famous moves in this video. Of course, it was the video for “Thriller” that transformed music videos from promotional tools to art.
Your Song – 1971
The flashy showman gives a remarkably toned down performance on this sweet love ballad. While what are supposedly paparazzi surrounding him and sometimes blocking our view, Elton seems to ignore them for the most part, singing in an almost melancholy fashion to the camera. Elton often made promotional videos for his songs prior to Mtv, but when he discovered how popular they were, he ended up making a video for practically every single he has ever recorded despite the fact that he says he hates doing them.
You Give Good Love – 1985
Approaching the one year anniversary of the death of this amazing singer, it is bittersweet to look back at a young diva in the making singing one of her first hits. Clad in a skin-tight pink unitard and a black leather jacket with the sleeves pushed up (we were all so proud of our forearms in the 80’s), Whitney’s signature smile and crystal voice attracts the attention of a handsome, young cameraman who happens to be in the bar where she is rehearsing. Complete with extras fresh off the set of Miami Vice, the cheesiness of the video is all but forgotten when you hear that songbird sing.
Baby One More Time – 1998
Portraying one of porn’s most iconic staples, the slutty school girl, Britney shot to superstardom after the release of this video. A former member of the talent portal known as The Mickey Mouse Club that also started the careers of superstars Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake, Britney’s opening number of the video both plays off her former youthful Disney innocence and rebels against it. The remainder of the video takes place in and around the school with lots of bare bellies and football players. Art, it isn’t, but it’s fun to watch nonetheless.
Weird Al Yankovic
My Bologna – 1979
We can’t end this list without mentioning the man who made a career out of parodying others’ videos. Weird Al never made an official video of the song My Bologna, but he did shoot a demo of it in the men’s bathroom at his college at San Luis Obispo, California. It’s simply a man and his accordion lip syncing to his parody of My Sharona by The Knack.
So that’s it for this installment of celebrity firsts. If you like this kind of article, leave me a comment and let me know. As always, be sure to follow the blog via email (over there on the upper right) to get sneak peeks of upcoming features and events on SingSnap. My challenge to all of you is to record your video version of “Video Killed The Radio Star” and send me the link at email@example.com.
- Britney Spears quits X Factor (contactmusic.com)
- 5 Music Videos Directed by Movie Directors (mrmovietimes.com)
- There’s No Way These Artists Would Have Made it on American Idol: 15 “Singers” Who Can’t Really Sing But Hit Fame Anyway (styleblazer.com)
- 8 Things 90s Kids Miss About MTV (thoughtcatalog.com)