A Short History of Music Video You Might Not Know About

Oct 05, 2021 · 9 min read

Animation & videos have become powerful marketing tools nowadays. Video clips may be a great communication channel for many reasons. The majority of filmmakers know that. However, not each of them might ever inquire on the music short video history and the reasons for their immense popularity. 

If you have no idea about the videos for music, their history, and their influence on the modern video business, you’re welcome to find that out.

When it All Started

A music service like YouTube Music was launched in the United States in 2018. Accordingly, the number of different articles and blogs dedicated to music is growing every day. Another year, one of the central events in pop culture was Drake’s Hotline Bling video, this year – it’s Madonna’s Surprise VMA’s appearance, etc. 

Today, it’s still curious to plunge into the fascinating history of combining image and music and talk about how music videos became what they are today, as well as impact the filmmaking industry in general.

Music Video Origins

Even though the origins of the first music videos date back to a kind of musical short film that first appeared in the 1920s, they again were revised in the 1980s. And all due to the MTV channel.  

MTV is no longer interested in playing music videos these days, but when it had back in 1981, it helped define eras and careers and became a phenomenon in pop culture & commercials. 

Though they were not monetized, they enabled many music videos even though few were successful, to explode mainly because they aired weekly on pop shows around the whole world.

While music videos are almost exclusively viewed on YouTube these days, this is only the latest stage in the evolution of a subgenre of filming, which can be as complex as a feature film and as personal as family photography. Or as monetized as commercials.

Since music videos are still popular alongside other commercials or explainer videos widely applied in marketing for multiple purposes, a short history of the music video will try to explain why. 

A Short History of Music Video You Might Not Know About 1
MTV impact was undeniable

The Key Events that Became a Video History

To tell the story of this medium and show how it has evolved over the decades, we’ve looked at some of the most significant music video-making events of the past 50 or more years. Here they are.

First illustrated song

When there was no sound in films, songwriters used a variety of methods to attract audiences. In 1894, music publishers Joseph Stern and Edward Mark created the first illustrated composition, helped by George Thomas – an electrician.

It looked like this: about 10-15 images were attached to the song, which was projected onto the wall during the live performance. In most cases, illustrated musical compositions were broadcast before the film, but sometimes they were shown instead of the movie. The popularity of such illustrations and the public’s recognition led inventors not to be limited to this.

First music video recorded on tape

The first music video appeared around the same time that the sound appeared in films. And the first to star in such a video were Bob Witt and guitarist Cy Berg. They sang three unnamed songs (although many sources say that they sang the songs “My Honolulu Hula Girl” and “Hello, Aloha”, if you compare the lyrics, you can see it’s not them) to showcase the latest technology from the Vitaphone film company.

Music videos have been made that way for a long time, but then there was no term special for it – it was nothing more than a taped performance of a song.

First music video

The first to call the performance a “music video” was American rock musician Giles Perry Richardson Jr., also known as Big Bopper, who died in the plane crash – “The Day Music Died.” His work “Chantilly Lace” was first called a “music video”, although nothing special was happening there – just a touching conversation on the phone with a girl.

A Short History of Music Video You Might Not Know About 2
Big Bopper performing

Of course, one could argue that Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” video, which was released a year earlier, was much more dynamic and even has dance elements. But on the other hand, Big Bopper was important in the first place because it brought a new concept to everyday life.

It is also believed that the first music video was filmed by another legend – Tony Bennett, but there was no evidence of the existence of his “Stranger in Paradise”.

First video with a plot

It is difficult to say with certainty who shot the first video with the plot, meaning – from a script written. Although the English rock band The Kinks was one of the first performers to do so.

Later, the adventures of unlucky working-class funerals inspired the Oasis group to create a black and white music video, but it was hardly a cult one. The video was not allowed to run on BBC (although there was no official ban) because it was considered tasteless.

First video of a fictional music group

The Archies, which were born out of the teenage comic “Archie,” weren’t the first of their kind: the famous Alvin and the chipmunks were ahead of them. But it was the Archies who became the first group to appear on television and, as a result, taking care of the appearance of the music video.

This group is best known for the song “Sugar, Sugar”, which is rumored to have been abandoned by The Monkees. But The Archies’ first video was filmed for the straightforward song “Bang Shang a Lang,” which showed you how to dance to bubblegum pop. In contrast, it took Gorillaz over 30 years to succeed, at least with anything.

First music video recorded on videotape

A funny fact: one of the first full-blown music videos was created out of personal principles and time constraints. When the world-famous rock group Queen received an invitation to the British television program “Top of the Pops”, the musicians said they would not come. Because of the concert tour they did not want to play to the soundtrack (it was a mandatory requirement at the time).

The result was one of the most innovative clips of the time – a combination of effects, a reference to the band’s album cover and many other aspects led to the fact that many years later, people consider this clip to be the first in history. In a way, this is not far from the truth.

“What came first?” vs. “What was the best?”

So, it is not always possible to find an exact answer to the question. What was the worldwide accepted first video? What was the first rejected by a certain musician to become the first? What was the first video remake? A prequel? It’s a never-ending list of questions.  Though, some evidence we still can find.

What was the first animated video? – is another question to look for.

Since music video did not appear immediately, much of the familiar works were once incredible, if not frightening, and later became the ‘officially first.’ 

On the one hand, there were colored photographs, or illustrations, or lights effects to substitute. On the other, thanks to MTV a lot of creative performers like Bjork with their videos emerged and were popularized. Who, in fact, if you watched their videos in virtual reality or in 4D was a real video clip maker & surprised a lot. There is an abyss of them. The first and the best are all in comparison. These facts and many others tell how MTV changed everything, for true.

Nevertheless, the last drop was a technological outburst we’re living in now. We know explainer videos, animation & short films for marketing, ready for anything, and how technology influenced our perception of these video works are already a modern video history. Music videos, first inspired and shot many years ago, were the basis for many businesses in various industries, that’s a fact.

What do you think? Which of these would you include on your own inspiration list of music videos? Please tell us about your music video preferences and how you apply them for business inspiration if any in the comments below!

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