Elton John pays tribute to Marilyn Monroe. Music video: advent of an art form
tHE product was new. But when Music TeleVision (MTV) began broadcasting on Aug. 1, 1981, the idea of fusing the sounds of popular music with moving images of its musicians was already about 75 years old. In fact, almost as long as there has been film, there have been precursors to music video. Ed Sullivan knew the value of putting the '50s' and '60s' hottest rock stars on television. He first introduced the Beatles to American audiences. By the time they became an international phenomenon, they were using film - ``A Hard Day's Night,'' for example - to accompany newly released albums.Skip to next paragraph
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NBC took a step toward recognizing rock music's impact on the young when, in 1966, it aired ``The Monkees,'' a half-hour comedy featuring a rock band of the same name assembled by TV executives. Most shows featured chase scenes, set to a Monkees' tune. These sequences led the way to music video.
The promotional aspect of the rock-star, moving-picture combination was what made the mix so valuable to the music industry. Rock stars such as Elvis and the Beatles certainly helped Ed Sullivan's ratings, but more important they helped themselves. The live broadcasts turned myth into reality for millions of viewers who had seen these stars only in photos.
Even if the promotional opportunities were clear, it took logistical, business, and creative expertise to generate the phenomenon now called rock video.
In the mid-'70s, says Michael Shore in his book ``The Rolling Stone Book of Rock Video,'' many of the major record companies made simple promotional clips for international audiences. These never showed much more than the rock musicians performing before a camera or lip-syncing while walking down a beach.
In Britain, promotional films of American groups were used on ``Top of the Pops,'' a weekly TV countdown show. Similarly, promotional clips of British bands were popular in Australia. In both cases, the clips were used to cut the expense and difficulty of a tour.
Although logistics necessitated early, inexpensive promotional clips, business made rock video happen. MTV was a corporate creation of Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment Corporation.
MTV succeeded because it arranged to use promotional clips from all major record labels for free. (Because the exposure was so valuable, the few early holdouts soon came around.) As a result, record companies were forced to make music videos to compete in the marketplace MTV had created.
Even so, creative talents saw music video as an emerging art form. What began as the music business's promotional tool provided opportunities for creativity. The mixed-media nature of music video drew in a diverse group of artists. Television executives like Bruce Gower, creator of the rock group Queen's ``Bohemian Rhapsody,'' put their television talents to work in the emerging art form.
From the rock music field, established performers like David Bowie took an early interest. In Bowie's case, because the visual element was already an integral part of his stage performances, music videos were a logical next step.
And then there was Devo, a futuristic, post-punk band in radiation suits. What made Devo stand out in rock video history is that the visual element was as important as the music itself, and developed alongside it.
In its early years when video was an avant-garde medium, it attracted and fostered some unusual visual and musical artists. They brought video innovations such as fast-paced, stroboscopic images flashing on and off the screen to rock rhythms. Similarly, the high-fashion look that appears today in many videos had scarcely ever been seen on television before.
As the promotional value of rock video became clearer, creative interests often became secondary to business. The special look was so frequently repeated that it lost its freshness.