5 Key Pre-MTV Videos

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As part of the MTV revolution, featured in the current issue of Classic Pop, we’re counting down the top 5 pre-MTV music videos…

5. Mike Nesmith – Rio (1977)


The former Monkee singlehandedly invented MTV. Well, sort of. He created a video clip for his song Rio, a single taken from the album From A Radio Engine To The Photon Wing, and that, in turn, helped him come up with the idea of a television programme called PopClips for the Nickelodeon cable network. In 1980, PopClips was sold to the Time Warner/Amex consortium, who then developed it – ta-daaa! – into the MTV network.

4. The Bee Gees – Stayin’ Alive (1977)


In which the brothers Gibb match John Travolta’s own mix of earthy masculinity and fey femininity from Saturday Night Fever as they strut about in tight slacks in an abandoned subway terminal set at MGM Studios, giving it loads of piercing falsetto to an immaculate disco beat. The derelict look of the movie set matched the song’s lyrics, which were literally about staying alive in a city only recently brought back from the brink of bankruptcy.

3. Bob Dylan – Subterranean Homesick Blues (1967)


This is the famous clip that opened DA Pennebaker’s classic Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back, featuring the singer in an alley in London holding up cue cards with key lyrics (and some phrases that aren’t in the song) scrawled on them. Spot the cameo by Howl author Allen Ginsberg. The card-tossing routine has been parodied/ripped off on many occasions, including by INXS on Mediate.

2. The Beatles – Strawberry Fields Forever (1967)


The Fabs had been matching sonics with visuals ever since the feature film A Hard Day’s Night in 1964. This groundbreaking promo was filmed over two chilly January days in Knole Park in Kent, and featured a paint-spattered piano and tree strung up to resemble a huge harp. This clip captured the psychedelic swirl of the music well, heavy as it is on shaky cameras, backwards motion, coloured filters, and disconcerting close-ups of moustaches.

1. Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody (1975)


Widely regarded as the actual bona-fide First Video Proper, this visual accompaniment to Queen’s prog-choral masterwork these days seems almost quaint and antiquated, but at the time its effects – shots crossfading, Freddie Mercury’s face cascading away during the echoed line “go” – were strikingly novel. It was shot in just four hours, and specifically for Top Of The Pops, so the band wouldn’t have to appear or suffer a Pan’s People routine.

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