Saturday, March 3, 2007

Soundies on PBS

I've long been a student of music video history, so I must say that I was very happy to hear that there will be a two hour special on PBS in March entitled The Soundies: A Musical History.

For those of you who have never heard of them, Soundies were short, black and white, 16mm films based around songs. Essentially, they were the music videos of their day. They were created to be played on a Panoram, a rear projection machine that was essentially a film jukebox. Located in bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and so on, one could place a dime in a Panoram and watch a Soundie.

The Panoram was introduced in January 1941 by the Mills Novelty Company of Chicago. The machines then cost about $600 apiece. New reels of Soundies were released each week, with each reel consisting of about eight Soundies. The Soundies covered a wide range of genres, from pop to big band to country (well, then, it was called hillbilly music...), and so on. Several major artists made Soundies, including The Ink Spots, Jimmy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Doris Day and so on. Some Soundies would even be shown as theatrical shorts in cinemas

Unfortunately, the advent of World War II would mean the beginning of the end of the Panoram and Soundies. The war curtailed civilian manufacturing, so that while new Soundies were constantly being produced, no new Panorams were being made. By 1947 the novelty of Soundies and the Panoram had pretty much run its course. That summer was when the last Soundies were made.

Anyhow, The Soundies: A Musical History will cover the history of the Soundies, complete with interviews (with such folks as Les Paul and Leonard Maltin). and some Soundies themselves. I rather suspect anyone who enjoys music, movies, or music videos, should probably not miss this one.

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