Saturday, July 11, 2009

A History of Music Videos Part Four

...May I Introduce to You...

The visual jukeboxes of the Sixties would prove to be a flash in the pan, although they did produce a few remarkable music videos ("Tell Him" by The Exciters, "Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum, et. al.). Ultimately, the biggest mark in music video history would be made by the promotional films made by many rock artists in the decade, essentially the first modern rock videos. As might be expected, much of the impetus for this revolution in rock video was provided by The Beatles.

To be fair, there had been modern music videos made before the first Beatles promotional films. In 1956 Tony Bennett had made a film for "Strangers in Paradise," although that was more an anomaly than the beginning of regularly made music videos. In 1961 Ozzie Nelson made a film for "Travelin' Man" by Ricky Nelson, but that film like those that followed it were meant to be part of the sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. It would be The Beatles who would be the first music artists who would make music videos on a somewhat regular basis whose sole purpose was the promotion of songs.

Of course, even before The Beatles made their first promo films they were involved in a project which blended music and film. In 1963 The Beatles had become an outright phenomenon in the United Kingdom, in a short period already becoming among the most successful musical artists of all time there. It was because of this that United Artists signed The Beatles to appear in three feature films, the studio's primary goal to make a profit from the soundtracks associated with those movies. To produce the first Beatles movie, tentatively called Beatlemania, United Artists turned to Walter Shenson, who had produced the comedies The Mouse That Roared and The Mouse on the Moon. To direct the film Walter Shenson hired Richard Lester, an American expatriate who had directed both The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (a favourite of John Lennon) and The Mouse on the Moon.

Prior to the Sixties the average rock 'n' roll musical was a swiftly shot throwaway product meant simply to capitalise on the popularity of a performer (Elvis Presley's Jailhouse Rock was an exception). Fortunately, director Richard Lester and Alun Owen had other ideas. Together they conceived a film that was as much rock 'n' roll musical as it was an art film, and as much an art film as it was a way out comedy. A Hard Day's Night would revolutionise the rock musical. It would also revolutionise music video. In several of the musical sequences for the film there was no pretence whatsoever of performing. The sequence to "I Should Have Known Better" simply featured The Beatles and Wilfrid Brambell (as Paul's grandfather) playing a game of cards in a train compartment as British schoolgirls watched. The first sequence for "Can't Buy Me Love" simply had The Beatles romping about a field. What is more, the film featured several sequences which were downright surreal, such as The Beatles running beside a train when only a moment previously they had been aboard it. Even the plot of A Hard Day's Night was revolutionary--it was simply a day in the life of The Beatles as they prepared for an appearance on a television show. Not only was A Hard Day's Night a success, but it also received a great deal of acclaim upon its release. It would prove to have a lasting impact on rock video.

The success of A Hard Day's Night was followed by Help! Also directed by Richard Lester, Help! differed primarily from A Hard Day's Night in being shot in colour. It also had a more substantial plot, in which Ringo was stalked by a parody of the Thugee cult because he was wearing their sacrificial ring. Like A Hard Day's Night, Help! featured several surreal sequences and musical sequences in which The Beatles made no pretence in performing.

While The Beatles' movies had a large impact on music video, it would only be a short time after the release of Help! that they would make the first modern rock videos. November 25, 1965 would be the beginning of the modern era of rock video, for it was on that date that The Beatles made their first promotional films. By 1965 The Beatles were so phenomenally successful that it was impossible for them to appear on the number of television shows around the world necessary to promote their singles. Fortunately, a simple solution was developed: create films that could be shown on TV shows throughout the world. On November 25, 1965 films were made for "Help," "Day Tripper," "I Feel Fine," "Ticket to Ride," and "We Can Work It Out." The films were directed by Joe McGrath, who had worked with Richard Lester and would go onto direct feature films of his own. Multiple versions were made of some of the songs: three for "Day Tripper" and "We Can Work It Out" and two for "I Feel Fine." Most of these films were simple performance clips, but one of the two for "I Feel Fine" was not. In what has become known as "the fish and chips" version of "I Feel Fine," The Beatles are not shown performing, but simply eating fish and chips. Seen today the clip is rather dull, which is perhaps why Brian Epstein forbade it from being sold to television stations. Regardless, it broke with the tradition of showing musician playing or pretending to play their songs when filmed.

It was in May 1966 that The Beatles made their next set of promotional films, this time for "Paperback Writer" and "Rain." The clips were directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, a former director on Ready, Steady, Go (where he had shot The Beatles among other performers). He would go onto direct the never broadcast special The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, as well as feature films, including The Beatles' own Let It Be. Four versions of "Paperback Writer" and three versions of "Rain" were shot, most of them being straight forward performance clips. Two of the clips were notably different, one each of "Paperback Writer" and "Rain." These two clips were shot around Chiswick House in London, and featured The Beatles relaxing around the house's gardens and conservatory and strolling about. It was these two clips, which featured no pretence at performing, which television stations ultimately decided to air.

As revolutionary as these clips for "Paperback Writer" and "Rain" were, they would be surpassed by clips shot in January and February 1967. Directed by Peter Goldmann, the clips for "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" not only did away with any pretence of performing, but utilised storyboarded action, surreal imagery, and The Beatles simply messing about. The most straight forward of the two was "Penny Lane," which featured shots of actual Liverpool landmarks and The Beatles strolling and riding horses down Angel Lane in Stratford. The clip for "Strawberry Fields Forever" was anything but straight forward. It featured surrealistic imagery (such as The Beatles looking through a lens at an old oak tree and a wrecked piano), film run backwards, and coloured filters. It was only three days after the "Penny Lane"/"Strawberry Fields Forever" shoot, on February 10 1967, that The Beatles shot a promo film of "A Day in the Life." Directed by Tony Bramwell, it featured The Beatles recording for the orchestral overdubs for the song. It never aired, in part because the BBC banned the song for alleged drug references and later because it was held back for a Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band television special that never materialised.

The Beatles' movies and promotional clips were directed by others (although the band undoubtedly had a good deal of say in the promo films). With Magical Mystery Tour The Beatles sought to create their own filmed television special. Shot in September, 1967, it was directed by The Beatles themselves and film director Bernard Knowles. Sadly, the unscripted television special would be raked over the coals when it was aired on Boxing Day in 1967 on the BBC. So disastrous was its critical reception that it would not air in the United States until the Eighties in syndication. Regardless, Magical Mystery Tour is notable for its musical sequences, including "Fool on the Hill (with Paul McCartney simply performing the song on a hill)," "I Am the Walrus (with The Beatles in animal masks and other such surreal imagery)," and "Your Mother Should Know (performed as a Busby Berkeley in a studio)."

It was in November 1967 that Paul McCartney directed three different promotional clips for their current single, "Hello Goodbye." All three clips were basically The Beatles performing the song. The most famous clip featured The Beatles dressed in their Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club band uniforms, and climaxed with the band joined by hula dancers intercut with shots of The Beatles clowning around. Unfortunately the clips never aired in the United Kingdom at the time of the song's release due to a lip syncing ban on television performance instigated by the British Musicians Union.

Contrary to popular belief, the "Hello Goodbye" promo clips were not the last to be made by The Beatles. The Beatles would make several more promotional clips. "Lady Madonna," directed by Tony Bramwell, featured The Beatles recording "Hey, Bulldog." It was made in March 1968. In September 1968 Michael Lindsay-Hogg directed promotional clips for "Hey, Jude" and "Revolution." In January 1969 he edited the studio versions of "Get Back," "Don’t Let Me Down," and "Let it Be" to footage from the film Let It Be. The Beatles' final promo clip, "Something," was directed by The Beatles' Man Friday and record executive Neil Aspinall, who filmed each of The Beatles separately strolling in a field with their wives.

Largely out of necessity, The Beatles became the first rock band to regularly create rock videos. Their promotional clips would prove revolutionary in breaking with any pretence in showing the band performing or pretending to perform their material. In this way The Beatles paved the way for all rock videos to come.

Look Out, Kid...

The Beatles were not the only artists to make promotional films in the Sixties. And as influential as The Beatles' music videos, there were other artists who made clips that were as influential, if not more so. While The Beatles introduced the idea of promotional films in which there was no pretence of performing, other artists would introduce what were the first music videos with storylines.

Among the most revolutionary promotional clips of the era was one that was not initially intended as a promotional clip. In 1966, for the opening of the documentary Don't Look Back, Dylan came up with the idea of a film for "Subterranean Homesick Blues" in which he would hold up cue cards with phrases or words from the lyrics. The film was shot in the back alley of the Savoy Hotel in London, with Allen Ginsberg and Bob Neuwirth holding a conversation in the background. While intended as the opening for Don't Look Back, the film for "Subterranean Homesick Blues" would be aired as a stand alone music video many years later. It also proved extremely influential, inspiring videos from the punk band Anti-Flag's video for Turncoat" to INXS's video for "Mediate."

It was also in 1966 that The Kinks would create one of the earliest storyline videos. "Dead End Street" featured the Kinks as old London undertakers. The BBC refused to air the clip, stating that it was in bad taste. That same year The Who made a storyline video for "Happy Jack." In the promo clip The Who play foolish burglars who rob a London flat and have a run in with the law. In 1965 The Who had filmed a performance clip for "I Can't Explain."

The Rolling Stones would also make an early storyline video. In 1967 Peter Whitehead (who would go onto make feature films) directed a promotional film for "We Love You." The "We Love You" promo clip featured footage of The Rolling Stones recording in the studio, performance footage, surrealistic imagery, and a storyline based on the obscenity trial of Oscar Wilde (with Mick Jagger playing Wilde). The Rolling Stones made several other promo clips in the Sixties, their output nearly matching The Beatles. In 1966 Peter Whitehead had directed two promo clips for "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?" One clip featured concert footage, footage from New York City, Mick Jagger along the street, and footage from the photo shoot for the single's cover (in which the band dressed in drag).

In 1967 Michael Lindsay-Hogg directed a promo clip, the first Rolling Stones clip shot in colour, for "2000 Light Years From Home." In 1968 he would direct two different promotional films for "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and one for "Child Of The Moon." These were more or less performance clips.

Several other bands would also shoot promotional films in the Sixties. In 1967 The Moody Blues shot a promo clip for their song "Nights in White Satin" in Paris. Besides their Scopitone for the song, Procol Harum also shot a promo for "Whiter Shade of Pale" in which footage from a stage performance was intercut with documentary footage of the Vietnam War. In 1966 The Small Faces shot a promo film for "Hey, Girl" aboard a tram in which they clowned around with female fans. Their 1967 promo for "Get Yourself Together" is an actual storyline video. Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones, dressed as police, pursued Steve Marriott and staged a mock beating when they caught him. That same year they filmed a straight performance clip for "Talk to You." In 1967 The Troggs also shot a promotional film for "Love is All Around." This video has a storyline depicting Reg Presley's affair with a girl aboard a train, psychedelic elements, and concert footage. Pink Floyd produced promotional films for their 1967 songs "Astronomy Domine," Scarecrow," "Arnold Layne," and "Interstellar Overdrive."

For the most part British artists dominated promotional films made in the Sixties, although there were American artists who also made promo clips. In 1967 The Turtles shot a promotional film for their song "She's My Girl." The clip featured footage of The Turtles recording in the studio, The Turtles clowning around in various settings, and footage of a girl in a white dress in such settings as a field and a beach. The Doors also made promotional clips. They made one for their 1967 debut single "Break On Through (To the Other Side)" that was a straight forward performance clip. For their 1968 single "The Unknown Soldier", footage was filmed of the band being shot by a mock firing squad and intercut with footage from the Vietnam War. In 1968 The Beach Boys made a promotional film for their song "Do It Again."

Promo films were not confined to the United Kingdom and the United States, as there were also promo clips made in Australia and New Zealand. Australian band The Master's Apprentices made the first Australian promotional film in 1967 for their single "Buried And Dead." The film combined performance footage with fantasy imagery. The Master's Apprentices also made a promo clip for their 1968 song "Elevator Driver." In 1967 The Loved Ones shot a promotional film for "The Loved One" as part of Peter L. Lamb's short "Approximately Panther." In 1968 The Flying Circus made a promotional film for their single "Hayride." Sadly, none of these promo clips would be seen beyond the Antipodes. Regardless, Australia would prove pivotal in the history of music video in the Seventies.

While many of these promotional films would be highly influential, in the United States the widest exposure given to anything related to music video would be through a television sitcom. The Monkees was the brainchild of Bob Rafelson (yes, one day feature film director Bob Rafelson). With the success of such folk artists as Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul, and Mary in the early Sixties, Rafelson considered a TV show featuring a folk group. All of this changed in 1964 when Beatlemania swept the United States. The Beatles' movies A Hard Day's Night and Help! proved enormous successes. With Beatlemania in mind, Bob Rafelson decided that a comedy about a rock group, shot in the surreal, free wheeling style of The Beatles movies, might make for a better series.

It is for that reason that many have claimed that The Monkees was heavily influenced by A Hard Day's Night. In truth, however, The Monkees was influenced more by The Beatles' second movie Help!. Just as Help! placed The Beatles in a contrived situation, drawn in part from serials and spy movies, so too would the average Monkees episode place the band in one contrived situation or another. Through the run of the show The Monkees faced spies, gangsters, monsters, hillbillies, aliens, and so on. In the end the show parodied genres ranging from spy drama to horror to caper films. In some respects, however, Bob Rafelson took The Monkees further than either of the two Beatles movies. On The Monkees jokes, sight gags, non sequiturs, and even the rare drug reference whizzed by at light speed. In many ways the show was more influenced by the Marx Brothers than The Beatles. What is more, The Monkees was even more surreal than either of The Beatles movies. Such effects as speeded up footage, solarisation, backwards visuals, and surreal imagery were used on a regular basis.

Being a show about a struggling rock band, music was an important part of The Monkees. In fact, it was planned from the beginning that The Monkees would release singles and albums. Songs would be worked into the show in any number of ways. Most commonly they would be used in what the production team referred to as "romps." The romps were often part of the plot of an episode in which The Monkees perform or in which they were on the run from someone. Other times the romp might simply be part of an episode as a fantasy sequence (such at the "Last Train to Clarksville" romp in the episode "The Monkees at the Movies"). Other times the romp may simply be a video segment tacked onto the end of an episode. Many of the romps eschewed any pretence of performing and some even had storylines of their own (such as the aforementioned "Last Train to Clarksville" romp). Regardless of whether they were part of an episode or tacked onto the end, nearly all of the romps on The Monkees could stand on their own as music videos.

The Monkees proved phenomenally successful with the youth market. Their albums and singles success at times matched The Beatles. While the television show did poorly in the ratings, it was one of the top rated shows with young people. Unfortunately, this was not enough and the series was cancelled after only two seasons. The Monkees remains historic as the first television show to feature anything approaching music videos each and every week.

This would not be the end of The Monkees. Bob Rafelson wanted to become a feature film director. His first film, entitled Head, would star The Monkees. Head was essentially a plotless collection of sequences, many of them surreal. As might be expected, the film featured several music sequences. Although it bombed at the box office, it would achieve a cult following. While perhaps not as influential on music video as the TV series itself, Head would have an impact. As to The Monkees themselves, Michael Nesmith would not only prove very influential in the history of music video in the Seventies, but even pivotal to it.

Given that short films were finally being made for the sole purpose of promoting songs, the Sixties can be considered the beginning of the era of the rock music video. Most of the promotional films made in the Sixties are virtually indistinguishable from their counterparts made in the Seventies and the Eighties. Many of them eschew any pretence of performing, some of them use surreal imagery, some of them even have their own storylines. While the music industry had not reached the point where it was making promotional films or videos for each every single which came out, music videos were not a rarity in the Sixties. And in the Seventies events would unfold that would lead to the music videos being produced for each and every single released, the first shows dedicated entirely to music video, and the first steps towards entire channels dedicated to music videos.


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