Music videos before MTV

There were videos before MTV started in 81 but very few shows would show them in the US. Maybe they were more widely shown in Europe? How many shows in Europe showed videos? I know there was UK top of the pops.

I saw a Who video in 78 on some local US show but I can’t recall other US shows that played videos.

We used to have a show in New Zealand in the 70s called Ready To Roll, which in the 80s rebranded to RTR, then later to RTR Countdown when it became a co-production with Australia’s show Countdown (which was more like UK’s Top Of The Pops with live performances).

Anyway, in the 70s there were some pre-recorded clips of a music video persuasion, but it was mostly live stage performances or concert recordings.

IIRC, early MTV videos were usually concert footage, with a handful of what we’d now consider videos mixed it. Groups started making videos as a way for exposure, since MTV was starved for that sort of content.

Michael Nesmith’s PopClips aired on Nickleodeon a year before MTV started.

The first “music video” I recall seeing on TV was Queen doing Bohemian Rhapsody on the The Midnight Special, Friday nights on NBC. This would have been 1976. Mostly they showed concert footage, but Bohemian Rhapsody was definitely not a concert film.

I thought the Beatles got it going more when they stopped touring and started sending in videos of their newest songs.

The earliest video I can remember is The Beatles’ Strawberry Fields.

The Beatles did promo videos going back to at least Help, where they mimed and goofed off for the camera. The clips aired on various TV programs. They’re collected in the DVD from the “1” release.

The Who’s management was keen on making them video stars but that plan fizzled out. Their early experiments included the slapstick Happy Jack video.

Music videos (that weren’t solely just concert footage) were apparently not uncommon for English / European bands in the pre-MTV days. Queen did a number of them, for example; I imagine that it was for shows like Top of the Pops.

Fat Bottomed Girls
We Will Rock You

And, David Bowie, with Ashes to Ashes.

HBO used to run music videos as filler between movies.

I remember seeing that video on The Midnight Special. Another one I remember them playing was Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs” which was another non-concert video.

In Aus, ABBA are credited as being the trigger for the Music video revolution. They were a studio band that didn’t really like touring, (considered necessary to promote records) so they released music videos instead. When they arrived in Australia in 1977, they found that they were already major stars (stadium concert of 20,000) on the back of their music video success. Other acts followed the model.

I guess their videos would have played on Countdown (1974 ~ 1987) (which mostly did live mime with dead mikes). According to Wikipedia, music videos on Countdown made stars out of several international acts.

ISTR that Stewart wound up in heavy rotation in the early days of MTV, because there just weren’t a lot of videos for them to choose from.

There was a fantastic documentary series recently about Countdown, covering 1 year per episode, with the first being 1974-5. The first few eps dwell a bit on the transition from recorded live performance to properly produced music videos, some of which they did in-house, plus the mime thing.

You can find them here - I believe they are accessible outside Australia.

Countdown produced videos for AC/DC including Jailbreak, and the classic ‘Its a long way to the top’ clip of them on the back of a flatbed truck tooling around Melbourne. Both filmed in 1976.

I don’t know what year this was, but Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues has to be one of the first.

Yep, also came in to mention Video Jukebox.

Before they were shown on television, some bands used to show videos (what we’d think of as a music video, or footage of the band playing, or groovy background visuals) during performances.

This is where I mostly remember pre-MTV music videos from.

The big one I remember they aired was Fish Heads.

Laugh-in had a few. The first season was 1968.


“The first season featured some of the first music videos seen on network TV, with cast members appearing in films set to the music of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Bee Gees, the Temptations, the Strawberry Alarm Clock, and the First Edition.”

I’ve seen the NGDB, Bee Gees and First Edition ones.

I remember seeing videos both on special shows on TV and in the Ground Round. I can’t say that it was before or after MTV started though since it was around 1980 and I didn’t see MTV until 1983 or so.