MTV revolutionized music by making the music video a commonly seen thing, but don't take that to mean that they invented the music video. No, they just gave musicians a channel dedicated to showing those promotional videos that they had been making for television shows and such for years and years before MTV came along.
And then one thing leads to another and all we have to show for it is Jersey Shore and a bunch of pregnant Midwestern hillbillies shooting us dead-inside stares from the cover of US Weekly. But it used to be all about the music!
It was kind of about those animated logos between songs, too.
Unfortunately, by the time MTV first hit the airwaves in 1981, the majority of the promo videos made before then were forgotten to history as scores of bands (and what seemed like 10 Rod Stewarts) rushed to get a video of their own produced and aired on the fledgling network.
And that's a shame, because back then, what with the lack of special effects technology and all, people had to resort to some pretty bizarre (but always entertaining) stuff to get the point of their music across to the camera.
For example ...
#5. The 5th Dimension -- "Wedding Bell Blues"
The star of the 5th Dimension's "Wedding Bell Blues" video is sad because she wants to get married. We know this because the video opens with a shot of a sad woman in a veil. And it stays on that shot for what feels like two minutes, because it was 1970 and what else were you going to do with a video camera?
"You could make a bong with it," said the person who wrote the script.
Even if the tag on the video didn't say it was 1970, we'd still know that that's approximately when this video was being filmed because the next shot reveals that the young woman is clearly planning to marry into the Manson family.
"Like you're married to obvious jokes, asshole."
As for the band, their image is projected on the young woman's abdomen, because that's the very least the people making this video could do in terms of acknowledging their contributions. Like, literally, the very least.
How hippies spell "Thug Life."
But the video makers knew you couldn't just fill four entire minutes with shots of an attractive if not somewhat terrifying young woman dancing. People would get bored. If you're currently shooting a music video in the 1970s and would like to avoid this as well, break the monotony of all that live action with some images of people standing still.
People love that shit. You know what else people love? Twist endings, and this video has one.
Holy shit, you guys! Bill really is gonna marry this broad! Or Bill is about to get shot in the face! Either way, great video.
#4. David Bowie -- "Space Oddity"
David Bowie was apparently up against a few different problems when trying to bring his classic hit "Space Oddity" to life for a television audience. First was the Herculean task of making it clear to viewers which incarnation of David Bowie they were looking at was Major Tom and which one was Ground Control. He tackled the Major Tom half of that problem in typically subtle David Bowie fashion.
Bowie's in space!
Unfortunately, it seems that money might have been another problem plaguing the production of this video. Blowing his creative wad on that shiny space suit apparently blew through most of his budget wad also, because this is what he came up with for the Ground Control half of things:
I'm not sure what the "GC" is supposed to mean, though.
And the budget crisis only gets worse from there. If you're familiar with this song, you know that, at one point, a rocket launches into space. David Bowie needs to let you know this, in case you're watching with the volume turned all the way down. Some filmmakers would use stock footage of a rocket launch or something similarly dull, but not David Bowie. Instead, David Bowie lets you know that a rocket has launched using nothing more than ...
You have surprised David Bowie. Explain yourself.
... the majestic facial gesticulations of David Bowie. That's him, looking on in awe as a rocket carrying Major Tom takes off for outer space. An outer space where, according to the song, "the stars look very different today." That line is delivered as this shot appears on screen:
I can't explain everything that's going on in this song or in this video, but I think I can handle this one. Those stars look different because, clearly, they're not stars at all, but rather clothes being worn by people.
You know what? I'm starting to question if David Bowie has really even been to outer space before. This guy clearly has no idea what he's talking about.
#3. Andy Kim -- "Rock Me Gently"
And now, a transcript of the meeting that led to Andy Kim's "Rock Me Gently" video:
Director: So you're going to be singing, right? But get this, we're going to take those shots of you singing and intermingle them with shots of the city!
Andy Kim: What city?
Director: It won't matter once you see these pants we got!
"Hey everybody, come see how good my dick looks!"
That's not a shadow you're seeing in the crotch region of that screenshot. Well, I guess it is a shadow, it just happens to be a shadow that's enveloping a massive cock. And it had to be the promise of pants that would make his schlong look like it should be selling magazines that convinced Andy Kim to play a supporting role in a music video starring his penis. If nothing else, it provides a plausible explanation for the otherwise confounding shot that immediately precedes the first verse.
"Hello, my name is sex."
That's the look of a man leaning over to a crew member to ask, "Are these pants doing what they're supposed to do?" And I don't think I need to remind you, they totally were.
But you can't just sell a video on uncomfortable outlines of cocks alone. You have to throw something else into the mix to break the monotony. I personally wouldn't recommend something like this, but for some reason, it's what Andy Kim and his people decided on ...
That's Andy Kim's goddamn gigantic head, and after more than a few seconds of looking at it, you'd probably be anxious to get another look at that crotch bulge, too. Not that anyone could blame you, of course. That thing is majestic. Unfortunately for the star of this video, it's apparently pretty heavy as well. I base that assumption on the fact that:
Andy Kim ...
Cannot lift ...
His left leg ...
Go ahead, watch the video again. Watch it 50 times if you need to. Try as you might, you're not going to find one instance of the dance move depicted in the above series of images ever ending with Andy Kim lifting his left leg. It just doesn't happen.
If you were packing the kind of heat that Andy Kim is in those official-issue 1970s disco pants, you would probably be able to sympathize.