If the only book you’ve ever read is The Sony Tape Rock Review from 1984, then you may well think that the first ever music video was that for Queen’s 1975 single Bohemian Rhapsody. If so, you won’t be alone but you will be wrong. While this rather long, complex and therefore radio-unfriendly rock operetta was the first major hit to be plugged predominantly via video (simultaneously kick-starting the convention of packaging singles with an accompanying clip), the actual Boho Rhapso promo was definitely not the first of its kind.
Indeed, Queen themselves had previously released videos for the singles Keep Yourself Alive, Liar, Seven Seas of Rhye and Killer Queen. In fact, a quick scoot round Wikipedia (so it must be true!) suggests that the first proto promo was a magic lantern projection for The Little Lost Child in 1894. Intended to push sales of sheet music, it not only achieved its aim in spades, but also set off a craze for theatres in the US to stage similar ‘illustrated songs’, with PBS reporting that some 10,000 Stateside venues did precisely that.
A Shedtonne of Pre-Queen Videos
Fast forward to the 50s, 60s and 70s and you’ll find shedtonnes of pre-Queen videos to savour – from Jacques Brel to Bowie. Indeed, the 1965 video for Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues has been aped so many times by comedians, advertisers and other musicians that it has truly attained iconic status. Although, if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, it’s the one where he stands in an alley tossing off a load of cue cards. Or something.
While some pre-Queen videos were intended for TV, others were shot specifically for Panoram, Color-Sonic or Scopitone visual jukeboxes. Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 hit These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ is a prime example of this. Moreover, some songs ended up with more vids than one. Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale, for instance, has two: one where they mooch round the ruins of Witley Court in Worcestershire interspersed with footage of the Vietnam War and another slightly trippier clip that sees them pointing at each other in various London locales. And point well they might because some of those threads are flippin’ far out, man.
A Tripped-Out Day in the Life
But if it’s acid-induced images you want, clock the clip for A Day in the Life by the Beatles (pictured top). Admittedly, as a “restored” vid someone miraculously “uncovered” just in time for the release of the 2015 1+ Beatles compilation, it might not strictly qualify as a pre-Queen video. Likewise, whether the song at the heart of it really is a craftily coded confessional re the real Paul McCartney karking it in a car crash is something I’ll leave up to you to decide. But defo give it a watch whatever you think.
Heck, the Beatles didn’t just make vids, they made full-on feature films for four of their songs. However, one thing they never did was sit in the back of a Ford Mustang pretending to sing Nowhere to Run as it was being assembled by nonplussed Detroit autoworkers. Martha and the Vandellas did and they did so a full 10 years before Bohemian Rhapsody came out. Fortunately, though, you don’t need a massive motor works in the Mid-West to produce a top-notch music clip. Just swing by Ninjin Art instead. All budgets and genres considered, yeah?
As a massive Martha Reeves fan, I would love to embed the aforementioned video to Nowhere to Run here for your entertainment and enlightenment but due to corporate greed or something, YouTube won’t let me, so here’s Nancy Sinatra instead with one of my all-time favourite karaoke classics. Take it away, Ms Sinatra…
Notes and Credits
The original version of this article first appeared in issue 29 of Point Blank Teesside, which you can download as a free PDF here.
Picture credit: John Lennon in a screen grab from the video to A Day in the Life (source).