It's hard to say who made the first music video. Promotional films for bands go back to at least the mid 60s. I have MPEGs of promo vids for Pink Floyd's Arnold Layne, and See Emily Play from this period. Many credit Bob Dylan's video for Subterranian Homesick Blues as the first modern music video. Still others give credit to Devo for The Truth About De-Evolution, and The Residents for The Third Reich 'N' Roll. Despite it, before the dawn of MTV, the music video was rarely used. It was occasionally aired on late night music programs, and Devo would project their films before concerts, but nobody actually showed music videos on a regular basis.
When MTV came to prominence, the music video was finally given a chance to shine. What follows is a list of some of the most unique and influential music videos of the early MTV years.
The Buggles - Video Killed The Radio Star - This video is important for one major reason. As anyone who has watched a single episode of Rock And Roll Jeopardy! knows, Video Killed The Radio Star was the first video shown on MTV. Video Killed The Radio Star set the stage for many videos to follow.
Devo - The Truth About De-Evolution - Devo were pioneers in both visual and musical arts. The Truth About De-Evolution combined Devo's budding musical talent with a bizarre visual and a coherent structure, that became the hallmark of modern music video. Devo produced a string of great music videos, including Whip It, and Beautiful World, but it all began here.
The Residents - Hello Skinny - While not The Residents' first video, Hello Skinny is possibly their most famous. Hello Skinny tells a story through manipulated photos, grainy black and white film, and bizarre lyrics. Almost all of The Residents' video work is part of the collection at the Museum Of Modern Art in New York City, and rightfully so.
Michael Jackson - Thriller - Quite possibly the most famous long form music video, Thriller extends the song to a twenty minute short film, providing a story, a narrative, and a great promotional device. This video isn't just classic, it's legendary.
A-Ha - Take On Me - The song is far from legendary, but the video for this one hit wonder is. Take On Me combines live action and pencil sketch animation to great effect. Characters slide in and out of their sketched form without any mistakes. Truely a landmark video for special effects.
Dire Straits - Money For Nothing - This was possibly the first video to use computer animation, and it shows. Now, the blocky characters, and slightly gaudy effects on the live action scenes seem passe, but this was groundbreaking stuff for its time. Weird Al also made a fine parody of this video in the exact same style. At first glance, you might confuse the two.
Other bands and artists that produced interesting videos in the early days of MTV are Kraftwerk, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, Wall Of Voodoo and more.
However, music video, as an art form, seems to have lapsed since the early days of MTV. It seems now, that all you need is a half-naked woman and you'll be set. There are still bands, however, that innovate what can be done with music video. You won't see them on MTV, but you can download them, find them as bonuses on enhanced CDs. Of course, 90% of everything is crap. Give it a look, though.