Continuing the list that I started in March, here’s another selection of other fine promotional videos that predate the MTV era. If you missed the first part, check that out here.
David Bowie – Space Oddity
David Bowie, as a performer, was made to be seen as much as he was made to be heard. So it only makes sense that he appeared in the visual media as far back as the beginning of his career.
Filmed as part of a sort of EPK/Promotional TV Special in 1969 called Love You Till Tuesday, Bowie’s earliest classic, “Space Oddity” was given a perhaps on the nose Kubrickian treatment. The influence of the film of which the song’s title alludes to is inescapable, as we see Bowie’s growing isolation during interstellar travel (in what looks like a Tom Baker-era Dr. Who set). While this was created early in Bowie’s artistic development, there is a moment when his Major Tom character floats out untethered through space where it nearly looks as though he transforms, via a crossfade, into a glittery lady of the stars. Details such as these foreshadow what would lay in store for Bowie’s public persona over the next few decades.
The folky alternative version of the song used here feels perhaps at odds with the futuristic settings, but in 1972, famed rock photographer and Bowie pal Mick Rock shot an updated version of the video to the ‘official’ version of the song, with Bowie in full Ziggy Stardust regalia. Finally the settings matched both the music and the inner workings of the artist.
The Who – Happy Jack and Call Me Lighting
The Who of the 1960’s were more of a pop band than anything else, aiming for hit singles and attempting different identities. So it might be odd to us now that there was a brief period around 67/68 where they considered starring in a show that was similar to The Monkees. Supposedly, that’s the origins of these two humorous and slapstick-y videos.
The Happy Jack video later was given new life when it was featured in the excellent The Kids Are Alright documentary, which also used the original footage from the Call Me Lightning vfilm (albeit during a montage set to “Cobwebs and Strange”).
In some ways, these sort of feel like precursors to the strange imagery and tongue-in-cheek humor that appeared in Ken Russell’s Tommy some years later. Yet, it does make you wonder what might have been if The Who continued down this path instead of the stadium-filling hard rock direction that the band took after their appearance at Woodstock in 1969.
Love – Your Mind and We Belong Together
Created by a couple of UCLA film students in 1968 as a mini-documentary in exchange for exclusive promotional use rights, the video for the Forever Changes-era single features Arthur Lee and his legendary band hanging around his gorgeous LA home, while NASA stock footage interrupts here and there. This juxtaposition of content as well as some of the surreal shots of Lee being joined by a woman in red on his balcony (especially the moment where they’re both silhouetted in violet) just scream DIY film school experimentation.
The video is fairly rare (the only official release of note was in the VHS EPK given out during the 1995 release of Love Story) and seems to only exist in rough quality, but any footage of the band during this period is a total grail find.
Donovan – (songs from) Wear Your Love Like Heaven
Filmed by Karl Ferris during the photo shoots for the Wear Your Love Like Heaven cover, this is more of a short film set to a few of the album’s songs, than anything else. This is likely one of the most psychedelic videos on this list, as well as from the entire decade.
Featuring the likes of Jenny Boyd and Graham Nash frolicking and lounging in highly theatrical, near-raphaelite finery by the ocean, it feels like a combination of Magical Mystery Tour and the Pirate and The Crystal Ball segment from The Incredible String Band’s Be Glad The Song Has No Ending.
The Doors – Light My Fire
Filmed for a Murray The K TV special, this rare clip is a bizarre one indeed. The Doors square off against a girl gang clad in medallions that look straight out of a Power Rangers episode. Even though the two opposing forces look poised for battle, nothing really happens…but hey, by the end you’re reminded to drink Pepsi!
It’s like the Adam West Batman series and a Pepsi ad were combined while the director took a few tabs before the day’s shoot. Strange indeed.
At any rate, Jim Morrison always had an interest in film and had even shot some of his own experimental movies, so I feel like he would have been probably into the ideas presented for this clip.
The Beach Boys – Wake The World
Around the time of Brian Wilson’s blossoming studio creativity and simultaneous mental deterioration, The Beach Boys seemed to be filming videos in place of TV appearances just as much as The Beatles were. While I can’t find a ton of info about these videos from the 20/20 and Friends albums, it almost looks like they were potentially gathering enough footage for something like a TV special (much like the Beatles’ original projected idea of a Sgt. Pepper’s TV special). For instance, take a look at the footage that was gathered (possibly after the fact) and used in this video of “Meant For You/Friends.”
The Pretty Things – Get The Picture?
Initially pitched as a full Pretty Things movie, Get The Picture? is more of a collection of individual films that all lead into each other, connected by a loose narrative thread, than a real promo film. Being like a wordless, vaguely psychedelic and cartoonish Hard Day’s Night, the clips together portray a surreal and exaggerated day in the life of the band.
A total plus for the film is the live footage of The Pretty Things rocking out at the 100 Club (although the music is overdubbed with a studio recording, unfortunately). You can find that piece below:
Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi
The closest thing that Joni Mitchell had to a promo film during the 1960’s, was the animated video of her hit, “Big Yellow Taxi,” from the Sonny & Cher show (of all places).
While the cartoony sound effects, primetime-friendly nudity and the Ralph Bakshi-meets old Herbal Essence commercials-like animation style together take away some of the classic song’s stirring lyrical impact, it is still a curious relic of its era. In that way, it still demands a viewing. It makes you wonder what Sonny & Cher’s producers would have done if they had Patrick Sky on as a musical guest…
The Moody Blues – Nights in White Satin
Much like “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” “Nights in White Satin” is a classic hit that boasts both vivid and also obscure imagery in its lyrics. So it would lend itself well to the promo video format. Yet, across its two different films, the directors never quite reached the song’s full potential (the budget for promo videos must have been incredibly tiny).
Despite that, the black and white version above still manages to capture some of the song’s gothic mood and dreamy atmosphere. Meanwhile, the color video below at least maintains some of the track’s stoned surrealism through some of the feverish fisheye lens shots.
The Kinks – Apeman and Dead End Street
“Apeman” may be the most fun video on this list. Filmed at Hampstead Heath in 1970, the band is seen goofing around and climbing trees with their new keyboard/piano player, John Gosling, in a cheap ape suit. The levity matches the song’s lightness on the surface, but doesn’t dip much into the lyric’s darker tones of anxiety and paranoia. Perhaps for the best.
Speaking of darkness, the 1966 video for “Dead End Street” finds the band dressed as undertakers, carrying a coffin down some oppressive Dickensian London streets. While it was created for the BBC, the network disapproved due to their inability at the time to handle any sort of dark humor. Yet, flash-forward to just a few years later, and Monty Python got away with a very similar looking sketch on Flying Circus. Maybe The Kinks helped pave the way for the lads?
Quicksilver Messenger Service – Dino’s Song
Jefferson Airplane – Greasy Heart
Grateful Dead – New Potato Caboose
Between the two posts, did I leave out any promo video that you really love? Please let me know in the comments!