Long before the birth of rock–and-roll, the first music videos were making their own noise. In fact the Dickson Experimental Sound Film, widely recognised as the oldest known musical video, dates back to the mid-1890s. In it, two slightly drunk men dance while inventor William Dickson plays the violin nearby—not quite the over-the-top production most people are used to today.
In the early years of the 20th century, illustrated song slides were developed to run between Music Hall acts as well as to promote sheet music. Since sound was recorded separately and the films were never publicly released, such illustrated songs are often considered true ancestors of the modern music video. They featured live acts providing musical accompaniment to projected images. And that led in 1925 to the animation-pioneering Fleischer brothers’ debuting “follow the bouncing ball” sing-along videos—other precursors to music videos.
In the 1940s, “soundies”—short videos featuring music and dancers—were a hit in bars and restaurants around the world. But it was the legendary Big Bopper, J. P. Richardson, who ten years later saw the potential for video to pair with pop music, filming videos for three songs, including “Chantilly Lace” in 1958. He predicted that video and music would merge to create a modern art form.
Tragically, he died in a plane crash in 1959 before seeing his prediction become reality. Performers such as Ricky Nelson, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and many other music artists used videos to promote their songs from the late 1950s onward, leading ultimately to the birth of a television channel devoted to the art form, the dreaded MTV, in 1981.