Nesmith Was Also a Music Video Pioneer


In 1976, Michael Nesmith released a single called “Rio” and to promote it, he put together a stylish video clip. It wasn’t the first music video, but it grabbed lots of attention for its surrealistic imagery and engaging wit. Soon, Nesmith discovered people were more interested in the video than in the single itself.

While on a concert tour of Australia that same year, he couldn’t help noticing the popularity of some TV shows that aired music video clips such as “Rio,” and he got an idea:

Why not start a similar show in the United States?

He packaged several clips together into a promotional tape for a show he called “Popclips” and went to various syndicators, none of whom, he says, showed much interest in the idea.


The Nickleodeon cable channel, however, picked up the show and subsequently officials at Nickleodeon’s parent company, Warner-Amex, used “Popclips” as one of a small handful of models when they sat down to create MTV, according to Robert Pittman, former president and chief executive officer of MTV Networks.

And what does Nesmith think of the way MTV has turned out?

“The marriage of music and images in a short form, and I guess we have to call that ‘music video,’ really has not been realized yet,” he answered.

“As far as MTV is concerned, it’s basically become a 24-hour-a-day commercial for records. Right now what’s happening is you get a band or an artist, hook them up with a director and neither one knows what the other is talking about. They speak two different languages and they’re from two different fields. The marriage is not happening: the musical artist figures ‘I’ve done my part (in the recording studio) and now I need a commercial for my record.’ The video guy is just a glorified commercial director--he’s not even glorified . . .

“If artists realized that the video is what they would be measured by--if that was their work--I think there would be a lot different quality of inspiration, quality of craft and care, brought to it.

“The long-term vision, I think, is when the musicians and the filmmaker come together as a team, or in one individual, and begin to marry the grammar of the two forms. . . . Then we’ll see something really spectacular.”