It is a tricky task to track back the origins of music videos. The roles has been changing indeed.
If we look deeper into the history we will find Talkies (1927), which were movies with speech and sound made during the period when most films were silent. After that Soundies (1941 – 47) brought a selection of short musical films, which covered the whole range of era’s most popular styles. The major focus of Soundies was an entertainment.
Performance videos has been made in order to entertain, but also to advertize the artist. Here we see the role of music video as a promotional tool for the fist time. Few examples: Elvis Presley (Love Me Tender), Bill Haley (Rock Around The Clock), Pink Floyd: Live at Pompei, Jimmy Plays At Berkeley…
Performace videos were first seen in tv shows like Ed Sullivan Show, Ready Steady Go!, Top Of The Pop, America’s Top Ten and many others. Later on we are seeing mostly performance videos from the feature concerts.
The concert music videos has been made also to support world problems and raise money for charities and causes.
Many movies, which would include music on the purpose in order to create special feel and support the plot. (The Wild One, Rebel Without A Cause, Fantasia, Tommy, Quadrophenia, American Graffiti). Some of these films later turned into musicals. The Wiz, Grease, Saturday Night Fever… Musical films were made on various topics and played different roles. It seems that musicians left the conventional way of advertizing only their music and just let their creativity to unfold and tell stories.
Beatles’ director Richard Lester came up with a promotional video which would not be just a performance video, but a short movie on its own: A Hard Day’s Night. This comic document story was a huge commercial success. Many other artists followed with various styles and approaches: Bob Dylan presented his video Don’t Look Back as a poem, Jimmy Cliff made a social commentary on Jamaican culture at the time in his video for the song The Harder They Come, Devo approached his music videos in alternative way to express the creativity (e.g. Jocko Homo)…
Documentaries played an important part in music industry e.g. Woodstock, Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter… The role was to inform about events, artists.
Over those years the genre music videos and consequently the role of this genre has developed quite a bit. Beginning with entertainment, progressing as a promotional tool for the musician, but also a promotion tool for causes. Playing a supporting role in the movies. Presenting itself as an art form, a social commentary or a source of information.
MTV might have influenced our perception of music videos as a promotional tool of a musician, but if we look closer we may see many of these roles from the past back in nowadays music video scene.
See the playlist for music videos 1927 – 1980: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC2DA08A8FBA7F5AA
Goodwin Andrew (11/1992), Dancing In the Distraction Factory: Music Television and Popular Culture, University of Minnesota Press