by Jessica Nicholson
It was 38 years ago today (March 5, 1983) that CMT aired its first country music video.
Two years earlier, MTV had launched on Aug. 1, 1981 with the Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star,” ushering in a new way of promoting pop music and launching an era of dynamic, photogenic music stars such as Madonna and Michael Jackson. The 1980s would revolutionize what it meant to promote music, allowing artists to give more depth and nuance to their music through video and, often, the ability to create visual spectacles—such as Michael Jackson’s landmark, nearly 14-minute video for “Thriller.” That video first aired in December 1983 and became both a pop music sensation and a benchmark for all music videos that followed.
On March 5, 1983, country music fans got their foray into the fledgling music video landscape, when CMT (then called CMTV) aired its first music video—Faron Young’s “It’s Four in the Morning”— at 6:19 pm CT. Like many of country music’s earliest promotional videos, the clip is simply Young performing the song.
Before launching into the song, he turns to a member of his band and says, “Are you ready, lovely?” Though he’s addressing a bandmate, in retrospect, it feels like he was also addressing a generation of country music listeners who were ready to experience their favorite music in a whole new way—through sight and sound.
Soon, country artists would begin to follow in pop’s footsteps, with artists such as Randy Travis, Garth Brooks, and Reba McEntire turning songs such as “Forever and Ever, Amen” “”The Dance,” “Fancy,” and “Whoever’s In New England” into watershed moments in country music history, with videos that read more as mini-movies.
In honor of CMT’s video anniversary, we take a look back at a few of country music’s most iconic clips:
Reba McEntire, “Fancy” (1991)
McEntire is iconic in the role of Fancy Rae Baker in this rags-to-riches story of a well-to-do woman who returns to her childhood home, where she recalls a turbulent childhood and her mother, whose circumstances forced her to send her daughter into prostitution to survive. This story follows Baker and her determination to rise from “just plain white trash,” as the lyrics describe, to “become a lady someday.”
Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss, “Whiskey Lullaby”(2004)
This cinematic video was directed by Rick Schroder, who also stars in the clip. This haunting video centers on a soldier who returns from battle to find his wife with another man and chronicles the devastating effects that follow.
Hank Williams, Jr. and Hank Williams, “Tear in my Beer” (1989)
Three decades after country legend Hank Williams, Sr. died in the backseat of a Cadillac on New Year’s Day in 1953—when his son Hank Williams, Jr. was only three years old—the younger Williams “reunites” with his late father thanks to video technology. The still-stunning black-and-white clip, released in 1989, allowed father and son to “share” the same stage and collaborate in song.
Martina McBride, “Independence Day” (1993)
Though the song itself did not reach No. 1 on the country radio charts, the video centered on the tale of an abused wife and mother, putting a spotlight on an issue that too many women face. The video won McBride her first CMA Award for Music Video of the Year; McBride would go on to win CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year honor four times.
Reba McEntire, “Is There Life Out There?” (1991)
Perhaps no country artist has been better known for spinning music videos into theatrical mini-movies than McEntire. In the video clip for “Is There Life Out There?” she portrays a wife and mother who balances work at a restaurant with parenthood and college classes as she returns to college to earn her degree. The video inspired many women to complete their own education.
George Jones, “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” (1985)
This video released in 1985, just a few years after CMT launched. This classic video from Jones is at once nostalgic and reverential of country music’s history, including footage of Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Conway Twitty, and more.