Sunday Music – Something Very Special

Posted on Sun 02/28/2010 by


Today’s music video is ‘Rio’ from Mike Nesmith.

Link To Video Clip at You Tube

This video was posted to You Tube by Roy Gardnerra

This might seem a strange song to be playing for Sunday Music, and then adding the title ‘Something Very Special’. However, as I have mentioned in numerous earlier Sunday Music posts, some songs really do have an interesting history. If the truth is to be told, this song should go down as one of the most influential songs in the history of modern music. Again, that sounds like a pretty wild claim for a song that never even made it into any of the charts in the U.S. and perhaps 99 people out of 100 would not even have heard it, and even less would have any idea as to why it actually is such an influential song.

Since starting the Sunday Music series nearly fifteen months ago, I have often mentioned this song. In all that time, I have been specifically looking for this clip, which is the original video clip of this song. There are a couple of versions with the song being played over images of Mike, and also of the Monkees, and also two live versions, but this clip has been impossible to locate until it was recently posted to You Tube, so to actually find this recently posted copy is indeed something special indeed, and it actually gives me the chance to tell the story of this most influential song.

Mike Nesmith was one of the four members of The Monkees, that manufactured U.S. band of the mid to late 60’s. They had some pretty big hits, but in actuality, the boys were just a front for those behind them in the shadows who cleverly manipulated them to be what they wanted them to be. As the Monkees became more successful, the 4 guys actually started to want to have some say in their direction, and even to write and play and record some of their own music. Their first hit was written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. Their second was ‘I’m A Believer’, a cover of the Neil Diamond song, in a time before Neil Diamond was Neil Diamond in his own right. Neil also wrote a couple of their other hits. All the four guys in the Monkees did was to provide the voices for these songs. Seeking to be masters of their own destiny put them into conflict with those who just wanted ‘bubble gum’ music and tensions developed. Nesmith actually had a couple of songs placed onto Monkees albums, and one actually became a minor hit for the band. Rather than give into the four guys, management instead effectively sidelined them, and the band literally just folded.

Nesmith went off on his own with his first solo venture after the Monkees, with his own band, The First National Band, and their second song was the hit ‘Joanne’. He then formed his second band, The Second National Band, and at the same time, opened his own recording studio, as part of his multimedia Company, Pacific Arts. This band’s second album was ‘From A Radio Engine To The Photon Wing’, and the single lifted from that album was this featured song today, ‘Rio’. It was not picked up by radio for one reason, the song’s length at nearly 6 minutes, in a time when any song that was being played on Radio was mostly around 3 minutes in length, and radio station managements typically frowned on longer songs, unless they were absolutely perfect in every sense, and this song seemed to be, well, pretty average really, so it got virtually no airplay whatsoever. The song did absolutely nothing, anywhere, except for Australia and New Zealand, where the song actually made it to Number One in both Countries, and therein lies the real story of this songs fame and now legendary status, although it is still mostly unknown.

For this song, Nesmith did something totally unheard of in the music industry. He spent a good deal of his own money making a movie clip of the song. Prior to this, nearly every song that had a clip was just a voice over of the song with images of the band or the singer, or a clip of the band performing the song live, or in the studio playing along as the audio was cut over the top of them as they lip synced along with the audio. Record Companies just wanted the single to sell, or the album, and promotion on this scale with a video was almost as an afterthought, if at all. Some clips were a little more elaborate, but not much really. Nesmith actually made a themed short movie of his song, something that had been done before, but never on the scale that Nesmith did. He spent Millions on the clip, something that would never have been approved by an outside studio. Other bands and record Companies just shook their heads in utter amazement that anybody could do something so positively foolish on a scale like this. Nesmith spent more money on this one clip than most Hollywood producers were spending on full length feature movies at the time. It was considered an absolute folly on the part of Nesmith, as people inside the industry just shook their collective heads in amazement. They also looked somewhat justified when the ‘movie’ and the song went straight down the toilet, so to speak.

So, just why did this song do so well in Australia and New Zealand?

Two things.

The first is its release was around the same time in 1977 as a song by Peter Allen. That song was ‘I Go To Rio’ which again was a locally produced song that did well here, but again did not translate too well outside of those two Countries, Australia especially, the Peter Allen song a completely different song altogether, with the only similarity being the word ‘Rio’ in the title. Radio here in Australia did pick up on the Mike Nesmith song because it had the same name in the title as the Peter Allen song, and even though the length was frowned upon, it was catchy enough to gain airplay alongside the Allen song, and sometimes the two were mistaken for each other, especially during request programs.

The second reason it did so well is because of two popular TV shows just gaining footholds in both Countries. The first was a weekly TV music show called Countdown in Australia. This show had been going since 1974, almost three years and had a huge following in Australia. It was a show that featured Australian bands, some clips from overseas, and a weekly Top Ten slot at the end of the program where the current Number One was played in full. The video of the Nesmith song, being as it was, at the absolute cutting edge of music for TV got virtually weekly airplay, helping the song gain widespread popularity, and besides the length, regular airplay on radio, where it had the added bonus of similarity with the Allen song. It was the perfect song for this format.

In New Zealand, they had a similar program, Radio With Pictures, and the same thing happened there, as the song rocketed up the charts, and also got regular time on the TV program.

Nesmith heard of the popularity of the song, and how it was doing so well, and then rushed to Australia and New Zealand on his own, without the band, just to help along with promotion of the song. While in New Zealand, he saw Radio With Pictures, and then in Australia, Countdown. Impressed by the format of these shows, and the way they specifically differed from Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, these two new shows being basically the music with just introductions, and Nesmith wondered if this format might actually translate to the U.S.

Back in the U.S. he worked on the format and came up with a made for TV show called Pop Clips for the Nickelodeon Cable Network. It became quite popular, mainly along the lines of the Australian and New Zealand formats, just the clips with what amounted to a video jockey, the TV version of Radio’s Disc Jockey. In 1980, Nesmith, ever the thinking businessman, sold the format, and the show to Time Warner, and they then further developed the format into MTV which started in 1981.

This song ‘Rio’ was then included in a video package titled ‘Elephant Parts’, again with purpose made video songs and humorous clips as well, in fact one of those short humorous clips is shown at the end of the song here in today’s clip. This video, ‘Elephant Parts’ has the huge distinction of being awarded the very first Grammy Award for a music video.

So, even though this song is all but unknown, it has a distinct place up there in the Pantheon of modern music, so as you watch the video, be fully aware that Mike Nesmith has another claim to fame other than the one always mentioned when his name comes up.

Mike Nesmith is the man who actually gave us the themed video clip, and helped start up the Music Video era.

“Reno! Why Reno?”

“Not Reno, Rio! Rio de Jennero!”