The Original Classical Gas Video
"3000 Years of Art"
Written by Mason Williams
CLASSICAL GAS was one of the earliest records that used a visual to help present and promote a recording on television. It probably qualifies as one of the earliest music videos.
During the time that CLASSICAL GAS was a hit and I was the head-writer for THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR. I had seen a film titled “GOD IS DOG SPELLED BACKWARDS” at The Encore Theater, an offbeat movie house in L.A. The short film was a collection of approximately 2500 classical works of art, mostly paintings, that flashed by in three minutes. Each image lasted only two film frames, so one saw twelve images a second! At the end of the film the viewer was pronounced “cultural” since they had just had “3000 years of art indelibly etched in their brains in 3 minutes!”
The film was the work of a UCLA film student named Dan McLaughlin. I contacted Dan and told him that I was interested in the idea of using his film as a visual for CLASSICAL GAS to air on THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR. (His original sound track had been Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.) THE COMEDY HOUR offered him enough money to finance a new film he wanted to make in exchange for the right to change the original soundtrack from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony to CLASSICAL GAS and air it on the show. As a “music video” it was first shown on THE SUMMER BROTHERS SMOTHERS SHOW (Glen Campbell was the host) in the summer of 1968.
The impact of the film on television opened the door to the realization that the viewer’s mind could not only absorb, but was excited by this degree of visual input. It was the beginning of the use of streams of fast-images now called kinestasis. Over the years it has been exploited effectively by television commercials, documentaries, etc.
THE COMEDY HOUR also created other films in the kinestasis style. The most notable of these being a montage of the major news photo images of 1968 compressed into a four minute film titled “American Time Capsule”. Dan McLaughlin was asked if he would like to make the film, but being an experimental filmmaker, wasn’t interested in repeating himself, so Tom Smothers hired Chuck Braverman to create this and other films for the show.
As a result of the response to the CLASSICAL GAS music video and my interest in bringing new visual concepts to the show, in September of 1968 I wrote a comedy piece for the show projecting the concept that someday DJ’s as VJ’s (Video Jockeys) would play hit tapes on TV, a prophesy of what was to later become MTV. (The original sketch from my journal is included.) When I approached THE COMEDY HOUR with the idea, the producers said, “What the hell are you talking about, DJ’s on TV? That ain’t funny!” They passed on the idea.