Soundies – The First Music Videos

Wallace The Waffle Whiffer, Going Postal
Panoram Manufactured by the Mills Novelty Company Chicago

I subscribe to a 1940s Society publication and in one of the issues a year or two ago was where I  first  saw mentioned something called ‘Soundies’ that came along in the early part of that decade in America.

It was interesting to read that ‘Soundies’ were essentially the first music and (general entertainment) videos to be produced to play on Movie Jukeboxes or what were called a Panoram.

Wallace The Waffle Whiffer, Going Postal
Soundies  Promotional Advertising  Examples

Having a keen interest in Forties Music, especially  Big Band  music this led me to seek out a DVD mentioned in the article of a programme that was first broadcast in 2007 on PBS. It was hosted by Michael Feinstein and is titled : ” Soundies: A Musical History”.

In this programme Feinstein gives an overview of the history of the format and then plays some great clips of the artists that had made ‘Soundies’ recordings. In some cases these are the only filmed performances that exist of these Bands or Singers and make them important historical documents of the era. All genres are represented including Hillbilly, Dixieland, Jazz and more. Tommy Dorsey, Peggy Lee, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and the under rated Gene Austin are just some of the artists that are preserved on ‘Soundies’

Produced from 1941 until 1947 these three minute films were at first virtually all music related, but as their popularity grew comedy and other types of entertainment were included.

There were eight films in a machine with something like three songs or performances per film. For ten cents you would get to see three songs play from a spool, but could not choose what songs would play. It was all down to whatever spool was up next. Once play began an image would be projected onto a system of mirrors which ended up on a screen at the top of the machine.

Taverns, clubs and restaurants were some of the locations where you could expect to find a Panoram machine and they were a big hit with the public when first launched. Perhaps they would have expanded  further and produced even more films, but when WW2 came along this slowed the growth of the industry because of a shortage of resources to manufacture the machines and produce the films.

After the end of the War with the advent of Television that was the proverbial stake through the heart of ‘Soundies’. The various rolls of films were then sold off to different home movie companies who put them into syndication and they passed into history.

‘Soundies’ have been released to home video I have been able to find 18 volumes so far of these films on DVD . Each volume has a running time running time of fifty to seventy minutes each. I find them really entertaining with a great variety of music or performance on each disc and will just pop a disc in and let it play. MTV before MTV was thought of.

1940s style!

© Wallace The Waffle Whiffer 2019

The Goodnight Vienna Audio file