Music videos have existed for many years but they really only came to prominence in 1981 when MTV launched a television station that played videos 24/7. Soon enough the genre evolved and videos became like little films that accompanied and promoted songs. Due to MTV and video shows the quality of videos went up big time. Visuals for musicians became very important. A whole bunch of time and money were spent on them as it was generally accepted that a music video could make or break a song.
Here is my list, in order, of the videos that I consider the top ones of that early decade:
1) Thriller – Michael Jackson: Year: 1983. Michael Jackson’s 14 minute video was groundbreaking for several reasons. Directed by film director John Landis and it cost a whopping (at the time) $500,000. Using a horror film backdrop, the video saw Jackson morph into a werewolf and dance around with a group of undead people. The album Thriller sold over 9 million copies which was a Guinness World Record at the time. The bar for videos was totally raised once this came out. They were no longer seen just as a promotional device but were now a standalone artistic form. Jackson definitely pushed the limits of what this form could accomplish.
2) Hungry Like the Wolf – Duran Duran: Year: 1982. Brit New Wave pop band Duran Duran was an example of a band whose popularity was largely based on the way they looked and the videos they made. Their most famous was “Hungry Like the Wolf”. It was like a mini film with intrigue, exotic locales and action. Some have said that it was like a combo of films Romancing the Stone and Indiana Jones. It went on to win the first ever Grammy Award for Best Short Form Video.
3) Take On Me – a-Ha: Year: 1985. By the year that Norwegian pop band a-Ha released this video plenty of bands had used animation but they brought it to a new level. It was part pencil-sketch animation and part live action. This was called rotoscoping (real video is traced over). The video followed a narrative that was filled with action. Plus the song was catchy as hell.
4) Sledgehammer – Peter Gabriel: Year: 1987. Stop-motion was a new technique and this video showed what it could accomplish plus brought it to the forefront. Besides being filmed shot by shot the director also used claymation figures. Painstaking process, I’m sure. Director Stephen R. Johnson was obviously enjoying himself as he was matching images to the lyrics. The video swept the MTV Video Music Awards in 1987. It won nine awards, something that no video has managed to do since. Raised the bar for all videos that came after. It is the most played video ever on MTV.
5) Express Yourself – Madonna: Year: 1989. You could have selected one of several Madonna videos from this decade. “Like a Prayer”. “Material Girl”. But this one had the most lasting effect. Directed by David Fincher it borrowed heavily from Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis. While everything Madonna did (and does) resulted in controversy this one had plenty of praised heaped on it as well. All Madonna’s favourite/signature visuals are contained within like her platinum blonde hair, half dressed buff men, eye catching outfits, and even sexual symbolism. It cost $5 million to make making it still 23 years later the third most expensive video ever.
6) Addicted to Love – Robert Palmer: Year: 1986. In this video singer Robert Palmer was the epitome of cool. If you had any doubts about rock stars getting all the hot girls then this video erased all of them. There are wall to wall fashion models posing as backup musicians to Palmer. Very simply done they are all wearing the same form fitting black dress, dark hair slicked back into a bun and lots of makeup. Iconic British photographer Terence Donovan directed the video. The girls while beautiful were really just mannequins. Really quite a simple video that left a lasting impression.
7) Every Breath You Take – The Police: Year: 1983. It is one of the most beloved and enduring rock songs of all time. The video that accompanied it was shot in black and white and is quite classic/simple. Simple shot of Sting playing his stand up bass in his typical pose. This video’s strength is the cinematography. It was rewarded with many awards by the end of the year.
8) Cry – Godley and Creme: Year: 1985. These guys were musicians (formerly of the band 10cc) but are probably best remembered for their videos. Besides their own they also worked on The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”, Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film”, Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit”, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes”. Not a shabby list. They directed “Cry” themselves. A simple concept that involves morphing. One after another faces were blended into the next one. All the morphing is seamless. The actors involved all cry. Some are quite hammy while others rather understated.
9) Money For Nothing – Dire Straits: Year: 1985. The band’s lead singer/guitarist Mark Knopfler got the idea for the song when he overhead a man in a department store who was watching MTV state that the artists were making “money for nothing”. A song written about Joe Public’s opinion of rock stars and videos. Even featured Sting singing “I want my MTV” in the background. Computer animation was used to depict the lyrics. At the time of its release it was considered to be ground breaking. The perfect video for Mark Knopfler as he hated appearing in videos. It was so popular that it was the first video played when MTV Europe was launched. The video was awarded the Video of the Year prize at the MTV Awards in 1986.
10) Don’t Come Around Here No More – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Year: 1985. The song itself was written by Dave Stewart (of The Eurythmics) for Stevie Nicks, but he ended up finishing it with Tom Petty. Directed by Jeff Stein, the video featured a creepier version of Alice in Wonderland as it story frame. Tom Petty was the Mad Hatter complete with the oversized hat. Had a manic chase scene through a black and white checkered room. To top off the creepiness, Alice ended up being a cake that the rest of the band ate. The song was a big hit and fans loved the video.