20. “Every Breath You Take” The Police (1983)
Simplicity, ladies and gentlemen. Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers went straight for the heart with “Every Breath You Take”, their biggest hit single (and the #1 song of 1983, according to Billboard magazine). The greatness of this video is all in the incidentals-the shadows moving from one side of Sting’s face to the other, his standup bass, the way the video seemed to fit seamlessly with the quiet intensity of the song. While Sting would later be reviled for his pomposity, “Every Breath You Take” found him and the rest of the band operating on the barest, and most effective, of bones.
19. “Video Killed the Radio Star” The Buggles (1979)
We have to come clean – The Buggles released “Video Killed the Radio Star” in September of 1979, nearly two full years before MTV even hit the air. Is it fair to include this on a list of the best videos from the 1980s? Despite the technicality, we would be remiss to exclude it. The video was of course the first to be played on MTV, at 12:01am on August 1, 1981. Eleven years ago, it was also the one-millionth video to be aired on the channel. For such an early video, there’s a lot going on visually, and you can imagine how many stoned college minds were blown on that late August night.
While it makes a great deal of sense that this clip ushered in the MTV era, I find the situation a little ironic. The lyrics hardly champion the visual medium. In fact, it’s really a love song to radio, riddled with heartbreak. It’s a pretty sad lyric, actually (the radio scholar in me gets a little choked up at the “abandoned studio” verse). This seeming contradiction aside, the video and the song are among the most defining of the decade, and its place on this list is well deserved.-Dr. Gonzo
18. “Dr. Feelgood” Motley Crue (1989)
Motley Crue was one of my absolute favorite bands as a teenager (and for the record, I still LOVE them) and I remember vividly sitting on pins and needles, butterflies in my stomach waiting for this video to world premiere on MTV. In 1989, there were no internet leaks, so this would be not only the first time seeing the video, but the first time hearing the song. At the time, Dr. Feelgood sounded heavier than anything the band had ever done before (a good thing) and the video was a pyro heavy performance piece mixed with a Scarface-esque story line. In retrospect, it is completely silly, but to be fair, so is practically every video from the ’80s, so this still remains a complete and utter triumph for the band.-Nick
17. “Ashes to Ashes” David Bowie (1980)
Always an innovator, David Bowie had been producing promotional clips for his music throughout the 1970s. As with his music however, Bowie’s 1980s video output became progressively less interesting. But he started the decade with a bang. 1980’s clip for “Ashes to Ashes” may look amateurish by today’s standards, but at the time it was the most expensive video ever produced at £250,000 (over $400,000).
While the effects may be sorely outdated, the video is still a perfect visualization of the eerie “Ashes to Ashes.” The solarized effects, the padded cell, the creeping bulldozer, the weird shot of Bowie suspended while connected to a series of tubes (which for some reason always reminds me of Han Solo being frozen in carbonite) all add up to a creepy, surreal four minutes that remains one of the decade’s most iconic videos.-Dr. Gonzo
16. “Hot for Teacher” Van Halen (1984)
So, David Lee Roth drives a school bus that takes a nervous nerd named Waldo and the kid versions of DLR, Michael Anthony and brothers Van Halen to school where they are the coolest kids there and their teachers strip down to skimpy bathing suits (skimpy for those times) and dance on their desks AND it is one of the best Van Halen songs from one of their best (if not the best) albums? Undeniable WIN. Also, is this where the creators of “Where’s Waldo” got the seeds for their idea? Nerdy guy with big glasses named Waldo….think about it.-Nick
15. “Addicted to Love” Robert Palmer (1986)
Take an immaculately dressed Robert Palmer-the epitome of cool. Have him perform his latest song surrounded by a sea of supermodel-types, pretending to play the song, all dressed (and looking) exactly the same. Such a simple (and obvious) concept, I’m amazed no one thought of it before. But damn if people didn’t think of it after-throughout the rest of the decade and into the next, everyone from Tone Loc to Paula Abdul spoofed or copied the concept Palmer rode to his first and only Number One hit.
14. “Need You Tonight/Mediate” INXS (1987)
Mixing arsty black and white footage with animation, the “Need You Tonight” portion has Michael Hutchence at his most seductive. The video is also a product of a bygone era before the days of a market saturated with CGI. Director Richard Lowenstein cut up footage shot in 35mm, repeatedly xeroxed the cells, then reinserted them to give that slightly deteriorated, grainy element against the pristine black and white shots. The “Mediate” portion of the video is of course an updated homage to Bob Dylan’s clip of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” from D.A. Pennebaaker’s Don’t Look Back film. It’s also impossible now for me to separate “Need You Tonight” from “Mediate,” and I get frustrated when radio ignores the latter. Nevertheless, with this clip, INXS gave us one of the most memorable videos of the decade.-Dr. Gonzo
13. “You Can Call Me Al” Paul Simon (1986)
Surprisingly not Simon’s biggest Billboard hit of the decade (that goes to 1980’s “Late in the Evening”), the video for “You Can Call Me Al” is on of the simplest yet most memorable videos of the decade. Rekindling a relationship from the very early days of Saturday Night Live, the video pits a despondent Paul Simon against a hammy Chevy Chase to great comic effect, augmented by their substantial difference in height. There was also a time in my life where I thought Chevy Chase was actually singing the song, but that’s another story.-Dr. Gonzo
12. “When Doves Cry” Prince (1984)
The lead single from Purple Rain gave us Prince’s first music video to stretch beyond a mimed performance. Prince directed the video himself, making it all the more impressive at that early stage in his career, although perhaps that fact is unsurprising given the purple tones, the doves, the flowers and that steamy, steamy bath. In addition to scenes from the film, these shots are intercut with a performance by the Revolution that includes relatively simple, yet memorable group choreography (which landed a 1984 VMA nomination for best choreography). Another memorable feature of the video is the mirror effect in the song’s coda, though I never could figure out how they did that live (as in the 1985 home video release). “When Doves Cry” began a long line of Prince videos that were a little more artful in their approach than had been the case since his first video offering in 1979 (some of which appear on this list). It also no doubt helped to propel the single, album and film to the number one spot on their respective charts in 1984.-Dr. Gonzo
Dig if u will, a picture–or actually, don’t dig anything, because you can’t find the “When Doves Cry” video on YouTube or Dailymotion. The purple genius’ finest commercial hour, and all you get is a bunch of clips with the audio removed. Mr. Nelson, how can you just leave me standing? Maybe I’m just too demanding.-Blerd
11. “Beat It” Michael Jackson (1983)
Maybe it’s best that we close with Prince’s #1 rival. If you believe the rumors, Michael’s management team (at the time) conceptualized the “Beat It” video as a Robin Hood-esque fantasy sequence. Thank God someone shitcanned that idea. Already thought of as kind of a pansy, MJ toughened up his image with the “Beat It” video, starring as the mediator between what looked to-quite frankly-be the gayest rumble ever if not for the hundred or so real-life Bloods & Crips that served as stand-ins for the video. Of course, the icing on the cake is the amazing choreography that closes out the clip. Kudos to Jackson as well as choreographer (and video co-star) Michael Peters for creating 4 1/2 minutes of pure magic.
And Cheryl Hong the Soul Train girl is in this video!!
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- susannah melvoin