10. “Money for Nothing” Dire Straits (1985)
“Money for Nothing” is probably the video most synonymous with MTV that wasn’t by Michael Jackson. Spotlighting very early computer animation, the clip combines live footage of the band performing with a loosely defined narrative in computer world (cue Kraftwerk). To folks who weren’t around in MTV’s first decade, watching this video today might be like the same person trying to play Calicovision. But again, in the context of the time, the video was absolutely revolutionary, and deservedly received Video of the Year at the 1986 VMAs. Repeatedly mentioning MTV in the lyrics couldn’t have hurt the song’s ability to get into heavy rotation, but as legend has it Mark Knopfler resisted the idea of making the video until his girlfriend convinced him otherwise. The video includes two other “videos” – “Baby Baby” by “First Floor” and “Sally” by the Ian Pearson Band. The latter was fictional, while the former was a legitimate group from Hungary. No word on what their lead singer thought about being derogitoraly referenced every two hours on an American cable channel.
I feel like we’ve overused the word “iconic” in this top 50 bLISTERed, but this video is truly deserving of that label, coming to be synonymous with MTV and the decade’s popular culture more generally. Dire Straits would make a few more music videos (“Walk of Life” and “Calling Elvis” among them), but “Money for Nothing” remains their career-defining moment.-Dr. Gonzo
9. “Don’t Come Around Here No More” Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (1985)
I cannot tell a lie. This video freaked me the fuck out as a child. Between Eurythmic Dave Stewart being a creepy caterpillar, the pig-baby in the carriage and Alice turning into a cake, this was the stuff of nightmares for a four-year old. Yet it was also rather enchanting. As familiar as the Alice in Wonderland story is,making it the narrative for a music video put a new twist on the story, and director Jeff Stein nailed it. The music is some how perfect for the Alice story as well – the phased drums, the reverbed sitar, the echoed backing vocals all lend a dreamlike quality to the song, which easily sets the stage for a trip (and I do mean “trip”) through Wonderland. One mark of a good video is when the video clip becomes inseparable from the song – hearing the latter automatically brings the former’s visuals to mind. That’s certainly true of “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” Moreover, to appreciate many of these early videos, you have to put them into the context of the times. But “Don’t Come Around Here No More” holds its own even thirty years later. -Dr. Gonzo
8. “Land of Confusion” Genesis (1987)
At the time it was popular, I didn’t really understand the political messages in this video at all, I just thought it was funny that they had Ronnie and Nancy Reagan in their video accidentally pressing nuke buttons. Truth be told though, the puppets in this video actually really freak me out. They are up there with the Dark Crystal characters in terms of giving me the heebie jeebies. That being said, amazing song from Genesis’ best album (in my opinion). Phil Collins had the opposite of an “Invisible Touch” in the ’80s and literally everything he touched was a hit (see what I did there), whether it be solo or with Genesis (I think there is a very serious argument to be made that he might have been bigger than Michael Jackson in that decade), so it was probably a foregone conclusion that this video would be massive, but it definitely earned it with the creative effort that was put into it. -Nick
7. “You Might Think” The Cars (1983)
1984’s Heartbeat City is far from The Cars’ artistic achievement. Even so, the album did reach number 3 on the Billboard charts and was certified 4x Platinum – in no small part due to this music video. Combining live action and animation, in this clip The Cars (who never took themselves too seriously) gave us something interesting to look at while also making us laugh. I admit, it’s a bit creepy – Rick Ocasek comes off as a persistent shapeshifting stalker, but at the same time cements his status as one of the coolest frontmen on the planet. Although they made better records, Heartbeat City and “You Might Think” put The Cars at the peak of their commercial popularity.-Dr. Gonzo
6. “Billie Jean” Michael Jackson (1983)
Pure cool oozed from every pore of Michael Jackson’s yet-to-be-bleached skin in the first of his many classic vide…uh, short films. Although it’s been replaced in many people’s minds with his historic “Motown 25” performance, the “Billie Jean” video is still a tour de force. Michael teaches a clinic on dancing, adds a mysterious storyline about being followed, and every frickin’ step he takes lights up. How cool is that? It’s cool enough that Michael got away with wearing a pink shirt! It was also the first video from a black artist to go into heavy rotation on MTV, making this clip a must-see from a historical as well as a qualitative standpoint.
5. “Sledgehammer” Peter Gabriel (1986)
You ever watched “The Great Space Coaster” or “H.R. Pufnstuf” and wonder how many shrooms the people who created those shows swallowed before filming? Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” gives off the same effect. Full of bizarre effects ranging from simple eyebrow-and-ear-twitching to steam trains coming out of Peter’s mouth, this video is still bugged the fuck out. We haven’t even gotten to all the Claymation fuckery yet! Also worth asking-did the brief scene at the beginning featuring Peter painted blue inspire the Blue Man Group?
4. “Hungry Like the Wolf” Duran Duran (1983)
Exotic and erotic, Duran Duran’s first American hit found them wandering (and writhing) through the streets (and jungle) of Sri Lanka. Simon LeBon’s pouty good looks came to good use in this “Indiana Jones”-inspired short film. The imagery was novel to MTV viewers, and “Hungry” kicked off a 2 1/2 year run for Duran in which they found themselves all over the fledgling network, not to mention Top 40 radio and every teen magazine in existence. The leaders of the new British Invasion were well on their way.
3. “Thriller” Michael Jackson (1983)
How do you come up with an interesting series of sentences about something that’s been written about so much? The first video “event” is as memorable now as it was that night almost a year after the titular album’s release, when it first made it’s debut on MTV. Since then, just about every facet of the clip has been copied into oblivion, from Michael’s red leather jacket to the “West Side Story” meets Boris Karloff choreography. None of the imitations hold anything resembling a candle to the original, though. Even though Michael’s videos prior to the release of Thriller (the album) were fairly primitive, it seems as though “Thriller” (the song) was made for the video medium.
2. “Take on Me” a-ha (1985)
There is a moment at 1:35 into the video for a-ha’s “Take on Me” that is unlike few others in the history of the medium. As lead vocalist Morten Harket builds into that gorgeous pop chorus, serenading a gorgeous blonde he has just invited into his pencil-sketched comic book world, they face either side of a glass that allows the pair to see each other as real-life humans. The camera pans around the two, allowing the viewer to change perspectives – him in pencil looking at her in the flesh and vice-versa.
That it’s a pretty cool shot in the context of special effects in 1985 is beside the point. This camera set-up may well contain the entire heart and soul of MTV. At the time, the world was four years into the music video revolution. Marrying one of the greatest forms of artistic expression to one of the premier technological mediums of the century was a stroke of brilliance. Videos had not yet become background noise, or something to play in the wee hours when there were no more Jersey Shore reruns. They were new and exciting and had some of the greatest musicians ever utilizing them to ascend to feature film-like plateaus of glory.
What sets “Take on Me,” a chart-topping hit by a Norwegian band who would fall off Middle America’s radar after that one track, apart from the rest? It’s hard to say. The song is as glossy and the visuals as ambitious as anything the elder gods of the MTV era – Michael Jackson, Prince, Duran Duran, Madonna – were putting out in MTV’s golden age. But there is one thing “Take on Me” lacks compared to the others that actually sets it apart and perhaps even ahead of those guys. Those videos were selling grandiosity – oozing zombies, exotic jungles, writhing and gliding objects of desire – and that totally befits and complements a decade that counted bigger and better as its two trademarks. But “Take on Me” was a boy and a girl sharing an ever-deepening affection in under four minutes, a concept that resonates in any time or place. By the time Harket managed to climb out of that crumpled comic book and into the real world, you understood why the girl was crying: she – and arguably, we – were on a surprisingly complex emotional journey. And all it took was a really good music video. -Mike Duquette
1. “Like a Prayer” Madonna (1989)
At the time this video was released, I claimed to hate Madonna. I was a metalhead and she was pop music that I, on paper, could not stand. Secretly, I found this (and many other pop songs) irresistibly catchy. I watched this video every single time it came on under the premise that I didn’t want to miss the next video in case it was something “good”. I also suspect that Madonna’s (successful) attempt to rile up the Catholic Church with the controversial religious aspects of the video appealed to me as well. Being raised Catholic and spending a lot of time listening to the devil’s music (heavy metal), the anti-establishment vibe of the video was something I could appreciate and relate to. Also, I was a teenage boy and Madonna is undeniably attractive, so that of course was a major factor as well.-Nick
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