Music videos have been around for decades, but didn’t really establish themselves as part of popular culture until the 1980s. With the launching of specialty music video channels such as MTV and Much Music in the 80s, suddenly all those songs we were listening to on the radio took on another dimension, as we were given visuals to enjoy while listening to the music. Though these specialty music stations still exist today, actual music videos are actually something of a rarity, with station execs eschewing the programming that made them such a success in the first place in favor of reality TV. Yes, the music video does not have the popularity it once did, but in its heyday in the 80s, teenagers everywhere were glued to the TV, hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite bands in the station’s rotation. Here is a list of what I consider to be the top 10 music videos of the 80s:
10 – Billie Jean by Michael Jackson
MJ could populate an entire top 10 music video list by himself. He was a massive star in the 80s, so it is no stretch that at least one his songs makes my list of the top 10 music videos. With paving stones that lit up in his wake, Jackson introduced his rabid fans to many of his signature dance moves in this stylish and entertaining mini-movie.
9 – Like a Virgin by Madonna
Though many regard Madonna’s Like a Prayer as her crowning music video achievement, it is her signature song, Like a Virgin that deserves a spot on this list. With a raw sexuality that broke boundaries for its era, Like a Virgin instantly put Madonna front and center in the fantasies of young males everywhere. Madonna’s racy video would be considered tame today as hundreds of young female pop-stars have spent the past two decades trying to out-shock and out-sex one another, but it was Madonna that pioneered that trend, and men everywhere thank her heartily for it.
8 – Just a Gigolo by David Lee Roth
Just prior to his highly publicized split with 80s supergroup, Van Halen, David Lee Roth tested the solo waters, releasing a mini album called Crazy From the Heat. It was a four song collection of covers, done in Roth’s inimitable style, and the resultant music videos were some of the best of the 80s. Roth’s cover of California Girls reached higher heights in the billboard rankings, but it was his wacky video for Just a Gigolo that is worthy of inclusion on this list. It’s too bad “Dave TV” was not an actual network. No doubt it would have pulled in stellar ratings (in the 80s).
7 – Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper
How can a music video featuring wrestler Captain Lou Albano not be featured on this list? Since Lou’s stellar music video debut as Cyndi Lauper’s overbearing, trailer-trash father, wrestlers have been in high demand for all sorts of acting roles. Cyndi Lauper, with her mismatched clothes and punked out hairdo became an instant role model for young teenage girls, and this lightly rebellious song was their anthem.
6 – Addicted to Love by Robert Palmer
Hot chicks in skin tight, short short dresses playing guitar. Need I say more? Oh yeah, Robert Palmer was in there somewhere, singing about something, I think…
5 – We’re Not Gonna Take It by Twisted Sister
The hardest rockin’ video of the bunch so far, We’re Not Gonna Take It dialed up the volume to full blast and drew the ire of many parents who wondered what all the screeching from the living room was all about. With arguably the best collective hair in music video history, Dee Snider and his cronies teach rebellion to an aspiring young rocker, helping him defy his militaristic father. Mark Metcalf of Animal House fame revisited his role from the movie to great effect. One of the truly humorous videos of the decade.
4 – Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel pushed both the artistic and technical envelopes with the creation of this brilliant little music video. With claymation and stop motion animation, this strangely fruit-themed video drew critical acclaim from many in the industry. The song was good, but it was the video that shot the former Genesis front man to the top of the charts for his only number one hit as a solo artist.
3 – Money for Nothing by Dire Straits
One of the most recognizable songs from the 80s this video by Mark Knopfler and crew, Money for Nothing’s video was created using cutting edge computer animation. Obviously crude by today’s standards, it was, at the time, a technical tour-de-force not seen outside of Hollywood movies. Though the lyrics ruffled some feathers, the song was hugely popular among the blue collar crowd who were represented in the video.
2 – Take on Me by a-Ha
Much like Money for Nothing this video by one hit wonder, a-Ha, was constructed using unique animation techniques. The technique used this time around is called rotoscoping, where animators actually trace over live film. In this brilliantly put together video the action switches between live action and the pencil-sketched images made to resemble a comic book page. The job was so well done that the video still looks good by today’s much higher technical standards. Unfortunately, a-Ha themselves did not withstand the test of time so successfully. It was one and done for this Norweigan 80s pop act.
1 – Thriller by Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson bookends the competition on my list of the top ten 80s music videos. The video for Thriller stood the genre on its ear when it was released in 1983. An astounding 14 minutes long, the video played like a mini-movie, much of its content music-free as the plot progresses. With a troop of dancing zombies at his command the King of Pop brings us Night of the Living Dead meets Beat It in this hugely entertaining piece of media. The legendary Vincent Price provides even more chills, his signature sinister voice providing a spooky backdrop to Jackson’s music. As he did with his record sales in the 80s, Michael Jackson once again left his competition in the dust. Not only the King of Pop, MJ was indeed the King of 80s music videos.