We grew up as 80’s children so we were there when the MTV music revolution started. We watched a ton of music videos. Some videos had a clear story while others were just concert footage, while still others were whacked-out director craziness. For whatever reason, over time MTV and even VH-1 have turned into more of a reality show place and far less of a music station. Artists also decreased their output of videos, occasionally dropping one for a single. With the advent of YouTube, there is now a place for bands to put out videos to promote their music. Childish Gambino recently put out a video for his single “This is America” and it’s crazy and over the top, violent, funny, and dancing, lots of dancing. It made us think of videos past and what were some of our most memorable videos that either didn’t make sense or were just crazy and over the top. We also invited our friend and self-proclaimed music expert Treacherous Friend to add his list.
I loved MTV – I was there from the beginning. Music videos mesmerized me. It also introduced me to music I would have never known otherwise. MTV was all over the map especially early on as it only played what was made at the time. If I could write well I would write a book just on music videos. For me the weirder the video the better. I rarely enjoyed the concert video or just the artist singing. The more interesting the better – unintentional comedy and nonsense a plus. My list in no particular order:
- “We Built This City” Starship (1985) The defining moment is when Abe Lincoln comes alive from the Lincoln Memorial to sing. I have no clue what the song or video is about but I know they were “knee deep in the hoopla”.
- “Total Eclipse of the Heart” Bonnie Tyler (1985) Tyler is the headmaster at a boys prep school with dancing ninjas, fencers, and those bright eyes.
- “Draw of the Cards” Kim Carnes (1981) I don’t remember the song but as a kid, this video scared the shit of me. The lizard man at the end still creeps me out.
- “Dancing in the Streets” Mick Jagger & David Bowie (1985) Bowie + Jagger what could go wrong?
- “Oops!… I Did It Again” Britney Spears (2000) The Martian combined with pre-meltdown Britney Spears = yes, please.
- “Right on Track” The Breakfast Club (1987) Backup singers in chicken costumes and a band that thought they were going to have another hit.
- “King of Wishful Thinking” Go West (1990) I would have loved to be part of a music video creative team. “Ok so it’s from the movie Pretty Woman, so we need a Roy Orbison and a Julia Roberts look-a-like, fake Pope John Paul II, a zebra, Vlad the Impaler, the Cowardly Lion, lots of dancing, a giant playing card, other random stuff, the band singing and no movie clips whatsoever”
- “Once in a Lifetime” Talking Heads (1980) One of the first classic videos, also a head-scratcher, it’s mostly David Byrne doing some strange dancing.
- “Loverboy” Billy Ocean (1984) This one apparently takes place in the Star Wars cantina with larger Jawas. It’s completely weird.
- “Human Touch” Rick Springfield (1983) This is Solid Gold 2085 crossed with the Star Wars Holiday Special. But if this is our future I want in, now.
MG: You curated an inspired list here. I’ve often wondered what the discussions were about planning some of these videos, or maybe there weren’t any. “King Of Wishful Thinking” was classic everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach. People loved to reference the Pope in videos. “Loverboy” takes the cake for me, as a video that has nothing to do with the song. Well, I suppose the horse-faced creature does get his woman at the end [spoiler alert] by literally shooting her suitor and dragging her away. How did Lucas resist suing for the blatant Jawa rip-off?
TF: At least two of these would have made my list if they weren’t already on yours. The “Loverboy” video is amazing – it’s like someone dropped acid and tried to remake Star Wars on a $8000 budget. And though the Bowie/Jagger cover of “Dancing In The Streets” gets slagged off quite a bit now, I still love the song and the video. Fun stuff.
I too loved videos, but I was not in on the ground floor of MTV. Some of us lived tougher lives and did not have cable. I lived for Friday Night Videos and later V66, which would show ten awful, non-hit videos for every one decent one. In some ways, though, my limited access to videos made them more special to me, but I know I missed out on a lot of the second tier ones in the 80’s. I loved any video that tried to tell a story, and still, remember waking up early on Saturday morning to watch the FNV show that featured “Thriller” – the ultimate “story” video. I still will check out the occasional music video on YouTube. Here are my picks for the bizarre and outlandish ones through the years:
- “Safety Dance” Men Without Hats (1983) Decent production values for 83. Midgets, puppets, and chicken masks – sounds like the fantasy of a friend of ours.
- “Leave It” Yes (1983) I remember hearing there were 18 different versions (which I wanted to see, but never did). It features the band against a white field “flattened” by computer imagery, mostly upside down and sometimes moving around.
- “Boy In The Box” Corey Hart (1984) An underappreciated 80’s tune with a video motif best described as “Asian underground”. Lots of close-ups of cackling “Asian” faces that looks like the leftover sets from Big Trouble in Little China.
- “Hyperactive” Thomas Dolby (1984) A great example of the ” Oh, wouldn’t it be cool if…” (I play the trombone with my nose, for example) approach to video making.
- “Land of Confusion” Genesis (1986) Puppets on acid. I’m not 100% sure of the message, but Ronald Reagan’s puppet doppelganger definitely gets skewered.
- “Fat” “Weird Al” Yankovic (1988) Al in the fat suit alone is pretty freaking “weird” by itself. Great riff on MJ’s original video, which you realize is kind of strange too.
- “Human Behavior” Bjork (1993) Never one to shy away from the strange, Bjork is stalked (?) by a 10-foot teddy bear and ends up in its belly by the end…or is she the bear?
- “Prison Sex” Tool (1993) If you are in the mood for something strange, macabre, and unsettling (as is the case for most of Tool’s videos) this fits the bill. Best not to watch before bed.
- “Freeek!” George Michael (2002) GM goes nigh concept in this Blade Runner meets S&M dystopian sexual fantasy. Visually bizarre, but also sprinkled with dark humor.
- “Burn The Witch” Radiohead (2016) The Claymation harkens back to the classic show Davey and Goliath, but there’s a sinister undertone that complements the song.
DJ: I saw a lot of “Hyperactive” when I was younger and it was always a WTF is going on here video for me. I agree with “Land of Confusion” not sure if it’s pro Reagan or anti Reagan, maybe its neither, it might just be some old fashioned fun, no clue. Tool’s “Prison Sex” video was something straight out of Tim Burton’s playbook, I was looking for Johnny Depp. I had never seen “Burn the Witch” but I was hoping for a Goliath cameo – “Gee, Davey, what would god do?” Good list.
TF: “Freeek!” was definitely on my list before I saw it on yours. Definitely a great one. I almost included George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex” video, probaly the first rock video single I bought on VHS. “Safety Dance” is like the first song on my list – love the song, hate the video.
Yeah, Mike, your life was so tough growing up. Mine too. Like you, I didn’t have cable because the ‘burg in which I grew up didn’t have access to cable until the mid-nineties, I don’t think. I was gone by then. But I would visit my mom on weekends in the city and she did have cable, so my younger brother and I watched our fair share of MTV. When DJ first proposed this topic to me, I thought I’d have a hard time coming up with ten examples. In the end, I had to shave some off because there were too many great videos I wanted to talk about.
- “She Blinded Me With Science” Thomas Dolby (1982) Classic example of loving the song, hating the video. Unfortunately, the only online version of the original is a little grainy.
- “Here I Go Again” Whitesnake (1982) And the exact opposite case – I wasn’t a big fan of the song at the time, but, well… teenage boy… Tawny Kitaen… ‘nuf said.
- “Numb” U2 (1993) This is one I bought on VHS and watched endlessly. I like that The Edge is singing on this one. Good cut.
- “Nothing Compares 2 U” Sinead O’Connor (1990) Iconic. Her first album was amazing, but the video for this Prince-penned lead single of her second album made her a star.
- “I Need Never Get Old” Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats (2017) I wanted to include a couple more modern examples; it’s a rarity now, but a good video can alter your perception of a song, in this case lending humor to a straight-ahead soul stomper.
- “Make Me Feel” Janelle Monae (2018) Hyper-sexualized and super sexy, this video is a throwback to surreal ’80s rock videos as much as the song is a throwback to Prince’s best work.
- “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” Cake (2001) Unique in this list, the song is secondary to the group of random people offering their opinion of the song. The funniest are those who don’t like it.
- “Coming Home” The 88 (2009) The band takes the record company music video budget, opts for super-cheap production, and spends the rest of the money doing nice things for people. I love this one!
- “Cuban Pete” Jim Carrey (1994) Hilarious and beautifully choreographed, I don’t think there was ever an official video, but this clip got played on MTV plenty in the mid-nineties. I used to watch for hours trying to catch it.
- “Sister Christian” Night Ranger (1983) Another classic ’80s video that is forever entrenched in my memory. I still love this song and video.
MG: As always, an eclectic list. I recently watched The Mask again and Cuban Pete is a great segment. I never got into the hair band videos, despite the typical gratuitous T&A. They always seemed to be primarily performance videos with a lot of camera mugging and mic-stand posturing. I wonder if The Edge knew what was going to be done to his face in the “Numb” video or if it was mostly ad-lib.
DJ: Yeah not sure you got the concept here. I don’t quite see the Night Ranger or the Whitesnake video as nonsense, it’s actually pretty typical of any hair band or pseudo hair band video of the era. The Sinead video is just her singing. i give you credit for the second Dolby video in this article but really that’s it.