Ever since MTV was first launched August 1, 1981, music was never the same. Now, not only did artists have to put out hit songs, but they had to put out videos for those single releases too. In the early days, music videos were basically performance footage, but there were a number of artists who were doing inventive and creative things with the new medium. The music video was more than promotional tools for these artists, but an extension of their creativity. Before the ’80s closed, the music video had established itself as a unique artistic form. And while not all music videos were great or spectacular, there were a few that were inventive, creative, and influential. Here’s a list of ten of the most memorable music videos ever.
1. “Thriller” Michael Jackson – This mini-epic pushed the envelope on what a music video could be. Long-form narrative storytelling could be as much a part of the video as the music. But what set “Thriller” apart from the rest was its showcase for Jackson’s talent, using his skills as a dancer to create a horror musical that was right up there with anything Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire did back in the day. “Thriller” set the bar for what music videos could aspire to.
2. “Vogue” Madonna – Like most of Madonna’s music videos, “Vogue” showcased the singer more as a visual artist than performer. Shot in striking black and white and taking its cues from the New York dance club scene, “Vogue” was visually stunning, 1940s glamor photographs come to life.
3. “Weapon of Choice” Fatboy Slim – Christopher Walken dancing. What else do you need?
4. “California Love” Tupac – This futuristic jam stepped up the game for rap videos. Featuring Chris Tucker and Zapp’s Roger Troutman, “California Love” looked like a movie instead of a video. In fact, the video was inspired by Mad Max “Road Warrior” movies.
5.”When Doves Cry” Prince – Prince climbing out of a bathtub. Prince crawling on the floor. Prince dancing. Oh, yeah!
6. “Waterfalls” TLC – one of the first music videos to use CGI effects, it’s got a message that is beautifully handled with its visuals.
7. “Losing My Religion” R.E.M. – A beautiful and visually stunning video. The use of shadows and lighting shows how the music video can be elevated to the artform of photography or classical paintings.
8. “Black or White” – Jackson’s second entry on this list is from his Dangerous album. “Black and White” features early CGI effects when different faces morph into one another, highlighting the song’s theme. But it was the video’s premiere ending what made this one so memorable: Michael Jackson in a rage over racism, smashes cars and grabs his crotch. The scenes were so controversial that irate parents forced Jackson to edit them out of the future viewings. The original version made a stronger statement about the state of the world than anything else in the video.
9. “Walk This Way” Run D.M.C. – This video broke the barriers between rap and rock much the same way the song did. The video took this breaking down of barriers literally when rocker Steven Tyler slammed his microphone into the wall separating Aerosmith and Run D.M.C. Rap hit the mainstream and there was no turning back.
10. “Sledgehammer” – Peter Gabriel’s video is memorable for its use of time lapse photography. A great video to a great song.