With the birth of MTV in 1981, music video production kicked into high
gear. Many videos were straight-up concert footage or studio work, but
we loved the ones that put a little more effort into the process.
Costumes, plots, elaborate stages, puppets, animation... Here’s a look
at my favorite visually awesome videos of the 1980’s.
Michael Jackson’s Thriller was SUCH a big deal when it came out
in 1982. MTV gave us a schedule for those first days following its
release so that we could tune in and watch Michael Jackson turn into a
zombie dancer. Of course, he had many other highly produced videos in
the eighties, like Billie Jean,
Beat It, and Bad, but for cinematography and pure
awesomeness, Thriller wins,
Also in 1982, Men Without Hats released
their album Rhythm of Youth, which contained their bouncy hit
The Safety Dance. The video has a Middle English theme,
including frolicking around a Maypole, a Punch and Judy show, and a
dwarf minstrel. It was filmed near Bath, England. Note in the video
where singer Ivan Dorschuk and his dance partner make the “S” with their
Turn around, bright eyes...
Released in 1983, Bonnie Tyler’s song Total Eclipse of the Heart,
on her album Faster Than the Speed of Night, was her biggest
hit. I remember being sort of baffled by the lyrics and REALLY baffled
by the video. The Goth-y video was mysterious, haunting, and dreamy,
featuring implausible combinations of gymnasts and fencers and
loin-cloth clad tribal dancers. The real stars of the video, though, are
the kids with the glowing eyes.
The Cars’ album Heartbeat City
from 1984 contained several hits, like Drive, Just What I
Needed, and Magic. You Might Think was my
favorite Cars video, though. I loved the playful computer animation in
this video: SO FUN. I especially remember Ric Ocasek as the pesky fly
buzzing around model Susan Gallagher (NOT Ocasek’s wife, Paulina
Money for Nothing, from Dire
Straits 1984 album Brothers in Arms, was written by singer Mark
Knopfler and Sting. That’s Sting singing the falsetto I want my MTV
you hear in the song, by the way. The animation was edgy and fresh;
today, I see its influence on
Beavis and Butthead when I see the inserted music video in the
Take on Me, from the Norwegian
band A-ha’s album Hunting High and Low, was released in the UK
in 1984 and in the United States in 1985. The animation in this video is
fabulous, the Speed Racer-vibe is tons of fun, and Morton Harket, the
lead singer, is oh-so-cute.
Duran Duran’s album Arena came
out in 1984. Like Michael Jackson, they had loads of cool videos, such
as Rio, Hungry
Like the Wolf, and Girls on Film.
Wild Boys, off of Arena, is a favorite of mine because
it has an apocalyptic Mad Max
vibe, plus lots of fire breathing and a creepy humanoid robot.
In 1985, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
released their album Southern Accents, and Don’t Come
Around Here No More was the lead single. Dave Stewart of the
Eurythmics co-wrote the song with Tom Petty. The Alice in Wonderland
themed video is coolly styled and pretty disturbing to watch. Poor
Peter Gabriel’s 1986 album So
was chock-full of songs I love, like Red Rain, Don’t Give
Up, and In Your Eyes.
Sledgehammer, also off of So, was Gabriel’s biggest
North American hit, probably due in no small part to the rad music
video. Swimming sperm, singing fruit, dancing plucked chickens, plus
visually arresting stop-motion videography = RADICAL.
Another weirdly wonderful video from
1986 is Genesis’s Land of Confusion, from the album
Invisible Touch. The British television show Spitting Image
created caricature puppets of the band members and various current
celebrities, including Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Interesting side note: Peter Gabriel was the beloved lead singer for
Genesis before he went solo and Phil Collins took the job. Both Gabriel
and Genesis come out with artsy, edgy music videos the same year.
(well, yeah, probably...)
Thank you, MTV, for your many gifts over
the years, but mostly for encouraging the production of artistically
fascinating videos like these. They are yet another awesome legacy of