My Favorite Music Videos

Can you believe that MTV is 30 years old?  I'm still annoyed that the network that made its mark as "Music Television" barely plays any music videos anymore, but in honor of its three-decade milestone, I started thinking of all the short-form videos that made it the go-to channel for an entire generation and their kids (and probably their kids' kids).  Remember "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles, "Love Is a Battlefield" by Pat Benatar, "Mickey" by Toni Basil, "Voices Carry" by Til Tuesday, or "Legs" by ZZ Top?  Those mini-movies, although criticized by music purists who felt tunes should only be visualized in the minds' eye, helped expose singers and bands to new audiences.  They also had an enormous impact on pop culture, influencing other visual media, such as television shows, films, and commercials, and paving the way for future user-generated videos on YouTube and other online sites.  While MTV didn't invent the music video genre, it certainly brought it to the mainstream of entertainment.

Many videos were groundbreaking, from the rap/rock hybrid "Walk This Way" by Run DMC and Aerosmith to the spoof "Just a Gigolo" by David Lee Roth.  They ranged from campy ("Whip It" by Devo) to minimalist ("Nothing Compares 2 U" by Sinead O'Connor).  They showcased a variety of animation techniques, such as Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" and A-ha's "Take On Me" to the more recent "Clint Eastwood" by Gorillaz, "Mosh" by Eminem, or "Breaking the Habit" by Linkin Park. 

Here is a look at my favorite music videos of all time, the ones whose images blended perfectly with the music and stuck in my head.

"Black or White" by Michael Jackson - While many people rightfully list some of the King of Pop's other songs as having more noteworthy videos, like the epic "Thriller," the awesome "Billy Jean," the Martin Scorsese directed "Bad," or the brilliant "Beat It," "Black or White" was the one that I remember most.  Directed by John Landis, the video is literally globespanning and featured one of the first widely seen computer generated visual effects during the face-morphing sequence.  The song itself has an unforgettable guitar riff and a great melody that allows Jackson's vocals to shine.  With appearances in the video by Macaulay Culkin and George Wendt and a controversial end sequence rampage, it's the type of grandiose production that viewers never grow tired of watching.

"Cradle of Love" by Billy Idol - This was one of those videos that I couldn't get enough of as a kid, the kind of bad influence content that now looks rather tame and silly in hindsight, but back then was risque and the type of stuff that watchdog groups yelled was tarnishing the morals of the nation's youth.  I still think it looked great and most importantly it was a good song.

"Don't Come Around Here No More" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Inspired by the Mad Tea Party in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, how can I not love this surrealist rendering?  I also like Petty's "Last Dance with Mary Jane," but this one is in a level all its own.

"Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper - Addictively catchy, this still holds up today, especially the wacky portrayal by wrestler "Captain" Lou Albano as the dad.  Although I also like Lauper's ballad "Time After Time," this was the song and video that put her on the map.

"Hot For Teacher" by Van Halen - Even though it displays every sexist cliche of rock videos of the era, this one is elevated to classic status thanks to the band's unbridled enthusiasm and obvious tongue-in-cheek exuberance.  The fun is contagious.  We can't take it too seriously, and we're not supposed to.

"Janie's Got a Gun" by Aerosmith - With superb cinematography directed by David Fincher, this video featured more drama than some full-length movies.  It had it all -- passion, suspense, revenge, sex, violence, and sympathy for the titular girl driven to the brink.  This is a great example of the storytelling power of music videos.  They truly are visual short stories.

"Jeremy" by Pearl Jam - No gore, no real violence shown, nothing truly graphic, and yet this ended up being one of the most emotional, one of the most shocking, one of the most disturbing and unforgettable music videos ever made. 

"Like a Prayer" by Madonna - Called blasphemous by some, this is still my favorite video by the superstar recording artist.  She's had a long string of great videos, including "Vogue," "Papa Don't Preach," "Express Yourself," "Material Girl," and more, but unlike other videos by other artists (and Madonna herself) meant only to shock, "Like a Prayer" had a message and real artistry in its execution. Whether viewers agree or disagree with that message and the symbolism on display, it manages to be one of the more profound videos ever created.

"Losing My Religion" by R.E.M. - It's a song whose lyrics continue to resonate, made all the more powerful by director Tarsem Singh's dreamlike imagery.

"November Rain" by Guns 'n' Roses - Axel Rose's band reached its peak with the "User Illusion" double-album, and this video was arguably their masterpiece and some critics might say evidence of the group's over-indulgence and pretentiousness.  In my humble opinion, it's a great work of art.

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana - Grunge was already making its mark in the Seattle music scene, but it was this now-classic video that brought the genre to the masses.  Unlike anything before it, the tattooed cheerleaders, moshing youth, unglamorous rock performers, and dark style set the tone for a decade of tunes and visuals.

There are so many others.  Who can forget the dancing bumblebee girl in Blind Melon's "No Rain," the mindbending movement in Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity," the raw nightmarish power of Metallica's "Enter Sandman," the cheesy awesomeness of Meat Loaf's "I'd Do Anything For Love," or the supermodel beauty of George Michael's "Freedom '90."

MTV may not show many music videos anymore, but there are still some recent gems out there, like the nostalgic greatness of Jay-Z's "Yung Forever" or the surprises of Hoobastank's "The Reason" or the starmaking impact of "Hit Me Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears.  Music videos are still a great artform -- too bad they don't receive as much television exposure as they deserve.


Anonymous said…
How about Herbie Hancock's "Rockit?"