In many ways, classic rock and pop practically invented the music video. Early MTV was flooded with guitars and synthesizers. While many of these early videos were just scenes of the bands performing live, the need to stand out in a crowded field left many rockers looking for new ways of using the emerging technology. These 9 classic rock music videos are some of the most creative ever released to the airwaves.
9. Peter Gabriel- Sledgehammer
Sometimes a video is so strange that you're forced to stop whatever you're doing and watch, just to figure out what the heck is going on. That was the case with Peter Gabriel's 1986 hit “Sledgehammer.” Kicking off with extreme close-ups of parts of Gabriel's face, the video goes on to feature some of the wackiest stop motion and claymation animation ever put to film. The claymation was provided by Aardman Animations, the studio behind the Wallace & Gromit films. “Sledgehammer” won 7 MTV Video Music Awards.
8. Cyndi Lauper- Girls Just Want to Have Fun
It's hard to imagine any artist more ready for the MTV generation than Cyndi Lauper. With her outrageously loud clothing, her shock of red hair, and her giant personality, she was the perfect person to feature in a music video. For her debut single, 1983's “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” her team pulled out all the stops, inviting popular World Wrestling Foundation manager Captain Lou Albano to play Lauper's father and borrowing some cutting-edge video editing equipment from Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels to create a video that nabbed six MTV Video Music Award nominations.
7. Dire Straits- Money for Nothing
If you see a supercut of iconic music videos, it's a near guarantee that “Money for Nothing,” the 1985 Dire Straits hit, will be heavily featured. The first major music video to feature computer animated human characters, “Money for Nothing” looked like nothing else on television at that time and helped hold viewers' attention initially grabbed by Mark Knopfler's signature guitar riff.
6. Nirvana- Smells Like Teen Spirit
One of the few videos on this list not from the music video heyday of the '80s, Nirvana's “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the song that killed the decade of excess with a song that stripped away the glam for a grittier, more organic sound. The video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” also defied convention, with the band's faces mostly obscured in the shadows of a cavernous high school gym as cheerleaders jump about and a janitor watches the scene descend into chaos.
5. Tom Petty- Don't Come Around Here No More
For the most part, Tom Petty wasn't really known for his concept videos. The rocker's rootsy rock and roll lent itself to straightforward performance rather than a story. But Petty pulled out all the stops for 1984's “Don't Come Around Here No More.” The video was inspired by the story of Alice in Wonderland and featured Petty as the Mad Hatter and the Eurythmics' Dave Stewart as a sitar playing Caterpillar.
4. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts- I Love Rock & Roll
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts' 1982 hit “I Love Rock & Roll” doesn't feature the high concept videos found throughout the rest of this list. But it makes the list of greatest classic rock videos because it was groundbreaking in another way. The early days of rock music videos were dominated by men, with female artists typically being featured as eye candy or in bubblegum pop videos. Joan Jett changed that with her gritty, guitar-driven, bare-bones video. The black and white video features Jett and her band taking over a seedy bar to perform for the audience.
3. A-Ha- Take On Me
A-Ha only had one major hit in America but they made the most of it. “Take On Me” on the surface was a fairly normal example of the era's synthpop songs. But the video, a blend of rotoscoped pencil animation and live action, was so unique that it made “Take On Me” a massive hit for A-Ha in 1985. The video won six MTV Video Music Awards and remains lauded as one of the most artistically rendered concept videos in history.
2. Queen- Bohemian Rhapsody
How could the video that started it all not end up near the top of the list of greatest classic rock videos? Queen's “Bohemian Rhapsody” wasn't the first music video, but it was the first concept music video that didn't just feature the band playing its hit. The band's 1975 hit came long before anyone heard of MTV, and was made more out of need than desire. It was the custom of the time for bands to go on shows like Top of the Pops and mime their songs before a live audience. But the complexity of the song's middle section made any attempts to mime it live look ridiculous, so the band produced the music video to play in their stead, using a kaleidoscope effect to create a “chorus” using only the band's members.
1. Michael Jackson- Thriller
When you're talking iconic music videos, it doesn't get more epic than Michael Jackson's “Thriller” off his 1982 album of the same name. In an era when bands were attempting to capture three minutes of MTV airtime, Jackson's star was so big that he could quadruple that time, creating a 13-minute mini-movie for his signature hit. “Thriller” was one of the most expensive music videos of the time, costing more than half a million dollars. The video was so unique that the 13-minute video inspired a 45 minute documentary about its making.