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Because creating music videos is standard practice today, it can be easy to forget that there was a time when artists didn’t produce videos to accompany their biggest hits. The first modern music videos were created in the 1980s, and the birth of MTV in 1984 gave music lovers the first venue for fans to see these videos regularly. Music-lovers might be divided on how they feel about the music of the 80s, but there is no doubt that it changed the music industry and the way we discover music forever. Check out this list of the best music videos of the 1980s for your introduction into some of the coolest and earliest music videos.
Take on Me by Aha
"Take on Me" remains on the most popular songs of the 1980s, and this popularity was driven in part by the groundbreaking video produced by Aha. Combining a relatable storyline with stop-motion camera and animation, a completely novel and original concept at the time. Fans couldn’t get enough of this new concept when it was released in 1985, and you’ll still see homages and parodies of this video pop up from time to time.
Thriller by Michael Jackson
The amazing and horror-driven video for "Thriller" helped make it one of the most successful songs of Michael Jackson’s career, and of all time. The huge budget, use of a director that made use of a horror theme, and movie-feel made viewers love "Thriller" and emulate all of the dance moves when they heard the song out in public. Jackson’s own disclaimer at the beginning of the video stating that the content does not indicate his belief in the occult only drove fascination with the contents. You can still catch people paying homage to "Thriller" in videos and movies, and doing the famous “claw” dance at weddings.
Hungry Like the Wolf by Duran Duran
Famed music video director Russell Mulcahy was the mastermind behind the top-rated "Hungry Like the Wolf" video. Set to mimic the film Raiders of the lost Ark, filming the video brought the British band to the jungles of Sri Lanka for a realistic-feel. The originality of the video inspired MTV to place it in rotation, though Duran Duran hadn’t yet found fame in the United States. The video alone may be responsible for the band’s international success.
Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel
Forget the 1980s. The video for "Sledgehammer" can still be counted among the best and most influential music videos of all time. Featuring claymation, animation, and stop-motion photography, it was one of the most expensive and time-intensive videos of the time, and is directly credit for the success of the song. The video won countless awards and is still unlike many out there today.
Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) by Eurythmics
The video for "Sweet Dreams" launched to immediate popularity (and some controversy). Referencing the lyrics, the video has a dreamlike montage feel, switching between board room, farm, and musical shots with additional scenes playing in the background. What made the video so successful was the gender-bending attire of the band, a huge talking point that made fans and non-fans fascinated by the video and ultimately by the song. A second video for the song was actually produced, and you can actually see clips of the second concept online.
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper
The success of the "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" music video came about through the help of many supporters. The fun, simple, and quirky concept video was filmed through the help of volunteer cast members, and donation of equipment and space from the likes of Lorne Michaels. The video and fun song lyrics helped "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" to become a female anthem and karaoke staple to this day
Legs by ZZ Top
"Legs" by ZZ Top created a specific genre of music video. Putting a modern twist on the damsel in distress story, ZZ Top saves a woman being harassed by people on the street and mistreated by her employers. This “story” style music video has been endlessly recreated, but the theme, concept and execution was carried out earliest and first by ZZ Top.
White Wedding by Billy Idol
"White Wedding" is one of Billy Idol’s best-known songs, and one of his best music videos. The video features a gothic, subverted wedding featuring leather and barbed wire. The video got a mostly favorable, or fascinated reception, but some found it to be distasteful. A scene with a barbed-wire wedding ring cutting the knuckle of the bride was temporarily removed by MTV, but is now usually included in the full imagery.
Every Breath You Take by The Police
"Every Breath You Take" was the perfect song to pair with a music video, and The Police executed the concept beautifully. The video could have been very literal, but the concept was pulled off perfectly, and the video was a constant on MTV in the early 1980s.
Whip It by Devo
Even if you’ve never seen the music video for "Whip It" yourself, you’ve likely seen it parodied or referenced in comedy, film or other music videos. The weird, simple, and fun video remains one of the best of the 1980s despite its minuscule budget of under $15,000
Safety Dance by Men Without Hats
The strange and fantasy-driven video for "Safety Dance" is one of the best of the 1980s, if only because it is unforgettable. Featuring only the lead singer of the band, you need to see this video featuring flute playing, a maypole, chicken masks, and groups of people skipping through a village.
There is no doubt that the evolution of the music video of the 1980s changed the way we view songs forever. The new art form gave fans a new way to connect with the artists they love, and a new outlet beyond radio for artists to put out their music. Adding video to song gave new depth to concept, and artists had a wonderful time inventing the medium in the 1980s. The songs on this list continue to be popular and beloved both because they are classics, and because they were able to find a huge audience by creating one of the best videos of the 1980s.