Music videos have been around in some form for generations but it really didn’t take off until the 1980s, the decade when the best videos ever were made.
Maybe it was because it was new and with today’s videos, it’s hard to be original — or even shocking.
While video took stars like Madonna, Michael Jackson and Duran Duran and turned them into megastars, there were some videos done by unlikely artists that scored big — The Cars, Phil Collins, Billy Joel and even Johnny Cash (who would have thought?).
Video was a good and bad thing. Everyone always imagines in their mind what they’d like a song to look like. A bad video would have ruined songs like “Hotel California” and “Stairway to Heaven.” Originally videos revolved strictly around concert footage. It was Jackson, among others, who took it to a higher level.
What follows is my list of the 100 best of all-time. (Most can be found on Youtube.) Five decades are represented here as well as a bit of country and of course some great Canadian content. (Warning: some material might offend due to sexual suggestion).
1. Thriller (Michael Jackson). Directed by John Landis, this 14-minute masterpiece had everything from dancing zombies to Playboy model Ola Ray. It was a landmark then and is still fun to watch every Halloween. It’s interesting how the song’s structure is used totally out of sequence for the video.
2. Beat It (Michael Jackson). Inspired by West Side Story it supposedly included real-life gang members.
3. Material Girl (Madonna). She does her take on Marilyn Monroe, recreating the famous dance scene from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”
4. Hurt (Johnny Cash). Director Mark Romanek created a masterpiece in this song about a dying and regretful heroine addict.
5. Happy (Pharrell Williams). It’s one of the catchiest songs ever.The video features cameos by “Despicable Me” characters, TV stars, everyday people ... and just about everyone else.
6. The Boys of Summer (Don Henley). It captures the essence of the song — a resort town in September after everyone went home. A little boy plays drums. Don spots a “Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac”.
7. This Note’s for You (Neil Young). Neil blasts corporate America.
8. Video Killed the Radio Star (The Buggles). It will forever hold its place in pop culture history as being the first video ever played on MTV.
9. Take On Me (A-Ha). An early video which incorporated animation with live- action, it was cutting edge but still cool today.
10. Just A Gigolo (David Lee Roth). Perhaps the funniest video of all-time, Dave imagines what it would be like to create his own video. He pokes fun at everyone from Boy George to the censorship board.
11. A View To A Kill (Duran Duran). A four-minute commercial for a weak Bond film, Duran Duran blows up the Eiffel Tower. The “Bon, Simon Lebon” line was hilarious.
12. Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana). The energy of the kids, late in the video, is rapturous.
13. Buddy Holly (Weezer). It paid homage to “Happy Days.”
14. Money For Nothing (Dire Straits). How do you make a video about appliance store workers discussing how much they despise rock stars? Use animation.
15. Rhythm Nation (Janet Jackson). There was a full length version of this song and kid sister Janet proved she too could be a force in rock video.
16. Drive (The Cars). Featuring super-model Paulina Porizkova and directed by actor Timothy Hutton it was an early take on the pains of mental illness.
17. She Bop (Cyndi Lauper). It was a tough task — making a video that was a wink, wink to the joys of masturbation. Lauper poses as a fraudulent blind beggar. Get it?
18. November Rain (Guns N’ Roses). At the time, 1992, it was the most expensive video ever produced. It achieved something rare, making a great song even better with its haunting visuals.
19 Uptown Funk (Mark Ronson, featuring Bruno Mars). Mars, a superstar for any generation.
20. Billie Jean (Michael Jackson). The colours, the styles, his famous moves. Irresistible.
21. Shock the Money (Peter Gabriel). Like the song, the video was weird but compelling.
22. Addicted to Love (Robert Palmer). People showed up at his concerts disappointed thinking his band would be four tall women with identical hairstyles and make-up.
23. Don’t Give Up (Peter Gabriel w/Kate Bush). A five-minute, uninterrupted embrace.
24. Wrecking Ball (Miley Cyrus). It seems like softcore porn, Miley riding and licking a wrecking ball, eventually wearing next to nothing as the song advances.
25. Into the Great Wide Open (Tom Petty). Tom played the roadie named Bart. Other stars of this Julien Temple-directed video: Johnny Depp, Chynna Phillips, Matt LeBlanc, Terence Trent D’Arby and Faye Dunaway.
26. Elton’s Song (Elton John). Banned almost everywhere in 1981, the world wasn’t ready yet to see a video about a young boy’s crush on an older male schoolmate. The final shot of the lad crying is heartbreaking.
27. Dancing in the Dark (Bruce Springsteen). He went from musician to rock star with Born in the USA, thanks in part to this video which co-starred future Friends star Courtney Cox.
28. Pressure (Billy Joel). The video ends with the carpet swallowing Billy.
29. All I Want Is You (U2). A dwarf falls in love with a trapeze artist. One of them dies in the video and it leaves you guessing as to which one.
30. Boulevard of Broken Dreams (Green Day). American Idiot was the best album of the decade and this, a signature song for the band, was one of the best videos.
31. Poker Face (Lady Gaga). Long before “A Star Is Born,” Gaga was turning heads with great music videos .
32. Like A Prayer (Madonna). It sent shock-waves through the religious community, cost Madge a sponsorship by Coca-Cola, but the video tackled issues of racism and hate.
33. Love Shack (The B52s). Fred drives the girls down the Atlanta highway to a funky little shack. His steering wheel is huge. Everyone’s happy.
34. Faith (George Michael). One of the first videos to feature fast action and constant switches between black-and-white and colour.
35. Easy to Tame (Kim Mitchell). The former Max Webster frontman told me in a 2018 interview that his 1980s videos were “cheeseball.” This one seemed kinda fun.
36. Open Your Heart (Madonna). She plays a stripper who befriends the owner’s young son. Like most videos early in her career, it was controversial. The kid in the video later toured with her as a dancer.
37. Womanizer (Britney Spears). Music video has sequels, this one being a follow-up to Toxic where Brit answers her critics with a video featuring the singer playing three characters.
38. Rio (Duran Duran). Oh those cool clothes, hairstyles and exotic locales.
39. Ironic (Alanis Morissette). She plays all of the passengers in her car.
40. Jam (Michael Jackson). Jackson, the No. 1 entertainer in the world at the time, plays basketball with the other M.J. — Michael Jordan, the greatest player in the history of the game.
41. All Night Long (Lionel Ritchie). OK, it was a rip off of Crazy Train, but this was what a dance party should be all about.
42. Without Me (Eminem). Like most of his material, the video is nasty featuring Eminem dressed as Bin Laden. He showed his disdain for Dick Cheney. Porn star Jenna Jameson also appears.
43. If I Could Turn Back Time (Cher). What happens when you cross Cher, on a career comeback, with the Bob Hope USO review. She exposes her bum to the delight of a crowd of sailors. Son Elijah Blue makes a cameo.
44. Legs (ZZ Top). Ooh, that cool car and guitar spin moves.
45. Self Control (Laura Branigan). It was originally banned on MTV for being too sexy. Directed by William Friedkin (The French Connection).
46. Whiskey Lullaby (Allison Krauss and Brad Paisley). This tear-jerker set in World War II stars former child star Ricky Schroder and was one of several award winning videos for Paisley.
47. I Wish It Would Rain Now (Phil Collins). Phil travels by train across the country to audition his music, only to be heartbroken at the end when he’s turned down. A love letter to a lost era.
48. Eat It (Weird Al Yankovic). At the time we thought Al would be flash in the pan. Boy, were we wrong. He mimics all of Michael Jackson’s moves perfectly — which is nearly impossible to do.
49. Tell Her About It (Billy Joel). Billy appears on The Ed Sullivan Show with Rodney Dangerfield and Suzy the Bear waiting in the wings.
50. Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It), (Beyonce). Kayne West felt it was “one of the greatest videos of all-time”. He was right, but went about expressing it the wrong way. Inspired by director Bob Fosse (Cabaret, All That Jazz).
51. Thrift Shop (Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, featuring Wanz). In 2013, it was nice to see that videos still didn’t take themselves too seriously. This video was “(expletive deleted) awesome.”
52. Brilliant Disguise (Bruce Springsteen). It reminds me of Tender Mercies with Robert Duval.
53. We’re Not Going to Take It (Twisted Sister). The best “you can’t kill rock and roll,” teenage rebellion videos of the many produced. It pays homage to Animal House.
54. Would I Lie to You (Eurythmics). Everyone knew Annie Lennox had an amazing stage presence, what we learned from this video was how energetic Dave Stewart was.
55. Young Turks (Rod Stewart). What does Rod Stewart have in common with breakdancing? Nothing, except this was the first video played on MTV that included a break dancer.
56. You Might Think (The Cars). Ric Ocasek portrays an obsessive fly (little black insect) in this, one of the first to use computerized effects. It won the first MTV Video Music Award for best video, beating Thriller.
57. Penny Lane (The Beatles). It was believed to be one of the very first promotional clips for a 45-record featuring the Fabs on horseback.
58. The Ballad of Davy Crockett (The Kentucky Headhunters). Complete with a dancing bear.
59 Hello (Lionel Richie). Lionel falls in love with a blind artist.
60. Ghostbusters (Ray Parker Jr.). Ray ripped Huey Lewis off with the song, but not the video. Over a dozen celebrity cameos with the ultimate conclusion — Bill Murray breakdancing in Times Square.
61. I Love Rock and Roll (Joan Jett). The video era had just started to catch on when the Blackhearts pounded out this barroom favourite.
62. Hey Ya (OutKast). It parodies The Beatles’ famous appearance on Ed Sullivan. Ryan Phillippe co-stars along with over 100 attractive women.
63. Rapture (Blondie). Long before video was popular, Blondie was one of the first bands to embrace the art form.
64. Stay The Night (Chicago). Peter Cetera supposedly did most of the stunts himself in a video which featured car chases and a Twilight Zone-style ending.
65. Don’t Come Around Here No More (Tom Petty). Alice in Wonderland was never like this. Tom plays the Mad Hatter.
66. Losing My Religion (REM). Inspired by a Russian film-maker and Italian painter.
67. Lady Marmalade (Christina Aguilera, Lil’Kim, Mya and Pink). A reworked Patti Labelle song from Moulin Rouge, the video maintained the spirit and sexiness of the movie.
68. Jeremy (Pearl Jam). Never known for their videos, Eddie Vedder was featured prominently, along with a 12-year-old actor in the title role.
69. Rockit (Herbie Hancock). One of the first major videos to feature African Americans that received significant airplay on MTV. Robot creatures dance to the undeniable catchy hook of this jazz instrumental.
70. Goodbye Earl (The Dixie Chicks). Dennis Franz as Earl, a conclusion which pays homage to Thriller and a murder, all in a five-minute clip.
71. Total Eclipse of the Heart (Bonnie Tyler). A creepy Mary Kay Letourneau-plot complete with emo kids, ninjas, doves, swimmers, fencing masters and gymnasts. Delightfully stupid, but clearly a guilty pleasure.
72. California Girls (David Lee Roth). He didn’t butcher this beloved Beach Boys classic, in fact he accompanied his updated version with a funny video that jabs tacky tourists.
73. Justify My Love (Madonna). Like most of her early work, it too was banned but was able to premier on Saturday Night Live, complete with commentary from Wayne and Garth.
74. Nothing Compares 2 U (Sinead O’Connor). This video highlighted the performance and didn’t overwhelm the viewer with constant frame changes and overall weirdness.
75. Blue Jean (David Bowie). Bowie tried doing what Jackson did with Thriller, a mini-movie. A cool story line with a strong performance by Bowie, who played two characters. Many forgot, Bowie also appeared in several art-house movies.
76. Hungry Like the Wolf (Duran Duran). Even people who say they don’t like Duran Duran like this track from their second album.
77. A Criminal Mind (Gowan). This was a minor hit for the Canadian artist who now sings lead with Styx. A Criminal Mind is best known for its distinctive keyboards and eery video.
78. All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight (Hank Williams Jr.). If you haven’t seen it, you can imagine it without me having to give a description.
79. When We Was Fab (George Harrison). George got really nostalgic in this 1988 video. He wore his Sgt. Pepper costume for the first time in years. It included a walrus, plus a cameo by Ringo. The art director for the video previously worked on Peewee’s Playhouse.
80. Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel). Far out. Gabriel’s only No. 1 hit.
81. Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen). Long before videos were big, the band made a promotion clip which featured the four in unison lip-syncing the famous operatic bridge. There’s a great parody by The Muppets.
82. Let’s Dance (David Bowie). From Bowie’s comeback album of the same name, this was one of the first videos shot on a big budget.
83. Lovin’ Every Minute of It (Loverboy). Mike Reno’s nightmare — what happens when a bad tribute band gets hold of your music. Featuring Jenilee Harrison of “Three’s Company” fame.
84. Every Breath You Take (The Police). One of the biggest hit singles of all-time, it’s black and white video illustrates creepy obsession well.
85. The Wild Boys (Duran Duran). A science fiction. post-apocalyptic masterpiece.
86. You Gotta Fight For Your Right To Party! (The Beastie Boys). Teenage rebellion for the 80’s.
87. Whip It (Devo). Whatever happened to these guys?
88. Leave Me Alone (Michael Jackson). It was the first time we saw inside MJ’s personal life as the singer, in animation, rides a log flume with Bubbles, the chimp at The Elephant Man.
89. 1999 (Prince). As great of artist Prince is, his videos were mostly forgettable, this one being an exception.
90. Black or White (Michael Jackson). Macaulay Culkin, a transforming head, the King of Pop dressed like an Egyptian and Michael turning into a panther after he destroys a car and grabs his crotch 12 times. Directed again by John Landis.
91. I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues (Elton John). Boy goes off to the army. Girl misses boy. Boy lies down weeping in the pouring rain. Elton narrates the story.
92. Jump (Van Halen). Close-ups of the band playing their biggest hit and having fun at the same time. David Lee Roth left the band shortly after. His replacement, Sammy Hagar,was a superior musician, but damn, did Dave have personality.
93. If I Were A Boy (Beyonce). She plays a cop in the ultimate video of role reversal.
94. Pipes of Peace (Paul McCartney). From 1983, it recreated the famous Christmas Day truce of 1914 when British and German soldiers stopped fighting in order to exchange photos and play soccer.
95. Heaven (Bryan Adams). Bryan’s band is all on television. His audience is also television monitors.
96. Piece of Me (Britney Spears). Brit gets even with the tabloids. This 2007 single and its provocative video are credited with her comeback from being on the brink of insanity.
97. Vogue (Madonna). Long before The Social Network, David Fincher directed this black-and-white, art deco clip which was brilliantly recreated by Jane Lynch at the cast of Glee, 25 years later.
98. Radio Gaga (Queen). The latest significant hit by Queen during Mercury’s lifetime, it used clips from the 1927 expressionist film Metropolis.
99. The Dance (Garth Brooks). It highlights heroes who died attempting to fulfill a dream including Martin Luther King Jr., JFK, the Challenger crew and bull rider Lane Frost.
100. Closing Time (Leonard Cohen). If you think this Canadian poet is an unlikely choice to be a musical superstar, it’s even more unlikely that he was also a video star, winning the Juno for Best Video in 1993.
James Miller is managing editor of The Kelowna Daily Courier and valley editor for Okanagan Newspaper Group. To comment: firstname.lastname@example.org.