Music never really required a visual representation beyond that of the artist performing live, but MTV changed all that upon launch in 1981. Suddenly the world needed music videos, and a new opportunity arose for labels and musicians to experiment with the visual arts.
Since then we’ve had nearly every music video imaginable, from Dire Straits’ iconic Money for Nothing that used (now painful to look at) early computer generated graphics to Michael Jackson’s incredible footwork in Billy Jean.
Here you will find 8 of the best music videos produced over the last 30 or so years.
Rage Against The Machine – Sleep Now In the Fire (2000)
Directed by rotund political activist Michael Moore, Sleep Now In The Fire was Rage Against The Machine’s fifth release from their album, The Battle of Los Angeles. The video kicked up quite a stink when the band decided to play an impromptu gig at the New York Stock Exchange, in true RATM style.
Of course the Machine wasn’t too pleased about being Raged at and this resulted in the early closure of the stock exchange and the forceful removal of the band from the area. It also makes for a cracking music video!
Look out for: The dude in the suit and tie jumping around like he’s at Glastonbury.
Faith No More – Easy (1992)
Everything a simple back-to-basics music video should be and more, Faith No More’s 1992 cover of The Commodore’s classic hit Easy has it all. There’s humour in the form of a man in drag, a depressed Mike Patton taking drugs on a sofa and some electrifying shots of the band performing live.
Look out for: Mike’s on-stage antics and the crowd’s euphoric faces.
Daft Punk – Da Funk (1995)
Directed by Spike Jonze, a master of the art of music videos, the video for Daft Punk’s Da Funk focuses more on making an interesting short film and less on the music, which at times is barely audible.
Da Funk was a massive hit that featured on the 1996 album Homework and whilst you’re bound to recognize the song there’s a good chance you’ve not seen this dog walking around town with a radio. Wait, what?
Look out for: The sign and sense of hopelessness as the bus drives away.
Pearl Jam – Jeremy (1992)
Critically acclaimed for its handling of a very sensitive subject matter, Jeremy by Pearl Jam tells the tragic tale of 15 year-old Jeremy Wade Delle who killed himself in front of his classmates at Richardson High School, Texas in 1981. The song also took inspiration from songwriter Eddie Vedder’s similar personal experience involving a shooting at his high school.
Look out for: “64 degrees and cloudy in a suburban neighborhood”, which appears at the start and end of the video. Vedder explains: “Nothing changes. The world goes on and you’re gone. The best revenge is to live on and prove yourself.”
Foo Fighters – Learn To Fly (1999)
Dave Grohl has long been known as rock’s “nice guy” and in addition to this the man has quite a sense of humor. In this video for the band’s ‘99 hit Learn to Fly, Dave and the band really let their hair down and take on the role of nearly every nightmare airline passenger, a drugged flight crew and yes – that iconic spotty teenage Grohl.
Look out for: The coffee incident and those pigtails!
UNKLE (feat. Thom Yorke) – Rabbit In Your Headlights (1998)
The collaborative machine that is UNKLE have a habit of writing haunting, contemplative electronic music and here’s a suitably fitting music video for their 1998 rendez-vous with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. The “Rabbit In Your Headlights” metaphor has been stripped bare and laid on a main road, complete with some painful-looking accidents.
Look out for: The second time he’s hit by traffic, ouch.
Ricardo Autobahn – The Golden Age Of Video (2009)
So it’s not really a music video, and qualifies more under the music made from video category but Ricardo Autobahn’s YouTube hit can’t be left out for its bounty of classic references and that oh-so-catchy looping chorus.
Look out for: Your favourite TV shows, because this video is full of them.
Boards of Canada – Dayvan Cowboy (2005)
Scottish duo Boards of Canada have a habit of writing beautiful, thought-provoking music and Dayvan Cowboy is one of their finest accomplishments. Melissa Olson who directed the video chose suitably apt footage of Joe Kittinger’s famous descent to earth from a hot air balloon 31.4KM in the air, as well as some waves and a beautiful sunset.
Look out for: The earth’s curvature at the beginning of the video, as the jump commences.
This is just a small sample of some of music’s finest visual moments, and it was hard picking so few. Really, the list could have gone on forever and I’m sure you’ve all got your own personal favorites so please help us add to this by sharing recommendations in the comments below.
Next week we’ll be taking care of some of the worst videos ever, so get ready to cringe.