- 02 Mar 16
Sure, we'd had Queen pulling the classic “torch under the chin” trick with 'Bohemian Rhapsody' and other tentative forays, but it wasn't until the 1980s that artists embraced the music video in a big way. David Bowie's alien offering with 'Ashes To Ashes' pointed to the future and then things took off when MTV's Moonman planted his flag in 1981. Now larger-than-life stars were reduced in size for your viewing pleasure. To honour the golden age of the medium, we return to a time when it seemed perfectly fine that “drama teacher” Lionel Richie would stalk his blind student while crooning 'Hello', a time before reality TV (though a naked Prince was inviting you to join him in his bath) and YouTube buffering, and present you with The Greatest Music Videos of The '80s.
Talking Heads – Once In A Lifetime
Endlessly innovative musically, Talking Heads also took the lead when it came to pushing promos in artier directions in the '80s. This was the first memorable moment in a brilliant run and, as David Byrne's floated on psychedelic waves and busted some jerky science teacher moves, proved it was hip to be square five years before Huey Lewis & The News.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Relax
An S&M lesson in how being suppressed can bring huge exposure. If the lyrical innuendo of the Liverpudlians' debut single was risqué, the Bernard Rose-directed video drove the point home. Aiming to take a debauched gay bar, complete with drag queens, ridiculous moustaches and nods to Roman orgies, directly into people's homes, it was promptly banned. 'Relax' hit number one and the controversy had paid off. Shocking, that.
Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just Want To Have Fun
In 1985, girls didn't just wanna have fun, they wanted to do so whilst rocking crinoline skirts, fingerless gloves and pork pie hats. Big make-up, big lopsided hair – Cyndi was essentially Robert Smith's extrovert younger sister. Instead of moping about in her room, however, she was out there having a female empowerment party a decade before The Spice Girls' 'Wannabe'.
Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer
Forget your Michaels and your Madonnas, the most-played video in the history of MTV was made by the guys behind Wallace & Gromit and features headless claymation chickens dancing. It won nine VMAs in 1987, a record that remains to this day. Gabriel must have known he was onto a winner, having spent 16 hours under glass to film his part.
Dire Straits – Money For Nothing
Mark Knopfler's headbands wouldn't cut it next to the bright young video stars of the day. His hand was forced, the anti-video band leaned on technology to do the heavy-lifting, ironically delivering one of the most ground-breaking promos of the era and first to feature major 3D animation. Opening with Sting's call of “I want my MTV”, it also kicked off MTV Europe in 1987. Looks rubbish now, of course.
A-ha – Take On Me
Taking retro cues for its cutting-edge video magic, the “rotoscoping” blend of live action and 2D still holds up compared to the dated likes of 'Money For Nothing'. Back then, the future of dating wasn't swiping on Tinder, it was diving into a comic to hook up with a Scandinavian pop star. There was some mild peril afoot, but Morten Harket's cheekbones, somehow even more perfect in sketch-form, made up for it.
Michael Jackson – Thriller
What more can you say about 'Thriller'? The granddaddy of them all; a short film that propelled The King Of Pop to the greatest of heights, firmly established MTV as a cultural force, helped to break down racial barriers in the industry and more. We were still waiting for zombies to run, but at least we knew they could dance.
ZZ Top – Legs
A high concept promo to match ZZ Top's cerebral brand of art rock. Nah, but it did include their famous 1933 Ford “Eliminator” coupe, rotating furry guitars and lovely ladies – the Eliminator girls who were as no-nonsense as they were photogenic. This was the Southern rock version of girl power, with women proving who's boss by getting... a makeover? Still, big fun with its heart in the right place.
Robert Palmer – Addicted To Love
The yuppie look wasn't this cool again until Patrick Bateman started up his chainsaw. With Palmer suave as you like, it's actually his “backing band” that are the most iconic thing about this oft-parodied clip. The heels, stockings and red lippy grabbed attention, but it's their ice-cold indifference that made it stand out from the crowd.
Madonna – Like A Prayer
Oh, y'know, just Madonna getting her gospel on and performing in a church. In a barely-there dress. Getting stigmata. Getting a bit too familiar with a reanimated statue of a saint... Throw in burning crosses at the climax (ooh matron etc) and you have Madge closing her '80s account with a massive pop video that tackled religion, sexuality and race.