10 Must-See Videos From MTV's Glory Days
    • WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 03, 2016

    • Posted by: Robert Steiner

    Few companies have made such a massive impact in such little time as MTV, the little channel that took over the airwaves and forever changed the way music reaches the listener. Believe it or not, MTV turned 35 years old recently, so to celebrate the channel's long and rich history, let's take a look back to its heyday of big hair, big music, and even bigger video budgets.

    THE ONE THAT STARTED IT ALL: "Video Killed the Radio Star" (1980) by The Buggles



    This single and video actually came out over a year before the channel's inception, but it's hard to think of a better song to usher in a music video revolution. Music videos technically weren't new, but it wasn't until MTV did they reach unprecedented levels of popularity. Who knew a campy one-hit wonder from the late 70s would pen the mission statement for one of the biggest cultural phenomena of the 20th century.

    THE LOW-BUDGET VIDEO: "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)" [1983] by Journey



    To be fair to Journey, this was made during MTV's first year, when many artists were only beginning to figure out the whole music video thing and its importance to their music. But holy crap, this is a hilariously awful video. At the very least, it has a so-bad-it's-good quality that makes it worth watching, and is a good example of how much music videos would evolve in the coming decades. Also, the air instruments are pretty great.

    THE HIGH-BUDGET VIDEO: "Sledgehammer" (1986) by Peter Gabriel



    If there was one video to push the music video world to incredible new heights and set the bar for quality and creativity for the next decade, it would be Peter Gabriel's stop-motion masterpiece. With the video mostly focusing on Gabriel's profile while the lyrics come to life around him, Gabriel had to lie under a sheet of glass for around 16 hours while every single frame was individually shot. "Sledgehammer" proved that music videos could not only be a marketing tool, but a work of art that could elevate musics impact in ways never seen before.

    THE ANTI-VIDEO: "Bastards Of Young" (1985) by The Replacements



    If "Sledgehammer" is an example of an artist saying, "Let's give MTV a chance," "Bastards of Young" is an example of an artist saying, "Fuck MTV and fuck you." Always the masters of self-sabotage (they're banned from SNL to this day), the Replacements decided to make a video showing how music should be heard: On a goddamn record player in your living room. No frills, no gimmicks, no over-indulgent lights and magic, just a speaker playing some rock-n-roll on full blast like God intended.

    THE CONTROVERSIAL VIDEO: "Like A Virgin (Live at MTV VMAs)" [1984] by Madonna



    Ok yeah, this technically isn't a music video, but Madonna's wedding-themed performance was an important point in MTV's history and is just as controversial as any of her other provocative videos. More scantily clad and seductive than a bride should ever be on her wedding day, Madonna's showing at the first ever VMAs defined what the show would be to this day: An opportunity for celebrities to show their asses and dry-hump the stage on national television.

    THE ORIGINAL FORMATION VIDEO: "Rhythm Nation" (1989) by Janet Jackson



    Sorry, Beyhive, but as great as Beyonce's Super Bowl performance was, she didn't come up with the look and feel by herself. All art is copy, and Janet Jackson's highly stylized and tightly choreographed video is as impressive now as it was then. Just like another notable member of the Jackson family (we'll get to him in a second), Janet combined music, film, and dance to create the biggest artistic impact possible and leave the viewer in awe of what they just witnessed.

    THE PURE 80s VIDEO: "I Ran (So Far Away)" by A Flock Of Seagulls



    The dramatic lighting. The futuristic fashion. And the hair. Oh my God, the hair. The 80s were weird as shit, and there is no video that perfectly captures this amazing decade as well as A Flock Of Seagull's time capsule of a music video. I challenge you not to watch this thing without a stupid grin on your face, because whether or not it intended to, this music video sums up MTV's golden age, with all its campiness and cheese to boot.

    THE OLD-TECH VIDEO: "Take On Me" (1985) by A-Ha



    Alright, now for some heavy-hitters. Few songs exemplify the 80s sound as well as A-Ha's smash hit, and the video marks a creative peak in music videos' history. Using an animation technique developed in 1917 called rotoscoping, the live-action shots of our biker hunk and our female protagonist were traced over frame by frame with pencil, which took about 16 weeks to get done. Proving that old ways are sometimes the best, the video became one of the most played songs on MTV, launched the Norwegian to massive (albeit brief) international stardom, and is still one of the most unique and memorable videos of all time.

    THE NEW-TECH VIDEO: "Money For Nothing" (1985) by Dire Straits



    It's funny to think how one of the most groundbreaking works of art not just for music videos, but for animation in general, came from a band who hated music videos. Singer/guitarist Mark Knopfler actually hated the video's concept, and he only went with it after enough persuasion from his record label, MTV, and even his own girlfriend. We're all glad Knopfler relented, because the video is one of the earliest successful examples of computer-animated human characters. It hasn't technically aged gracefully, but the video is still a groundbreaking achievement that helped bring animation to where it is today.

    THE KING OF MUSIC VIDEOS: "Thriller" (1982) by Michael Jackson



    There is absolutely no way to talk about MTV, music videos, and 20th century music in general without touching on Michael Jackson's legendary video for "Thriller." I could go on and on about why this video is awesome, but odds are you've already seen it, considering it's the most-watched music video of all time. Better yet, if you haven't watched it, stop reading and do it now, and see for yourself why this video is still the absolute best. You won't be disappointed.
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