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Best 80s Music Videos: 20 Essential Clips From MTV’s Golden Era
List & Guides

Best 80s Music Videos: 20 Essential Clips From MTV’s Golden Era

From the bombshell antics of Madonna to the censors-baiting mischief of Prince, the best 80s music videos set pop music aglow in the MTV era.

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In the 80s, the arrival of MTV changed the landscape of music forever by giving artists a new playground in which they could stretch their imaginations and expand their creative visions further than ever before. Immediately embraced as the de facto promotional tool for artists such as David Bowie, Madonna and Prince, the music video quickly became an established part of popular culture and introduced a sense of visual spectacle that reverberated throughout much of the decade. The result was a golden age for promo clips, allowing fans to connect with their favourite artists in a completely new way. Here, then, is our list of the best 80s music videos – each as entertaining as they are memorable.

Listen to the best of the 80s here, and check out our best 80s music videos, below.

20: Van Halen: Jump (1983)

Though it sticks largely to a live-on-stage format, the video for Van Halen’s unstoppable pop-rock anthem Jump leaves little doubt over the band’s reputation as one of the most successful rock groups of their era. Nominated for three MTV Music Video Awards – and winning Best Stage Performance – the clip for this standout from the group’s 1984 album gave audiences a far more intimate glimpse of singer David Lee Roth and guitarist Eddie Van Halen’s showmanship than ever before. In fact, it could be argued that Jump set the blueprint for performance videos for years to come, standing as one of the best 80s music videos for the way it captured the energy and excitement of Van Halen’s live performances.

Directors: Pete Angelus, David Lee Roth

19: Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody (1987)

Epitomising the glitz, glamour and over-the-top production values in vogue in the 80s, Whitney Houston’s video for I Wanna Dance With Somebody is a non-stop party from start to finish. Positively swimming in neon colours, flashy outfits and big hair, the video perfectly captures the energy and joy of Houston’s song as she dances around a brightly-lit room while wearing a shimmering dress. Directed by Brian Grant, I Wanna Dance With Somebody is one of the best 80s music videos for the way it embodies the energetic and fun-loving spirit of the decade, with Houston moving and grooving her way towards becoming one of the era’s biggest pop stars.

Director: Brian Grant

18: Run-DMC And Aerosmith: Walk This Way (1986)

One of the most significant rap-rock crossovers, Walk This Way saw incendiary hip-hop trio Run-DMC team up with 70s rock stalwarts Aerosmith to create a music video in which their respective genres collided. With Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler smashing through a wall in response hearing to the Bronx-based MCs rapping over his band’s guitar groove, the video helped hip-hop step out of rock’n’roll’s shadow to become the pop cultural force it is today. What makes the video for Walk This Way so memorable is the way it captured the essence of hip-hop in the 80s, celebrating cultures coming together in order to create something new and fresh. It still looks and sounds as vital as ever.

Director: Jon Small

17: Duran Duran: Hungry Like The Wolf (1982)

From dark caves to airy mountaintops, the music video for Duran Duran’s Hungry Like The Wolf single sees frontman Simon Le Bon channel his inner Indiana Jones, prowling around like a predator stalking his prey. Tracking a mysterious tigress through the jungles of Sri Lanka, the high-budget video was directed by Russell Mulcahy, and its cinematic verve and spirit of adventure scored heavy rotation on MTV, propelling Hungry Like The Wolf to No.3 on the US Hot 100 and establishing it as one of the best Duran Duran songs in the process. Sexy, dangerous and exotic, this highlight from Duran Duran’s Rio album helped spark the Second British Invasion, crowning Duran Duran as the New Romantic scene’s indisputable warrior-kings.

Director: Russell Mulcahy

16: Robert Palmer: Addicted To Love (1985)

Perfectly capturing the unflappable serenity of 80s excess, few music videos are as sleek and cool-looking as Robert Palmer’s clip for Addicted To Love. Directed by Terence Donovan, it features a dapper-looking Palmer dressed to kill, surrounded by a rouge-lipped backing band of female musicians, who sway with style and poise. By proving that not all promos needed to ape Hollywood movies, the clip for Addicted To Love earns a place among the best 80s music videos not just for the way in which it effortlessly oozes composure, but also for how instantly iconic it looked. Inspiring countless house-party costumes and parodies galore, Addicted To Love in many ways proves that less is most certainly more.

Director: Terence Donovan

15: New Order: True Faith (1987)

Directed by French choreographer Philippe Decouflé, the unapologetically arty 1987 promo film for New Order’s True Faith is a surreal and dazzling entry among the best 80s music videos. Going on to win Video Of The Year at the 1988 BRIT Awards, it features dancers wearing garishly outlandish costumes, slapping each other and prancing around with balletic grace, while a figure in green make-up hand signs the lyrics for the hard of hearing. Interspersed with Bernard Sumner’s effortlessly cool vocal performance, True Faith is a quintessential masterclass in art-pop vibrancy and avant-garde theatricality.

Director: Philippe Decouflé

14: The Police: Every Breath You Take (1983)

With directors Kevin Godley and Lol Creme utilising simple yet effective black-and-white footage, the music video for The Police’s Every Breath You Take makes for a haunting and memorable watch. Frontman Sting is truly magnetic as he plays the double bass, exuding the air of a spurned boyfriend stalking an ex-lover, making it clear that there’s a dark edge to his obsession, and that Every Breath You Take isn’t the most straightforward of love songs. Arguably the high-water mark of The Police’s career, the video for Every Breath You Take was an MTV favourite that became truly inescapable. It’s not hard to see why.

Directors: Kevin Godley, Lol Creme

13: Cyndi Lauper: Girls Just Want To Have Fun (1983)

An anthem for women everywhere, Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want To Have Fun has one of the most uplifting and empowering music videos of all time. With director Edd Griles filming on a budget of less than $35,000, the fun-loving extras dancing with Lauper reportedly worked as secretaries for her record label, and professional wrestler Lou Albano was roped into playing her cantankerous father. As a highly energetic blast of youthful rebellion and a celebration of female-centric joy, Girls Just Want To Have Fun easily sits among the best 80s music videos, and is just as infectious today as the day it was released.

Director: Edd Griles

12: Guns N’ Roses: Sweet Child O’ Mine (1987)

Arguably the biggest surprise success story of MTV’s late-80s period, the music video for Sweet Child O’ Mine, by Guns N’ Roses, single-handedly killed off the era’s fad for cheesy hair-metal, staking its claim among the best 80s songs as it did so. Reviving the streetwise bravado and hard-nosed rock’n’roll of 70s hard rockers such as Aerosmith, the video sees singer Axl Rose and guitarist Slash filling their rehearsal space at the Huntington Ballroom, in California, with life-affirming noise. As the perfect example of how a simple concept can be executed flawlessly, the music video for Sweet Child O’ Mine has earned its stripes as one of the most iconic and beloved videos in the history of rock music.

Director: Nigel Dick

11: Eurythmics: Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (1983)

Taking inspiration from the way David Bowie toyed with notions of gender and androgyny in the 70s, the music video for Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) saw singer Annie Lennox spark a revolution by sporting a business suit and a bright-orange buzz cut. “I was provocative and I wanted to make people think about gender issues,” Lennox later said. Undeniably clever and refreshingly progressive, Lennox’s boundary-pushing image helped Eurythmics take their place among the best 80s musicians, smuggling a much-needed subversive element into synth-pop, influencing countless female artists to this day and becoming one of the band’s most significant hits.

Directors: Chris Ashbrook, Dave Stewart

10: Kate Bush: Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) (1985)

In what has arguably become her most iconic music video, the clip for Kate Bush’s 1985 single Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) has amassed over 142 million views on YouTube, skyrocketing in popularity since its appearance in Netflix’s flagship sci-fi show Stranger Things. Though the song’s role as a totem to bring Max Mayfield back from “The Upside Down” has certainly contributed to its recent success, the video itself – directed by David Garfath – is just as trailblazing, pushing back against MTV’s preference for lip-syncing in favour of showcasing Kate Bush and dancer Michael Hervieu as they perform interpretive dance moves in Japanese hakamas. Every bit as ethereal and otherworldly as anything that Vecna could conjure, this Hounds Of Love album highlight is one of the very best Kate Bush songs, and it ranks highly among the best 80s music videos.

Director: David Garfath

9: Prince: When Doves Cry (1984)

Never afraid to experiment and explore new ideas, Prince ensured his music video for When Doves Cry was a feast for the eyes. Opening with the sight of two white doves, the haunting clip goes on to reveal Prince as he lays in a steaming bathtub, a pink light shining on him from above, and is interspersed with scenes from the Purple Rain movie. Directed by Prince itself, the clip soars into an exquisitely choreographed flight of fancy that more than deserves its spot among the best 80s music videos. Every bit as captivating and emotional as the song itself, the When Doves Cry video makes it abundantly clear why this standout track from the <em>Purple Rain album is still considered one of the best Prince songs.

Director: Prince

8: Talking Heads: Once In A Lifetime (1981)

Still holding up as one of the best music videos ever made, the innovative and influential clip for Once In A Lifetime, the breakout single from Talking HeadsRemain In Light album, was unlike anything that had been seen before. Like some kind of deranged evangelist, singer David Byrne delivers a set of feverish lyrics (“And you may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’”) against a green-screen backdrop, contorting his body to a variety of bizarre and surreal split-screen effects. Thanks to its innovative visuals and Byrne’s outlandish choreography, the Once In A Lifetime video helped popularise new and cutting-edge filming techniques. It’s a true classic that perfectly captures the unique spirit behind the best Talking Heads songs.

Directors: Toni Basil, David Byrne

7: Genesis: Land Of Confusion (1986)

When it comes to the best 80s music videos, few are as iconic as the one for Genesis’ Land Of Confusion. Featuring numerous celebrity guests in the form of puppets from the UK sketch show Spitting Image, the clip even sees the Genesis band members themselves appear as satirical monstrosities while the then US President Ronald Reagan dons a superman outfit to rescue the world from a ragtag group of Cold War-era villains. Campy and over-the-top, the Land Of Confusion video is chock-full with all sorts of wacky antics, and puppetised cameos from the likes of Tina Turner, Madonna and Michael Jackson never fail to raise a smile. Nominated for four MTV Video Music Awards, including Best Direction and Best Editing, this hilarious mix of gutsy pop-rock and political satire left viewers in no doubt that it was Genesis pulling all the strings.

Directors: John Lloyd, James Yukich

6: Dire Straits: Money For Nothing (1985)

The iconic music video for Money For Nothing, by Dire Straits, was groundbreaking due its use of special effects and animation, and it deserves to be remembered today as one of the best 80s music videos. Directed by Steve Barron and released in 1985, it features the band transported into a cartoon world, performing to a group of blue-collar workers in a warehouse. Often cited as one of the archetypal clips from MTV’s golden era, it even featured Sting cementing the connection with his repeated intro line: “I want my MTV.”

Director: Steve Barron

7: David Bowie: Ashes To Ashes (1980)

Not only was David Bowie’s 1980 music video for his Ashes To Ashes song a huge influence on the New Romantic bands then beginning to emerge, but it also set the tone for the explosion of creative filmmaking that would come into full flower following the launch of MTV. Directed by David Mallet – who would go on to direct Queen’s Radio Ga Ga and I Want To Break Free clips – Ashes To Ashes captures David Bowie at the peak of his art-pop powers as he wears a Pierrot clown costume and is surrounded by a coterie of New Romantic disciples, among them Visage songwriter Steve Strange. As seminal visually as anything Bowie was doing musically, Ashes to Ashes truly captured the spirit of the MTV age long before it had its moment in the sun, giving ample proof why Bowie deserves his place in history among the most influential musicians of all time.

Director: David Mallet

4: Peter Gabriel: Sledgehammer (1986)

Widely considered to be one of the best 80s music videos, Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer clip was the brainchild of Aardman Animations, the studio that would later create the beloved Claymation duo Wallace And Gromit. With Gabriel lying under a sheet of glass for 16 hours, stop-motion animation brought a variety of objects, such as pencils, chicken wire and pieces of fruit, to life, painstakingly shot frame by frame. The results were totally worth it. Garnering Sledgehammer a record-breaking ten nominations at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards, it became a truly iconic music video that helped cement Aardman’s reputation as one of the world’s leading animation studios.

Director: Stephen R Johnson

3: Madonna: Like A Prayer (1989)

With Madonna singing in front of various religious symbols, including crucifixes, burning crosses and stigmata, the music video for arguably her signature song, Like A Prayer, was directed by Mary Lambert and showcased the “Queen Of Pop” at her most provocative. Courting controversy due to its depiction of Catholic imagery, which some religious groups felt was blasphemous, the clip for this pop-rock ballad was truly affecting. With lyrics addressing faith and religion, while musically infusing elements of gospel music, Like A Prayer still serves as a reminder why Madonna is one of the most influential female musicians in pop history.

Director: Mary Lambert

2: Michael Jackson: Thriller (1983)

At the time of its release, Michael Jackson’s Thriller was one of the most expensive music videos ever made. A sprawling 14-minute homage to the zombie horror genre, directed by American Werewolf In London filmmaker John Landis, it reportedly cost around $500,000 to make. With the baby-faced “King Of Pop” morphing first into a wolf-man and then into a member of the living dead, the choreography is impeccable, featuring a legion of zombies dancing in the moonlight and striking terror into all and sundry. Easily one of the best 80s music videos, Thriller is not just spine-chilling, it’s completely thrilling.

Director: John Landis

1: a-ha: Take On Me (1985)

With its wish-fulfilment fantasy storyline of a man drawn into a comic-book world where he falls in love, a-ha’s magical music video for Take On Me, directed by Steve Barron, was truly groundbreaking. Exploding in popularity on MTV thanks to its use of rotoscoping, a clever technique in which live-action footage is traced into pencil-sketch animation, Take On Me swept the board at the 1986 MTV Music Video Awards, winning in six categories, including Best Direction and Best Special Effects. For this reason alone, it easily tops our list of the best 80s music videos.

Director: Steve Barron

Looking for more? Check out the best 80s songs.

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