he music video may hardly be in top cultural form at the moment, with both the channels previously known as Music Television and Video Hits 1st becoming bigger misnomers by the day. But even if these previously monolithic video outlets don’t seem to care too much about spreading the gospel anymore, in actuality, possibilities for video watching are arguably greater than ever. Deluxe cable channels like MTV Jams and VH-1 Classic are living up to the 24-hour-a-day music promises previously made by their parent channels, and with larger and more diverse playlists than ever before. And far more miraculously, with the advent of YouTube, video freaks finally have the capabilities to view almost any video they want, whenever they want. Music video democracy is at an all-time high.
With that in mind, we here at Stylus have democratically selected our humble and largely unofficial picks for the 100 best videos ever made, and are presenting them here, fully equipped with YouTube links for your viewing pleasure. Our list spans over four decades of music videos, from Bob Dylan & D.A. Pennebacker’s arguable creation of the art form in 1965 right up to a barely month-old Hot Chip video by Garth Jennings. We’ll be unveiling 20 a day, so be sure to check back throughout the week to keep up. Relive some of your favorite music video memories, and hopefully make a few new ones as well, as we count down the greatest hits of the music video medium.
100. The Geto Boys – “Mind Playing Tricks on Me”
(Dir. Richard Hunt, 1991)
Gangster paranoia is not convincing if the rapper is smirking from behind his wealth and fame, or already reveling in a self-fulfilling, clichéd ghetto martyr story. The paranoia in “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” works because everything is shot in a ruddy made-for-TV special haze; the sets are modest, if they’re sets at all; and there’s no attempt to portray the Geto Boys as anything other than people drowning in fear, even as life goes on around them. The picnic, the senior citizens, the trick-or-treating children, even the music itself—only a few other rappers have believably walked this line, and Geto Boy Scarface returned to it frequently as a solo artist, but he never again sounded or looked as hopeless as he does here, realizing that even paranoia can’t make the tragic melodramatic.
099. Blackstreet f/ Dr. Dre & Queen Pen – “No Diggity”
(Dir. Hype Williams, 1996)
Stylus suggests that rather than follow this course, you try pairing scary puppets with more enjoyable elements: a very chunky looking Dre throwing out the kind of hand moves that look very similar to the ones I made the last time I did drunken karaoke (“Gold Digger” and “Girl All the Bad Guys Want,” before you ask), dungarees worn off the shoulder, that “wet road on a hot day” haze effect, the world's angriest looking dance troupe, and Queen Pen actually being shorter than the puppets themselves. Everything you love about the mid 90s in four-and-a-half minutes.
098. The Cure – “Lovesong”
(Dir. Tim Pope, 1989)
95% of Cure songs sound like Robert Smith is singing them from a cave, alone (or sound like Smith wishes he was singing them from a cave, alone), so it’s only natural that a cave would provide the setting for The Cure’s definitive visual statement. Long-time Cure video director Tim Pope wisely avoids the surreal visions of the “Just Like Heaven” video and instead lets the scenery do the talking, surrounding Smith with dripping stalactites and empty gazes from his similarly isolated bandmates. Smith responds by giving the best acting performance of his career, pouting like only he knows how, and squirming and fidgeting as if he felt like the whole world was staring at him. Soon enough—and largely because of this video—they would be.
097. Modest Mouse – “Ocean Breathes Salty”
(Dir. Chris Milk, 2004)
The video for “Ocean Breathes Salty” is a celebration of nature. Gorgeous lighting, vibrant colors, and expansive landscapes accompany this story of a cutely spectacled boy attempting to nurse a crow (Isaac Brock, who I sincerely hope still has that suit in his closet—the whole outfit is a wardrobe masterpiece) back to health. The whole thing has a sweet Boy’s Life vibe to it, and it definitely brings back some rural childhood memories for me, as I’m sure it does for many others. If nothing else, the video serves as quite possibly the best back story ever created to justify having a band dress up like various small animals. Also worth mentioning: this kid has incredible aim with a baseball, no? Every time he hits that scarecrow in the glove, I’m amazed.
096. Robert Palmer – “Addicted to Love”
(Dir. Terence Donovan, 1986)
I'd always been puzzled to see "Addicted to Love" consistently included on Greatest Videos of All-Time lists. And yet here we are including it. And here I am writing about it. The video itself contains slightly more motion than a still picture—the sexless "sexy" mannequins scissor their legs and bop in place slightly, Palmer looks like he's thinking about a latte or his doctor's appointment, and the camera "work" consists of focusing in on small details of the non-event. Occasionally. "Hey, look her fingers are really touching those bass strings." Yes, now if only the thing were plugged into the amp. At the time, people found this offensive. Today it's just vapid and lacking in any kind of eroticism—but therein lies its greatness. Any time we're indulging in character-destroying nostalgia for the era, all we need to do is see this video and we'll quickly remember everything awful about the 80's. Consider it thy medication and be cleansed.
095. Billy Joel – “Pressure”
(Dir. Russell Mulcahy, 1982)
Long time Joel fans constantly whine about how little respect their pride and joy gets from critics, but his video for “Pressure” clearly demonstrates why this critical snubbing will be the case always and forever. The most ostentatious and shamelessly over-dramatic song ever not to be written by someone with the last name Steinman or performed by someone with the last name Loaf, director Russell Mulcahy complements “Pressure” with a video so over the top it makes the song sound like Music for Airports by comparison. Walls that suck in and imprison little kids, Parallax View-style FLASHY SCREENS WITH MEANINGFUL WORDS AND SCARY IMAGES, and an apparent extreme mistrust of water—nothing is too much for Joel or Mulcahy. And so while critics can continue to thumb their nose at Joel’s artistic gracelessness, his fans can continue to rejoice in the knowledge that their beloved is totally unafraid to look like an idiot for their entertainment.
094. David Bowie & Bing Crosby – “Little Drummer Boy”
(Dir. Dwight Herrison, 1977)
Granted there may be better music videos on this list, but there's no question that the sight of Bing Crosby accompanied by David Bowie for a Christmas medley is the most bizarre. Picture the Thin White Duke and Bing hamming it up, while packaged in canned dialogue and wrapped in the plastic coating of a cheap old-timey set and you'll begin to understand the holiday treat this video offers. Leave it to the family to arrange such an unworkable partnership—Bowie's mum and Crosby's kids are the ones directly responsible for the fixed marriage of the two singers, who needed to patch together "Little Drummer Boy" and "Peace on Earth" to account for differences in voice.
[Nate De Young]
093. Cake – “The Distance”
(Dir. Mark Kohr, 1996)
To be honest, I couldn’t remember why I’d voted for this beyond having spent about a solid month watching it and going “That is a fucking riff, no?” The riff is the reason, though—the whole “businessman runs for miles because work is, er, something” storyline is fairly incidental, as is John McThingy’s constant mugging to camera. What we really loved was the backing band—the bassist in ill-fitting suit and trainers for one, but mostly the guitarist. Rarely, if ever, has playing the guitar simultaneously looked so cool, so nerdy, and so bloody difficult. His body hunches over with every further dig, his knees bend farther and his legs clench tighter. There’s a close-up of his hand, picking out every note while struggling to keep his outsized pinky ring aloft, and then his glorious closing shot, every bone of his Neil Patrick Harris-esque body buckling under the strain of keeping that wonderful, wonderful riff going. Also, we enjoyed the bald feller in the lift going “Hey!”
[William B. Swygart]
092. Alcazar – “Crying at the Discotheque”
(Dir. Jesper Ganslandt, 2001)
Considering that they reigned supreme for five years as Northern Europe's favourite fag 'n' hags connect, it's not really shocking that in their videos Alcazar served you nothing but a big old heap of kitsch. What was a surprise, though, was how well constructed their own particular brand of uber-camp was. Running off a “video within a video” motif like some kind of Melodifestivalen Midsummer Night's Dream, our heroes throw the kind of ironic dancing moves you may have occupied yourself with at the last student disco you went to, whilst attired in tinfoil hot pants and Ibiza 99 sunglasses. The next three-and-a-half minutes unfold in a fantastic storm of diva strops, guys in alien monkey masks walking like an Egyptian, and Alexander Bard as what's presumably supposed to be an aggravated Russian auteur director. Oh, and backing dancers with horse's heads.
091. The Futureheads – “Hounds of Love”
(Dir. Patrick Daughters, 2005)
This pretty much follows the generic template for every British indie video of the past decade or so—band plays their song while mildly wacky things happen around them. The difference here is that The Futureheads are a band riddled with charisma, just not in the conventional rock band sense. Barry Hyde is simultaneously the least likely and most wonderful frontman in modern music: a scrawny body, a potholed Wearside howl, and a scowl that could generously be described as incompetent. He couldn’t go through the motions if his life depended on it, so he has to make it up as he goes along—he jiggles, he wobbles, his eyes pop and boggle with an intensity that he can’t figure out. Even better, though: Dave Hyde—a cymbal pops out of the hedge, he clangs it, and marches straight on. It’s hard to explain why, but this just couldn’t happen with any normal band, could it?
[William B. Swygart]
090. The Chemical Brothers – “Let Forever Be”
(Dir. Michel Gondry, 1999)
Like "Sabotage" is the best primer to Spike Jonze, "Let Forever Be" is the perfect introduction to Michel Gondry. For those who watched every Gondry video that came down the pipeline, "Let Forever Be" is easy to dismiss as less original. But the "Let Forever Be" video is essential in how it breezes through every one of Gondry's touchstones—ridiculous in-camera tricks, real life objects blown up into the unreal, and constant synchronization to the Chemical Brother's series of bells and whistles without the terrible 'cutting to the beat' trap. In so many ways, every music video Gondry did before "Let Forever Be" led up to it, and everything he has done since has come directly from it.
[Nate De Young]
089. Kid606 – “Sometimes”
(Dir. Pleix, 2000)
Long after the Twin Towers have fallen, it is still difficult to watch this video. French film company Pleix concocted a computer animation of a skyscraper collapsing and then getting reborn. Kid606’s ballad is little more than a harp that flickers and shimmers in a state of “angelic” grace, but Pleix sings the song as a hymn out of the Book of Revelations. A towering skyscraper explodes into pieces of glass and perfectly shaped black cubes. The debris then floats like lotus petals through the streets and shatters into smaller pieces that threateningly move toward the viewer. One cube hits the screen and past memories suddenly flashes on the screen, as if the viewer dies. After the mortal contact, the blocks then fly and stack up into another building. The televised horror of the World Trade Center’s end is felt here, and though my first reaction was to accuse Pleix of morbid sensationalism, the conclusion unmistakably tells us that there is indeed a hope for rebirth after the storm.
088. Nine Inch Nails – “Closer”
(Dir. Mark Romanek, 1994)
While there have been plenty of throwbacks to silent film, few have taken the care to bring film back to its origins—namely the grime of the stag film. Rather than creating the nostalgic and sanitized homage to silent film (a la Smashing Pumpkins' Lumiere-driven "Tonight Tonight") "Closer" oozes out from the underbelly of film history. With a dirty, sepia-tinged film-grain setting the tone for Romanek's series of high-brow sadomasochist art allusions, "Closer" gives Trent Reznor the perfect platform to tell the world he wants to fuck like an animal. And although the film burns out mid-way through the music video, there are far more images burnt into my mind from the first time I saw "Closer" a decade ago. I can't think of any better film to be placed in the MOMA's permanent collection
[Nate De Young]
087. Duran Duran – “Hungry Like the Wolf”
(Dir. Russell Mulcahy, 1982)
Witness the most colonial video ever: Lithe white men sprinting though a vaguely “Middle Eastern” bazaar before apparently stalking some dark-skinned native beauty, all while Simon Le Bon causes a ruckus in another “exotic” looking café. It’s a mix of apoplectic, “how-the-fuck-did-they-get-away-with-this” shock and neon-fried absurdity. Clearly gunning for “Thriller”-sized epicness, Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like The Wolf” instead becomes the weird juxtaposition of power and race structures straight from Joseph Conrad and bubbling pseudo-Romantic cream. Think of this as one of the ultimate ‘80s baby videos: the looming complexities and new realities of a globalized, decolonized world all pushed aside for a moment of grinning, bawdy indulgence.
086. Orbital – “The Box”
(Dir. Luke Losey, 1996)
Considering that Orbital made some of the most visual music of any instrumental group in recent memory, it’s all the more impressive that it’s utterly impossible to listen to “The Box” without picturing Luke Losey’s video. A time-lapsed masterpiece featuring a (shower-capped?) woman walking the streets in slow-motion while the rest of the world moves at hyper-speed, the video perfectly captures the alienation and fear permeating the menacing groove. Of the video’s many memorable images—our heroine staring at golf balls in the driving range, or watching a vine grow out of a brick wall in seconds—the most unforgettable is the two-word phrase that appears on a TV screen she watches through a window at the end of the video: MONSTERS EXIST. At this point in the video, you believe it unquestioningly.
085. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet”
(Dir. Shynola, 2003)
Seeing Dutch duo Junior Senior’s video “Move Your Feet,” in the luxuriant 256 Tandy colors available with the height of 1988 technology, is a strange sight on its own. Turning on an MTV award show in late 2003 and seeing the dancing fruit from the MYF video and hearing the unmistakable accompanying five-note bell roll that leads into the chorus is even stranger. Junior Senior might not have blown up the charts with their groovy load of animated nonsense, but the memorable video earned them a solid cult following, and rightly so—a good music video should not just match the song’s strengths but double them, and “Move Your Feet” fills the bill admirably. The song is as guileless as it is guiltless about its jumble of borrowed sounds, and the video, from the “Happy Days” bus jump to the “Star Wars” ending, is equally so. But also like the song itself, half the elements in the video seem familiar without actually coming from any other specific place, besides, perhaps, imagined computer screen savers and Saturday morning cartoons that never actually existed.
084. Bright Eyes – “First Day of My Life”
(Dir. John Cameron Mitchell, 2004)
It's a conceit that probably shouldn't have worked; have a bunch of people listen to the song on headphones, mostly couples, and tape them listening to it. You have people smiling in recognition, gazing longingly at each other, grow abashed, kiss, hug, try not to cry, and so on. The song is a decent enough trembling love song, but the video really does turn it into something magical, the same way Found magazine and the online art project PostSecret manage to have such emotional power—as much as we are different, we have far more in common. From the glazed-eyed Billy Joel lookalike to the guy who only looks at his boyfriend when his boyfriend looks away, to, hell, the dog—we have met those we love, and they are us.
083. Peter Gabriel – “Shock the Monkey”
(Dir. Brian Grant, 1982)
A resident of a no-cable household until 1999, I had to depend on Friday Night Video to get my MTV fix for most of the eighties. “Shock the Monkey” was one of the first videos I ever saw, and it scared the shit out of me. A gaunt, intense Gabriel, dressed like a low-level administrator, pounds his fists on a desk. Cut to Gabriel, now decked out in a white suit like John Huston in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre…wearing monkey paint. The song’s minor key hysteria finds its ideal correlative in shots of Gabriel running through the woods pursued by his simian doppelganger. What it all means only the art school graduate and ex-lead singer of Genesis could explain. But ultimately, “Shock the Monkey” is, like “Sledgehammer,” an excuse for Gabriel to disfigure his body and grimace in extreme close-up while all manner of madness unfolds around him. I haven’t even mentioned the evil dwarfs. Or that last freeze-frame.
082. Eminem – “My Name Is”
(Dir. Philip Atwell & Dr. Dre, 1999)
Forget for a fact that seven years later, this song sounds like Eminem shooting catfish in a Nalgene bottle. Back when this first hit TRL—shut up, that’s where you saw it too—it felt like someone needed to be making fun of the Spice Girls, peroxide-d buzzcuts weren’t yet a cliché, and damn, is Dr. Dre really backing a bratty white kid? Eminem went on to greater artistic heights, but the lasting image of his career is still this video—teasing his mom about drugs and tits, getting thrown out of a strip club, “The Shady Bunch,” and Dr. Dre in a doctor’s coat (finally!). For four minutes, the ceiling on Eminem’s career was “a funnier Bloodhound Gang.” Okay, okay: A much funnier Bloodhound Gang. For four minutes, that seemed awesome.
081. Radiohead – “Fake Plastic Trees”
(Dir. Jake Scott, 1995)
There was a time, believe it or not, when Radiohead weren’t afraid to be big and obvious. The Jake Scott-directed video for “Fake Plastic Trees” finds Thom Yorke not only singing directly into the camera, but singing as if he were singing for all the inhabitants of the lonely aisle he’s being strolled down, from the old and fading cowboy to the girl price-tagging the thousands of anonymous cans. Like Allan Ginsberg and Perry Farrell before him, Scott knows that no location screams conformity and alienation more than the supermarket, and the video’s key image is Yorke arching his back off the shopping cart, seemingly in surrender, only to pop back up with one of the angriest scowls you’ve ever seen, just as the song kicks into high gear. For almost a decade, Radiohead were misclassified in the US as Britpop, and this video is why—it seems too anthemic to be anything else.
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-07-17