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.
040. Smashing Pumpkins – “Tonight Tonight”
(Dir. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Farris, 1996)
Sure, it’s really just “A Trip to the Moon,” but seeing this for the first time as a 12 year old not briefed in film history, my immediate reaction was a more visceral “this is freakin’ awesome!” The umbrella-wielding couple’s astronomical exploits kicked off a love of Smashing Pumpkins that would carry on all through my teen years. Although jacked from a decades-old silent film, the aesthetics turned out to be the perfect encapsulation of the Smashing Pumpkins’ sense of grandeur; heartfelt, fantastical, overly-ambitious yet just a bit clunky in all the right places, and, of course, Billy Corgan, sky high, in the heavens with his band playing like angels behind him.
039. Aphex Twin – “Windowlicker”
(Dir. Chris Cunningham, 1999)
During the 90’s, Richard James spent an awful amount of time, energy, and money to show the world how ugly he looks. His Cheshire grin, conquistador beard, gargoyle nose, and leery, squinted eyes were typically exaggerated and demonized with the magic of Photoshop. But an anti-image can still sell the goods and “Windowlicker” is our man’s pinnacle. Director Chris Cunningham subverts the bling-bling, hip-hop video by grafting Master James’s mug onto the faces of bikini-clad ladies conquered by an ice cream-suited James the Playboy. Is he a narcissist, a masochist, or a feminist who wants to prove that men are only interested in “objectifying” bodies, not faces? You make the call. MTV rarely played this video in ’99 for the sake of good taste and moral obligation, but it remains a masterwork of digital art, lysergic-damaged sexual fantasy, and Freudian phenomena.
038. My Chemical Romance – “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)”
(Dir. Marc Webb, 2004)
I admit, the first time I saw this clip, I hoped against hope they really were making a movie. “Helena” may have been the better song, but this is by far the superior video, with hilarious moments (tackling the mascot, “you have something in your eye,” standing on the diving board in a uniform, jumping out of a locker) scattered throughout and beautifully manipulative title cards that, like the best movie trailers, turns what could have been pedestrian footage into something stirring—if you can get through this without feeling a vicarious surge of triumph, you probably occupied a very different niche in high school than the band. Or their fans. Or me.
037. Fatlip – “What’s Up Fatlip?”
(Dir. Spike Jonze, 2000)
The obvious thing to say about this video is that it’s a refreshing change to watch a rapper goofing off and not bigging themselves up in a video. But that’s idiotic, the easy way out, as it’s easier to imagine a hip-hop artist acting like Fatlip does here than any of the other types of musician making videos. And this is all still braggadocio anyway; Fatlip’s just trying to take that particular dare one step further. No matter how dorky he tries to make himself look—bike jacked by kids, punched in the nuts by an eight year old whilst dressed as a clown—he still has total command of the camera. Even in the most uncomfortable scene, the one you don’t notice first time through, where, whilst sitting next to his mother in her pristine house, he raps about chopping up cocaine, it’s all smiles, if queasy ones.
036. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside”
(Dir. Sophie Muller, 2004)
After the monochromatic, bare, and ultimately charmless original music video, director Sophie Mueller took that as the starting point of how not to shoot "Mr. Brightside." Enter huge sets, huge costumes, and a swarm of chicks baring their asses for a bunch of aristocrats. Along the way, Brandon Flowers resurrects the idea of the badass pop-crooner and throws the whiny kid of the earlier video to the wayside. Although "Mr. Brightside"'s love-triangle with the lead singer is a staple for music videos, it's the excess and the sprinkles of camp that makes this video taste so sweet—Flowers hamming it up for the camera and romping through checkers boards while his porcelain-doll muse interprets the song through an acrobatic dance.
[Nate De Young]
035. Radiohead – “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”
(Dir. Jonathan Glazer, 1995)
The video for “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” was shot using different film frequencies, allowing various actions to unfold at different rates within the same frame. The emotional effects of this practice range from silly (a regular-speed Yorke easily dodges paint thrown at him in slow motion) to unsettling (the video opens with Yorke falling backwards off a trailer, while lightning strikes unfold in real-time in the distance). Visually, however, the entire sequence of scenes is nothing short of stunning. The use of light and dissolving transitions, especially on Yorke’s face, lends a sense of shifting madness to the proceedings. The ending, with Thom Yorke springing into the air and seemingly hanging there, is surprisingly warm for such a dark and powerful song. Try not to watch this video too many times; it begins to feel a little more disturbing each time.
034. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot”
(Dir. Paul Hunter, 2004)
There is no shortage of music videos filmed in black and white because the creators thought it was an easy way to seem cool or serious. There is a severe shortage of music videos filmed in black and white because the creators understood how it could underscore and enrich the minimalism in the music. From Busta Rhymes to Lil’ Jon, rap videos have often assaulted the eyes with 90 frames-per-minute of sugar-fried madness, a kitchen sink style that certainly has its charm. But it can look a little childish and silly compared to “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” a series of images so serene and smooth that it feels like drinking champagne while sitting on a velvet piano bench around a frozen swimming pool on the deck of a penthouse overlooking the city at midnight during winter.
033. Coil – “Tainted Love”
(Dir. Peter Christopherson, 1985)
Soft Cell’s version of “Tainted Love” knocked about a quarter off the speed of the Gloria Jones original and Coil take it down at least another quarter on their honey thick crawl through. The video is a narrative piece, measured and as simple as the logic of disease. Watch as a young man, already too weak to walk, is wheeled into a spartan room in an AIDS hospice to die. The angel of death, played by Marc Almond, eats a grape and, chillingly, dismissively smirks as the patient’s ECG readout flatlines. Words are half swallowed, wanting to remain unsung. From that point there is only the morgue and the grave. The only pop video that has made me cry.
032. Blur – “Coffee & TV”
(Dir. Hammer & Tongs, 1999)
The fact that the video is now more famous than the song means that the moment when a story about a missing Graham Coxon (oh, the irony) turns into one also about an anthropomorphic dancing milk carton no longer has the same unexpected delight. Its adventures are still enormously funny and way beyond cute though, with a pleasing streak of cruelty to boot: the fate of his female counterpart is surely the most painfully amusing highlight of the whole thing. It also allows for the payoff happy ending, which even makes use of the song’s previously pointless coda, just one example of the perfect fit that makes “Coffee and TV” always seems sweeter and better when accompanied with its visuals.
031. Human League – “Don’t You Want Me?”
(Dir. Steve Barron, 1981)
“Don’t You Want Me” was an archetypal New Pop move, simultaneously strong narrative pop and a fictionalising of how the Human League got the girls in to sing and thus became popular. The video has a similar patterning as we watch a detective film being made, the behind the scenes romantic tensions of the leads, and the obsessive editing that will lead to a finished product. Nothing is spelt out, the emotion happens in hidden stares and unmet glances. Shots are repeated and rewound and replayed; it’s easier for the characters to watch each other on a screen than to face each other in real life. The viewer is the only person to be looked in the eye. It ends, of course, with the camera dollying away from the set and filming itself in the bright lights of a dressing room mirror. This is Godard’s Le Mépris for Saturday morning TV kids.
030. t.A.t.U. – “All the Things She Said”
(Dir. Ivan Shapalovov, 2002)
For a few minutes at the start of this decade, music videos were running lame. There was nothing on music television that you could have used as the basis for a mediocre ten minute long observational comedy routine. There was Missy hocking up some long distances loogies, and that's it. But then, hellfire and brimstone, taTu arrived. A career built out of one video, getting what Eminem, Marilyn Manson, Slipknot, etc. had all tried and desperately failed to achieve in the previous half-decade: legitimate “MUST WE SLING THIS POP FILTH AT OUR KIDS” headlines. And all they needed to do was hire some people dressed like supporting characters from Eerie, Indiana to stare whilst throwing themselves at a big fence whilst dressed in the costumes left over from a St. Trinian's hen night. Subversion for dummies. [Dom Passantino]
029. Weezer – “Buddy Holly”
(Dir. Spike Jonze, 1995)
Who better than the 70s to do the 50s? The 90s, of course. Utilizing the speed dial of David Geffen, Weezer got the permission of the whole Happy Days gang—plus the voice of Al Molinaro (who does a shout-out to his hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin)—to impersonate a band playing on a song about a 1950s music star on show from the 70s that was based in the 50s in the 1990s. Confused? Everyone was when this video came out in 1995. But in retrospect, it fit the band perfectly: a bunch of geeky rock kids in love with an idealized time and sound that never quite existed except in their imagination. Kind of like the video, as a matter of fact.
028. Busta Rhymes – “Gimme Some Mo”
(Dir. Hype Daddy & Busta Remo, 1998)
Showing off has, of late, become a deeply average thing. Here’s some cars. Here’s your mates. Here’s some extra mates your record company has shipped in. Mmm, shiny. No, the way you want to show off is to get dressed up like a policeman because your song contains the line “Arrest you / Lyrically” a grand total of one time. Every jacket that you wear should have shoulder pads that extend about a yard beyond your actual shoulders. You should also film your entire video in fisheye, and take every opportunity to use it to make everything in your video look as bendy as you possibly can, so much so that more or less every other use of fisheye before or since winds up looking, well, a bit crap. Also, end your video two minutes early, and signal this by sniffing the camera, because you are Busta Rhymes, and for two and a half wondrous minutes that godawful thing you did with Mariah Carey never happened.
[William B. Swygart]
027. Michael Jackson – “Thriller”
(Dir. John Landis, 1983)
It seems a general consensus now: “Thriller” is the most successfully ambitious pop music video of the MTV era. Hyperbole incubates in the then $800,000, John Landis-helmed, fourteen-minute-long beast: The choreography’s stream of stop-motion jerks and twists have become the lingua franca of R&B, teenpop, hip-hop, and almost any non-ballad that gets within sniffing distance of the Top 40. That red, shoulder-pads-as-coastal-shelves jumpsuit is clearly Smithsonian-bound. And, if that’s not enough, Vincent Price drops what can only be described as 16 bars of seminal, blueprint horrorcore rap: “The funk of forty thousand years / And grizzly ghouls from every tomb / Are closing in to seal your doom.” For a generation of youngsters scarred shitless by the closing image—an apparently human Jackson whipping around, gazing at the camera and revealing demonically feline eyes—music videos would never be as grand, visceral, or authentically epic.
026. Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliot – “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”
(Dir. Hype Williams, 1997)
You could probably chalk it up to Missy's laconic drawl and a cough from some endo. Few other explanations could describe the act of wearing a suit that looks equal parts S&M-bondage and Willy Wonka-blueberry to achieve instant pop stardom. Contorting Hype Williams' slicker-than-an-oil-wreck style inside out (with a heavy emphasis on out), Missy began her trip into music video surrealism with "The Rain." Along the way, she takes a trip to the beach with Timbaland
[Nate De Young]
025. Pet Shop Boys – “Flamboyant”
(Dir. Nico Beyer, 2004)
Proving that you don’t really need much more for an amazing video than to find some people who do some really cool stuff and film them, the elaborate Japanese TV-inspired set pieces that make up most of “Flamboyant” are worth a video to themselves. A jaw dropping collision of “how can anyone do that?” and “why on earth would anyone do that?” Every time you think they’ve found the best one, the next is even more outrageous. Chris and Neil in some hilarious self-mocking adverts for “Boxycar” and “Shootsumi” are just an added bonus, as are some dazzling views of Japan that act as a fine match to their musical return to futuristic form.
024. Madonna – “Like a Prayer”
(Dir. Mary Lambert, 1989)
Maddie's finest hour? Undoubtedly, and the tossers can sod—neither before nor since would she encode religion-as-sex and sex-as-religion to such an unbreakable matrix. The ultimate avowal of her own White Negro mythmaking, this is the kind of artistic conceit that should be dipped in wax and released as a limited-edition line of votive candles. She's never been hotter, to boot—the camera and that ever-slipping brown frock caress her pre-yoga form wonderfully as she indulges in scandals as disparate as self-inflicted stigmata and making it with the dude from The Brother From Another Planet. The devotion inspired by this video is such that I'd deeply love to find every single person offended by it, shake them by their shoulders, and laugh at them uproariously until their faces are coated with spittle.
023. DJ Shadow – “Six Days”
(Dir. Wong Kar-Wai, 2002)
“Six Days” isn’t great because it’s a Wong Kar-wai-helmed music video. It’s great because, for the last decade and a half or so, Wong has seemed legitimately incapable of producing anything that isn’t. But don’t take my word for it. Watch here, as Wong distills DJ Shadow’s war song into the trippiest love-is-a-battlefield metaphor to ever grace MTV2. It’s a seamless reduction of Wong’s signature tics and tricks to 3 ½ sublime minutes: languorous slow-mo; seductive, deeply rhythmic cutting patterns; oversaturated color and tactile surfaces, plus his first nod toward martial arts since 1994’s Ashes of Time. He even tacks on a Bruce Lee quote for good measure. So much for that kitchen sink.
022. The Foo Fighters – “Everlong”
(Dir. Michel Gondry, 1997)
What’s most surprising about “Everlong” is just how much of the video came from Michel Gondry just trying to get the Foo Fighters to stop bitching—from Taylor Hawkins playing the damsel in distress to the bizarre morph effects at the end turning the villains into Pat Smear and that other dude, many of the video’s highlights were the results of the Foo Fighters’ expressed desire not to seem sexist or philanderous. But that’s why if you want a problem turned into a solution, Michel Gondry is your man, and he uses these images (with a few Evil Dead references thrown in for good measure) to craft the persona the Foo Fighters are known by today—which, ironically enough, is that of a playful and extremely easygoing group of fun guys. This is the moment when the Foo Fighters stopped being a Nirvana spin-off and started being A-listers in their own right. I hope their mothers made them send Michel a thank you note.
021. The Pharcyde – “Drop”
(Dir. Spike Jonze, 1995)
So they're walking backwards but it was recorded forwards so it could be played backwards. No, wait, that bit where they jump means they must be walking backwards played forwards because HOLD PAUSE IT FOR A SECOND is that Ad-Rock I think it is you know. Completely ripped off and stripped of all imagination by Coldplay, Pharcyde caused no end of drunken/stoned 3am hip-hop music TV watching confusion with what has to reign as Spike Jonze's least smug video to date, even incorporating the popular “graffiti on a pane of glass in front of the camera” effect from the opening credits of Clarissa Explains All. One of them even wears a bear suit as a little treat for all the plushies out there. Gotta please all fanbases...
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-07-20