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.
060. Ludacris – “Stand Up”
(Dir. David Meyers, 2003)
Luda's vinyl weighs a ton, his woman grow booty like Viagra, and we shouldn't even start with the midget around his neck. David Meyers might riff off of filming Ludacris' similes and Michel Gondry's disproportionate body parts, but the melee is all essentially "Stand Up." The video is haphazard in all the right ways, with an inexplicable animated sequence, a pause for Luda's "time and clothes to coordinate," as well as a baby Luda getting his diapers change (Proving that not every musician will get charged for peeing on girls on tape.). Meyers makes sure that no tasteless rock goes unturned, getting even those stuck in wheel-chairs to "Stand Up."
[Nate De Young]
059. Judas Priest – “Breaking the Law”
(Dir. Julien Temple, 1980)
“Breaking the Law” is the type of video that gets called “so bad it’s good,” but let’s not fall into that trap, as guilty pleasures have got no rhythm. Instead this is interesting for showing a band struggling to come to terms with a relatively new medium—this is 1980—and one that might’ve seemed antithetical to heavy metal beyond cock-thrusting live clips. Check out the tension between the fashions in the band; Rob Halford looking good, short haired in a new wave black skinny leg suit, like Marc Almond reincarnated as a provincial hairdresser, and the rest of the group hairy, bearded, and leathered. Observe the dismal prosaicness of the semi-detached houses and amusement arcades that they pass on their way to rob the bank. And try to solve the biggest mystery of them all: why are they stealing their own gold discs?
058. The Notorious B.I.G. f/ 112 & Ma$e – “The Sky’s the Limit”
(Dir. Spike Jonze, 1997)
Puffy and Biggie may have been the best indicator of hip-hop's shift from street to nightclub during the early 90's, but the critiques of hip-hop and its Will to Bling miss the same materialism when exhibited by melonheads like Keith Richards. Bad Boy cemented the high fashion end of rap because they flashed with style, and thus were more visible, more camera worthy. Though the words of the chorus are nabbed from my favorite D-Train song, there's a lot less "upliftment" going on here and a lot more representin' from the clouds. It's not much of a song, either, Biggies' limber tongue aside—but by casting children as the various players in the BB Dynasty for the video, Spike Jonze delicately highlights the innocent delight in fame and riches that only the formerly poor can have. Plus it's cuter than a three-week old kitten.
057. Bjork – “Human Behaviour”
(Dir. Michel Gondry, 1993)
Though the video for “Once in a Lifetime” was great, David Byrne didn’t score his true televisual presence until he dropped himself into the Big Suit, a distortion of sense and space that made him simultaneously more wide-eyed and more powerful. Björk, whose alien intuition and total self-possession made her a potent relative of Byrne’s, struck the balance immediately. Björk is big, Björk is small, Björk spazzes out next to a stop-motion moth; Björk pouts alone in a small cottage and dances through the forest like the deeply sexy weirdo we all took her to be. She colonizes the moon for the Soviet Union, smiles a deceptively naïf smile, and alas, gets eaten by a huge teddy bear, who disturbingly proceeds to beat the shit out of a hunter by the glow of the moon. It was surreal, but felt tactile and humanistic—now hallmarks of director Michel Gondry’s style and Björk’s well-constructed image.
056. Chris Isaak – “Wicked Game”
(Dir. Herb Ritts, 1991)
Chris Isaak seems like a good sport, considering he owes his career more to Helena Christensen’s ass cleavage than his own talent, though he did parlay this exquisite bit of soft-core tease into his own TV show and a guest spot on Friends, so I imagine he’s not complaining. Still the gold standard for sexy video clippage, mostly because it contains elements of mystery and yearning you can’t quite replicate with Jessica Simpson dry-humping the General Lee. Credit goes to director and famed photographer Herb Ritts, who made a miniature cottage industry of tastefully sensual shorts in the late 80s and early 90s, additionally shooting Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” and Madonna’s “Cherish” with his gorgeously intimate lens. As for “Wicked Game,” it’s currently enjoying an unexpected second life thanks to, of all people, Paris Hilton—her new video “Stars are Blind” is a blatant rip-off of Ritts’ masterstroke.
055. Talking Heads – “Wild Wild Life”
(Dir. David Byrne, 1986)
As the band’s third (and last) Top 40 hit from their most unbearable album, “Wild, Wild Life” marries forced whimsy with big beat rawk as adeptly as the film in which it was first heard overstates its disgust for the big country. Rescreening True Stories is a rather grueling experience, as narrator David Byrne’s affectless commentary drips liberal condescension to small town rubes and shills which (he thinks) is mitigated by his big ol’ 10-gallon hat and lime-green suit. “Wild, Wild Life” allows Byrne’s prisoners a day in court, though, as they shimmy, waddle, breakdance, and walk like Egyptians before an audience of enthusiastic peers. The star is John Goodman, who manages to be charming and infectious in silver Velcro-strapped sneakers. With ampler screen time he could have effaced the memory of Byrne mugging behind a look-at-me-now-wearing-a-funny-mustache.
054. Depeche Mode – “Enjoy the Silence”
(Dir. Anton Corbijn, 1990)
On the surface, a guy walking around various terrains wearing a robe and crown, deckchair in hand, should be ridiculous or comic. In “Enjoy the Silence” it’s neither. Never looking to camera, Dave Gahan brings an absolute pride and dignity to his role, tinged with just a little loneliness, and sells himself as owner of all that he surveys to an extent that lesser mortals would not likely have managed. It helps that even the interspersed band shots and attempts at subliminal album advertising look cool, and has become so iconic an image for Depeche Mode that even the barely animated cartoon version of it shown during their live set works wonders.
053. Jamiroquai – “Virtual Insanity”
(Dir. Jonathan Glazer, 1997)
I love these videos, the ones without a story or meaning. Sometimes you’ve just got to decide, “The video for this song is just going to make me look cool, OK? We’ll throw in some weird cockroaches and bleeding couches to create the illusion of meaning, but mostly the point is to jack my awesome-meter up through the roof.” Mission accomplished, Jay Kay. With a simple parlor trick (the only digital manipulations were the crow and the cockroaches), Jonathan Glazer improved Kay’s already funky-smooth dance moves tenfold while sparking countless adolescent arguments over exactly how it was done. This definitely tops my list of “Man, I’d Love to Try That Sometime!” music videos. Not to mention the bonus points for sporting Adidas Gazelles. Best non-dance dance shoes ever. Seriously. Try them on sometime.
052. Hot Chip – “Boy from School”
(Dir. Garth Jennings, 2006)
Essentially Art Attack gone electro-soul, “Boy From School” is way too well-done for it to matter. Not only are Hot Chip and friends going to make a massive, amusingly surreal tableau, featuring jelly and inflatable bananas, they’re going to do it in the most fun and cool looking way possible. Keeping main singer Alexis Taylor lying down the entire time while it’s built around him is a masterstroke, perfectly capturing the resigned, powerless nature of the song’s melancholy. More than anything else, it’s the intrigue of what the hell it is that they’re making that makes “Boy From School” so addictive. Can you tell what it is yet?
051. Pulp – “This Is Hardcore”
(Dir. Doug Nichol, 1998)
From the opening footage of actors screen-testing, to lightning, pianos, murder scenes, “SCENE MISSING,” men tied to chairs, sudden awareness of the crushing existential Void, resentful nurses, broken glass, red phones, file footage, driving, blood on pillows, dinner parties, “you can't be a spectator, oh no,” a woman dancing with a photograph (the one moment of actual happiness), fistfights, heart attacks, deathbed utterances, swirling Jack O'Lanterns, Jarvis swanning down a line of Busby Berkeley dancers, and the “and then it's over” as the camera pans away from the sets—if anything, the video improves on the noir/porno/PoMo/misanthropic dread of the song. The two have virtually nothing to do with each other, but that atmosphere of cracking up, of men made dangerous by their lack of real human contact, carries over. A lush, overripe, and completely seductive nightmare.
050. Nine Inch Nails – “The Perfect Drug”
(Dir. Mark Romanek, 1997)
Most music videos strive to create an image memorable enough to stick with the viewer after the video finishes. The video for “Perfect Drug,” half-blue, half-green, and entirely gorgeous, created about a dozen. The shrouded feminine harbingers of death on the hillside, a caped Trent Reznor wielding a blade upon a marble platform, the stunning, cold-as-ice garden with its high hedge walls, even the sinister drip of the neon-green filtered absinthe. More than just visually arresting, the video revealed another dark layer of meaning to the song, specifically depicting the anguish of a father who has lost his daughter. The closing images, with Reznor alternately lingering over a stone railing and slowly sinking beneath murky waters, reinforce the suicidal undertones of the repeating line “Take me with you.” Hard to watch only once, and hard to shake once it gets under your skin.
049. Nada Surf – “Popular”
(Dir. Jake Nava, 1996)
Welcome to Bayonne High, with its fresh-faced youngsters, intrusive security guards, locker-room nudity, and, of course, Mr. Caws, who takes a class full of cheerleaders and instructs them on the finer points of high school social niceties: “I propose a one month limit on going steady.” His advice turns out to be invaluable; the video’s thrillingly superficial climax features that attentive cheerleader winning the affections of Johnny Football Hero and giving the camera a huge Mentos smirk. Packing more into its sub-four minute runtime than the combined efforts of She’s All That, Can’t Hardly Wait, and Ten Things I Hate About You, and all coated with a thematically-suitable mid ‘90s alt. rock grime that oozes around the hallways and football fields, “Popular” illustrates perfectly that, at times, the most fitting video for a track is one that follows the lyrics as closely as possible, even if that inseparability pretty much guaranteed one hit wonder status for the band. Go Bees!
048. Nirvana – “Heart-Shaped Box”
(Dir. Anton Corbijn, 1993)
The final video of Nirvana’s active career and certainly the most affecting, brazenly mixing the tragic (crucifixes, dead fetuses), comic (Cobain’s pratfall, the mimicking crows), and plainly bizarre (the KKK girl and the fat lady in the In Utero suit). There’s plenty here for art snobs and shrinks alike to chew on, thanks to director Anton Corbijin’s beautifully surrealistic vision, which added heaps of religious imagery to a song already highly charged by sex and gender. Say what you will about Nirvana’s legend being overvalued by death-obsessed boomer hacks, but how many popular rock bands in 2006 would bother to acknowledge high art and the avant-garde even exist?
047. Fatboy Slim – “Weapon of Choice”
(Dir. Spike Jonze, 2001)
After a brief Wikipedia venture, I was elated to find that Christopher Walken actually helped choreograph his dance moves in this Fatboy Slim video. The whole thing smacks of Gene Kelly, but Walken’s dour expression, coupled with a few choice funk-inspired moves (check out his version of “Thriller” at 2:13) make the video anything but derivative. Highlights include Walken’s “I’m-gonna-git-ya!” advance toward the camera during the line “Walk without rhythm / And you won’t attract the worm,” his foray through the hall of mirrors, and the absurdist and majestic leap-into-flight from the second floor toward the end. Still, the thing that always sticks with me in this video is Walken’s depressing return to business-as-usual. The smile he sports during his romp is so unexpected and refreshing that the moment he sinks back into despondency, I can’t help but respond with empathy. It’s a strangely melancholic ending to such a silly video.
046. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps”
(Dir. Patrick Daughters, 2003)
It’s worth nothing that “Maps” was the third single released off Fever to Tell, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ 2003 full-length debut, and that by that point the band had been all but written off as a textbook case of critical praise and music geek hype failing to translate into airplay and sales. So, let’s be clear here: “Maps,” and specifically its accompanying video, saved, if not the group’s career then certainly its blip on the cultural radar screen. The catch with this video is that there is no catch—no gimmicks, no bells and whistles, no superfluous, state-of-the-art bullshit. Just a gal, two guys, and a single, indelible teardrop. Rarely has a clip so beautifully complemented the strengths and sentiments of the song it’s promoting.
045. The White Stripes – “Fell in Love with a Girl”
(Dir. Michel Gondry, 2002)
Quick: Name the last star-making video appearance not to feature the star in question. Parallel for comparison’s sake: In the late 90s, auto-makers tried a series a commercials that never actually showed you the car in question. Interesting psychological experiment? The car ads were abject failures; Jack and Meg White went onto international superstardom. The difference? Kick-ass punk rock song? Well, that and a collective 20-something generation’s nostalgia for Legos and—the video’s great unsung reference point—8-bit video games. A = Strum. B = Cymbal Crash. Thumb in A-B-A-B-Up-Down-Left-Right to unlock Buddy Holly lightning round. Dig the building blocks of rock ‘n’ roll.
044. Cat Power – “Cross-Bones Style”
(Dir. Brett Vapneck, 1998)
First off, fuck the five black clad dancing girls in this video. With their studiedly awkward movements and quasi-sensible hair-dos they could come out of some mid-period REM video. They’re no fun and surely only there to throw Chan Marshall into even starker relief. Really, this shouldn’t be seen as any more than what it is, a brazen knock off of the video to Madonna’s “Lucky Star”, but Marshall proves that if often she can’t perform live, she sure can on film. One person and simple movements—goofy roller-walking, the clock, finger pointing, fake Chinese eyes, miming you’ve got a gun—that’s all it takes to make a great video. Well, that stuff plus yellow nail varnish.
043. Sigur Ros – “Vidrar Vel Til Loftarasa”
(Dir. Celebrator, 2001)
Gorgeously shot Icelandic scenery and children are present and correct, of course. This time though, what magic and hope there is in their world is stamped out as the video proceeds as slowly but inexorably as the song itself towards a conclusion so cruel that it still leaves me gasping for breath to this day.
042. Radiohead – “Karma Police”
(Dir. Jonathan Glazer, 1997)
Director Jonathan Glazer shoves us into the driver’s seat for “Karma Police,” forcing the viewer to be the merciless antagonist who hunts down a desperate, fleeing man, the metaphoric rabbit in literal headlights. Thom Yorke rides along as a willing accomplice, content to lazily mouth the chorus, but notably, when the hunted turns the tables and seeks revenge on his tormentor—that is, the viewer—the ever-wily Yorke manages to escape, leaving us to burn in the flame-engulfed vehicle. The video is gorgeous to look at, too; the car’s luxurious red leather insulates us from the bleak country road outside, and the single shot that lasts for more than half the song drags us into the power struggle and subsequent revenge of the track’s latter half. It’s a typically warped Radiohead device, gleefully encouraging us to revel in the immorality, savoring the chase even as we recoil at the horror of it.
041. Guns n’ Roses – “November Rain”
(Dir. Andy Morahan, 1992)
The middle section in Guns n’ Roses’ epic Use Your Illusions trilogy, “November Rain” manages to keep at least one toe on the ground (that is to say, no one disappears into the wall and there’s not a dolphin in sight), but still manages to pack a wedding ceremony, a funeral, and at least two Slash 360-degree cliff solos in its nine-minute running time. The difference between this and other famously epic videos like “Thriller’ or Puff Daddy’s “Victory” is that “November Rain” features no additional dialogue or mid-song breaks to augment its running time or theatricality—“November Rain” the song simply demanded such a large-scale video, and Axl and director Andy Morahan were more than happy to comply. Hardcore Gn’R fans might still be holding out hope for the release of Chinese Democracy, but I’d settle for a sequel video explaining what happens to the guy who jumps into the wedding cake.
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-07-19