The 1980s was, of course, the decade when the music video came alive. MTV was born, and for those of us who still remember a time when the network actively showed music promos, tuning in was always an electric, eclectic experience. You never knew what was coming next – and for most of us, it was our primary outlet for learning about exciting new bands and songs.
More to that, the music video quickly became an art form. Yes – there are dated, horribly cheesy videos out there which would’ve looked suspect at the time – but for every “Separate Ways” by Journey, there was a Peter Gabriel “Sledgehammer.”
But what of those fantastic videos which are lost to time – those we’ve sadly forgotten about as the years have rolled by? We know the dance moves to “Thriller.” We’ve seen comic strips come to life thanks to “Take On Me.” But what about those works of art which always seem to miss the ‘best of’ lists?
I’m going to share with you five striking music videos from the 1980s which I feel deserve a renaissance – if only to pick up a new viewer or two for a few minutes at a time.
Queen – “Breakthru”
Has there ever been another music video filmed on a train? Probably – and no doubt you’ll let me know in the comments – but if this is a bizarre little genre of music video all on its own, it was built for Queen. “Breakthru” remains one of the band’s most underrated songs and one of their most underrated videos. Who would have thought filming a video on a moving locomotive could have produced such an electrifying result? It helps that you’ve got Queen on board.
There’s a breathless, joyous energy to the whole debacle – this is the foursome at their most laid-back, even though the stage moves for the whole video. It was sadly going to be one of Freddie Mercury’s last turns on the camera, as he would pass away two short years later. While “Bohemian Rhapsody” rightfully picks up plaudits for helping to make the music video what it is, “Breakthru” deserves a second look – it’s just great fun, pure and simple.
Related: “Queen Meets the Ballet World”
Wax – “Bridge To Your Heart”
[WARNING – Flashing Images Ahead]
“Bridge To Your Heart” was a modest hit for Wax in the UK and across Europe, though it strangely never scratched the US Hot 100. It’s a shame, as Graham Gouldman and the late Andrew Gold made a fantastic team, creating a series of wry, knowing yet radio-serviceable pop tunes that deserve more recognition.
The video for their biggest hit remains completely and utterly bizarre. It’s a relentless barrage of arts and crafts, stop motion animation, singing plates of sausages, crooning seal trios, and literal lyrical analysis. It’s wonderfully ‘of the decade’, and while many will probably feel this one is a little too avant-garde or off-the-wall for its own good, it’s a fantastic rush. It’s also knowingly amusing, which is all the better.
Genesis – “Land of Confusion”
OK – so for those who were tuning in at the time, this one’s decidedly less obscure. However, it’s been buried over the years, perhaps thanks to it being a genuine product of its time. Making full use of the incredible puppet technology seen in British TV show Spitting Image, we’re treated to unflinching caricatures of the band – Phil Collins has never looked better – and President Reagan running down the street in full Superman regalia. All the while – for some reason – a Prince caricature decides to eat his own tongue.
This is a video that, much like the song, tries to make sense of the tense political landscape of the time, choosing to press for caricature and slapstick. Show this video to anyone younger than 30 who isn’t aware of the pop culture, and it may well be lost on them. It’s a creative, humorous, and memorable time capsule, and one which deserves greater recognition.
Eye in The Village – “No One Turns Away From The Camera”
Now, this one is obscure – some of you may have remembered coming across Eye in The Village on music TV back in the 1980s, but you’d be forgiven for thinking they were your run-of-the-mill chart band. Their song “No One Turns Away From The Camera” was the focal point for a creative five-minute movie, led by director Kevin Dole, and while it never troubled the charts, it won acclaim at the Chicago International Film Festival. It also got plenty of airplay but disappeared just as quickly as it emerged.
Filmed a la “Sledgehammer,” this is a music video crafted around the face – with some of the most creative animation you’ll ever see. It stands proud as a mysterious relic of the time, but thankfully, you can still see it in full, with Dole having uploaded the film in full HD some years ago.
Double – ‘”Devil’s Ball”
Double’s brand of soulful, pondering sophisti-pop may have performed better in their native Europe, but “The Captain of Her Heart” remained a popular, haunting radio hit for some time. “Devil’s Ball” is just as haunting, if not more so, thanks to its utterly confounding video promo. Some surrealist and dated video effects aside, front and center are Mummenschanz, a surrealist troupe of Swiss mimes.
Their shtick? Putty, as strange, vaguely unnerving figures tear and pull at their own gluey faces. It all culminates in a bizarre spectacle where two mimes, with faces stuck together in that putty, wrestle for dear life to break free. To some, it’s surrealist nonsense – to me, it’s just so strange that it might be good. At the very least, it’s worth watching, and it’s very much a forgotten relic of the time.
There are so many more music videos from the 1980s which deserve to be given another day in the spotlight. Please do let me know any of your favorites – and apologies again for any nightmares that Mummenschanz may cause you.
No One Turns Away From The Camera obviously looked 30 years into the future, and Bridge To Your Heart is Sledgehammer on multiple contraindicative drugs.
And it’s funny I’m sure I must have seen Land Of Confusion but I don’t remember it at all. Possibly too political to get much airplay?
All fine choices and I can’t think of any to add offhand
Land of Confusion got a lot of airplay even though the portrayal of Reagan was controversial. It won a Grammy and was beaten for MTV Video of the Year by Sledgehammer. If you don’t remember it maybe you just didn’t like it at the time and blocked it out, because it was on a lot.
“Cry” by 10cc was a pretty forwardthinking video of the face genre. Morphing into a broad range of people while a jazzy, breathy vical style kept the beat. Winner!
The golden age of the music video and new wave. With that said, underground faves of mine would include Pale Shelter by Tears for Fears; Meet El Presidente by Duran Duran and I’m not perfect by Grace Jones.