Today I wanted to chill out for a bit and have a look back at a handful of cool music videos. The music video used to define the landscape, MTV was as important in getting people to buy records as radio was. Nowadays more acts than ever can make really good videos, but it takes a lot to get eyeballs on them. They aren’t the way to reel in listeners like they were in the past.
There is no connecting theme here or anything – I’m just pulling up a few videos I remember from way back, or whenever on the timeline they fall.
Dire Straits – Money For Nothing
This video made use of early computer animation in an unlikely and groundbreaking way to put forth a video that took on a life of its own and stood out even beyond Dire Straits’ massively successful Brothers In Arms album. It was the talk of everywhere when it hit.
What’s funny is that I don’t think I’ve seen this video in full since it originally aired on MTV. I never have looked it up on YouTube, until now. The video might seem dated by today’s standards, sure, but I still remember how unreal it was at the time. It probably won’t land with younger audiences much, though I see some love for it in the video’s comment section.
Tool – Prison Sex
This was crazy stuff in the early ’90’s – another kind of animation technique not widely used at the time and in part put together by Tool’s guitarist Adam Jones. The video itself got played fairly regularly on MTV for a bit – until people found it too uncomfortable and yanked it from the airwaves. It got a second life on Beavis and Butthead a bit on down the road.
I’m not entirely sure what the song is about, though plenty of other Tool fans will be happy to slug it out in arguments over the meaning. It’s certainly not a pleasant topic, some form of abuse. The video disturbingly yet also amazingly portrays that theme in its animation.
Journey – Separate Ways
If you would have told me decades ago that I would unironically consider a video of Journey playing air instruments in front a pier-side warehouse one of the best videos of all time, I would have looked at you really funny. Yet here we are and I am offering just that opinion – this video is fantastic.
This is just so unreal and so 1980’s. Journey crafts a wonderful pop rock song and gets zero budget for their video apparently, so this is what we get. And after I reached adulthood and looked back on the video I couldn’t help but smile fondly. It is as goofy as it gets, but damn if it isn’t awesome.
Guns N Roses – Estranged
I went over this song pretty extensively in September when I did my in-depth analysis of the Use Your Illusion albums. I didn’t get too much occasion to discuss the video specifically though.
The song is an absolute masterpiece and the video matches the music blow-for-blow. Video-wise it’s the end of a trilogy that also includes Don’t Cry and November Rain, though I don’t know if the songs themselves play into that (they kinda seem like they do, at least loosely).
The video was clearly big-budget, I would assume more money went into it than many theatrical release movies of the time. It does spell the end of Guns N Roses’ time in the sun, as the band would splinter apart in a few years after this final single from their double album was released.
The video showcases Axl’s eccentricy and self-centerness, sure, but it’s still an honest take of the band at the time and probably goes a long way to painting the picture of this song. The way the song goes into its final movement, one of the most powerful in music, right when Axl jumps off the ship around the 7 minute mark is just perfect timing.
Kiss – Lick It Up
Kiss missed out on the music video format with a lot of their early material. It’s a shame that such a visual, theatrical band didn’t get to shoot music videos for their top-flight 70’s output. Just imagine what we could have gotten out of that.
Instead, we get ’80’s no-makeup Kiss wandering a post-apocalyptic wasteland but with hot women who want to party. It’s like Mad Maxine Beyond Thunderdome, I don’t know. I do know that I really like this video, even if it is honestly kinda cringe.
The song is one of Kiss’ stronger ones from their ’80’s catalog and this video is – well, certainly a video. I can’t help but like it though, this is what I grew up on. It does appear that ¾ of the band is all about the video, while Gene Simmons might have benefited from keeping his demon makeup on.
Muse – Knights Of Cydonia
Let’s wind up with something from this side of the millennium line. This goofy western/sci-fi/kung fu mash up to a sillier than shit song about who knows what somehow winds up being one of the best music videos ever committed to film.
The video is just splendid. It’s a mini feature film, replete with plot and characters. The band only appears as brief hologram projections, I guess that’s fine since they looked like the Gallagher brothers playing alongside James Hetfield anyway. The good kung fu cowboy guy and the girl ride off into the sunset after bad cowboy kung fu guy is digitally vaporized, so I guess everyone goes home happy in the end.
There isn’t a lot more for me to say about it. The video is widely celebrated as one of the best music videos ever made and the song is towards the top of any list of Muse tracks. A pretty good marriage of song and film here.