The 25 Most Influential Music Videos Of All Time

Categories: Lists

MTV logo 1981 june16.jpg
It's hard to fathom a time before music videos, and it's even sadder to remember when channels like MTV and VH1 were wall-to-wall music videos. In between there was a golden age, when with every clip that you watched could spark a revolution in you, or at least change your fashion sense. It's sad to say, but the age of music videos as we knew it has largely been over since The Real World premiered, although when YouTube took over it at least made it possible to see most any video on demand on your computer or phone.

One of the first videos that we ever loved was Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" from 1986's So album. Being three to four years old and growing up in a musical household, music videos were just like cartoons and live-action kid shows. We didn't know a boundary between Pee-Wee's Playhouse or "Sledgehammer"; later we would find out they were directed by the same person, oddly enough.

Gabriel is in The Woodlands tonight for a date with his New Blood Orchestra, touting a show with no guitars or drums, which after a year of metal, punk, and indie, is a welcome change, especially in the hands of Gabriel and company. The guy has been in our lives since we could remember, and tonight we see him live.

Here are 25 of the most influential music videos of all time. This is not an authoritative list, and nothing is order, though we did put "Thriller" at the end just in case anyone skips this paragraph and decides to throw a fit. Anyhow, what are your favorites?


Peter Gabriel, "Sledgehammer"

The effects, the effects, the effects.


Talking Heads, "Once In A Lifetime"

Weirdo David Byrne comes to your living room.


Guns N' Roses, "Welcome To The Jungle"

There was hair-metal, and then these dudes show up from Planet Scum to slay us all.


The Beatles, "Strawberry Fields Forever" (Peter Goldman)

Trippy visuals, and some of the first tastes of psychedelia for the straights.


2Pac & Dr. Dre. "California Love"

Two of the best rappers of any generation, plus Mad Max. By they way, happy 40th, Pac, if you're out there.


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47 comments
VD\\
VD\\

Dire Straits - "Brother In Arms"

Check Mate

John
John

Madonna - Justify My Love?

fairportfan
fairportfan

Tom Petty's best video was the creepy "Alice in Wonderland"-style "DOn't COme'Round Here No More".

Cyrillian Blue
Cyrillian Blue

Where the fuck is "Do The Evolution" by Pearl Jam????

cool dad bro
cool dad bro

atleast 1 spike jonze video made it....(sabatage).  You can make a list just of his, chris cunningham, and micheal gondry.

Twinsdiez
Twinsdiez

Nice list, but its incomplete without a David Bowie video.  He was a pioneer, recognized by MTV itself as one of its first inductees in their video Hall of Fame.  I would submit for your consideration his 1980 "Ashes to Ashes" video for its groundbreaking, artistic visual effects.

Rmd1064
Rmd1064

In 1984, the Cars video "You Might Think" introduced a wide range of new effects and animation and I believe won MTV video of the year.

Terrence Persaud
Terrence Persaud

This list is hit or miss. 

Wasn't that Madonna video banned?  What about that Busta Rhymes video that introduced that fish eye lens thing for like 10 years?

Aha - Take on Me?

I don't know bro.

Nick
Nick

Nice selection though I would add two visual of the music videos from VH1's Pop-Up era.  1st would be the 1980 "Whip It" video from the New Wave band Devo.  Devo wears black, sleeveless turtlenecks, and their famous Energy Dome headgear. 2nd would be Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love"  video which had in the background the most abstract band of models that was iconic for the the 80's.

Rocket Scientist 47
Rocket Scientist 47

Great list.  I would have included at least one Devo video, maybe "Whip It" or "Beautiful World".  They were creating strange conceptual videos years before MTV went on the air.

KING
KING

Also, I thought "Straight Up" by Paula Abdul was pretty revolutionary for pop videos. The animation integration plus Janet-level choreography. Directed by David Fincher!

Fatty FatBastard
Fatty FatBastard

And I'll also say that "In your eyes" was the best thing Peter Gabriel ever created...

Fatty FatBastard
Fatty FatBastard

For someone who didn't really grow up in the era (much like I really didn't grow up with HR Puffinstuff) this wasn't a horrible list.  But you had to be in the era.  Duran Duran were known for completely changing the music videos with "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "Rio." Much moreso than whichever one you posted.  Brilliant call on Talking Heads.  That I have to agree with.  Another miss was Electric Avenue.  Maybe it was me as a kid, but that song stuck with me on MTV.  And say what will about "Sabotage" but MTV will always be about "You gotta fight for your right to party!" And you truly missed out on one of the biggest ones:  Run DMC & Aerosmith's Walk this way.

Dustin Kalman
Dustin Kalman

Forgot to mention, that is Courtney Cox up there dancing with Bruce. Yes, Monica from Friends dances with The Boss.

Dustin Kalman
Dustin Kalman

I want my MTV!

Two amazing videos that don't get nearly the respect they deserve...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... - Beastie Boys - Shadrach (Abstract Impressionist Version) Each frame was hand painted. Wow!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... - Scarface - On My BlockThe video scrolls through time and just is an excellent presentation of the evolution of time. Bonus points for the local ties.

The Bob Dylan video influenced an INXS video later on.

WWWBUKTN
WWWBUKTN

How could you forget Aha and the classic "Take On Me."   I had to look twice to make sure I didn't miss it on your list but it may be one of the top three biggest videos of all time. 

JG
JG

No love for Radiohead's "Karma Police"?

Bruiser
Bruiser

Thanks you for the Midnight Oil love. Saw these guys at both the Maceba Theater and Woodlands Pavilion...both were incredible shows.

csoakley
csoakley

Judas Priest - You've Got Another Thing Comin'. They rock so hard that they cause that square's head to EXPLODE!!

I'll take that and 'Sabotage'. You can have the rest.

CraigHlavaty
CraigHlavaty

I ain't in the office today. If it's an emergency, hit me up at craig.hlavaty@gmail.com...

CraigHlavaty
CraigHlavaty

I ain't in the office today. If it's an emergency, hit me up at craig.hlavaty@gmail.com...

CraigHlavaty
CraigHlavaty

I ain't in the office today. If it's an emergency, hit me up at craig.hlavaty@gmail.com...

jaycee713
jaycee713

Paula Abdul WAS Janet's choreographer. Kudos on the the David Fincher plug!

Gary Packwood
Gary Packwood

I think you are making the point - correctly - that several titles you mentioned changed the music 'culture' in the U.S.A.. Unfortunately we, unlike the Canadians, lump popular music into the entertainment industry whereby Canadians and most of Europe classify popular music in their cultural industry.

Cultural, unlike entertainment, is studies and protected.

And cultural studies place a laser-like focus - as you said - "on the era" - but entertainment is just about party-party and sales.

KING
KING

As far as the scrolling/one shot/long take type videos, I think Xzibit's "What U See Is What U Get" is the first one I can remember. 1998.

Tinagr
Tinagr

Completely agree!  Where is Take On Me??

KH
KH

Ditto on this one.  When I think of the classic time of music videos this one is the one that pops into my mind.   I cannot believe you left this off either. 

CraigHlavaty
CraigHlavaty

It's fun to leave obvious ones out to create confusion! But yes, it's a good one.

CraigHlavaty
CraigHlavaty

Great song, great album, great video, but it's not legendary. 

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