The UK Guardian responds to a poll naming Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” the best music video ever with their own, “alternate” Top Ten; but honestly, both of them miss the mark. “Rhapsody” is a great song and the video was, indeed, one of the first videos, but best? It was followed in the poll by Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and again, I got excited about it when I was 11, but in retrospect it seems pretty ridiculous. The Guardian‘s list, on the other hand, includes REM’s “Losing My Religion,” which was apparently inspired by some highbrow art, but always seemed pretty boring to me, and Daft Punk’s “Da Funk,” whose man-with-dog-head concept gets old after about 15 seconds. So, DJ with the silly name, what are the best videos ever? Off the top of my head, here’s a few ideas, in various categories.
The Chemical Brothers – “Star Guitar”
Director Michel Gondry took one of the simplest possible ideas—a visual element for each musical sound—and executed it with hypnotic perfection. The high-tech effects actually evoke an oddly natural phenomenon: the feeling you get while driving and listening to music when something along the road just happens to synch up with a dramatic moment in the song. When I first saw the video, it was just sent over by the record label with no explanation, and it was only about 20 seconds in that I realized something was very strange in this landscape.
Missy Elliott – “Get Ur Freak On”
One of the peaks from the (now past?) big-budget video era, this Matrix-meets-Zombies flick perfectly complimented the creepy insanity of the track, and created one of the strangest images in mainstream hip-hip that year: that of Missy’s face stretching out and slithering towards the camera, then retracting, like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Some good dancing too.
Joy Division – “Atmosphere”
Anton Corbijn may have a whole movie coming out about his favorite Manchester band, but back in 1988, this video captured the mystery and majesty of Joy Division perfectly. It sounds goofy on paper: howabout a bunch of Jawas carry around big posters and stuff? But in reality, it’s profoundly moving; as the shots of Ian Curtis slowly move across the screen, the loss of this one man seems like a symbol of all loss, and you can’t help but gasp at the beauty and the pain.
Art of Noise – “Close to the Edit”
Infused with both a punk spirit and a kind of sneering mockery of the same, this video for the stuttery sample-based track is as witty and shocking as an episode of The Young Ones. A little girl directs minions to destroy traditional instruments, one by one, in a kind of postapocalyptic landscape; back in 1984, none of us could imagine an era without pianos, but it sure seems a lot less shocking now.
Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg – “Nuthin’ But a G Thang”
Someday, in 1000 years, when all of us are pulsing blobs of energy in the hyperspace megaweb, we may wonder from time to time how people survived in South Central LA back in the 90s, and I will light up some virtual neurons to display this four-minute clip. Look how young Snoop looks! Some say this made hip-hop seem friendlier for the jittery white folks, and they’re probably right, but it sure does look like fun.
Sinead O’Connor – “Nothing Compares to You”
It’s a beautiful song, and she has a stunning voice, but there’s no way in a million years this would have hit #1 if the world hadn’t been transfixed by the shot of the shaved-head lady bearing her soul in extreme close-up, so much so that she actually cries, actual tears, for reals!
Aphex Twin – “Windowlicker”
Just as the track was intended as a twisted tribute to the bass-heavy Miami freestyle sound, the video perfectly apes the cars-and-babes formula and turns it into something deeply disturbing. Somehow all the lovely young women have their faces grotesquely transformed into tech wizard Richard D. James’ grinning mug, making their caresses of him both terrifying and oddly onanistic. Warning: the intro segment is, by design, an almost breathless barrage of profanities.
Kate Bush – “Experiment IV”
Bush had already become known for her brilliant videos, which were almost like little mini-movies, with a full narrative and some standout performances. At the time, this song and its literal video about a scientific program to find “a sound that could kill someone” seemed a protest without a real target; what’s Kate talking about, Rick Astley? But 20 years later, in the wake of Abu Ghraib, it feels incredibly relevant. Plus I still get shivers when the sound creature rears its scary head. Eek!
Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet”
Predating the bad-graphics-as-good-art phenom by like five years, this clip was like your Atari gone Benny Hill. Check it out: the duck is reading a newspaper called DUK!
Herbie Hancock – “Rockit”
Maybe these both actually deserve to go in the “Technological Achievement” category, but they’re both pretty amusing; what’s that mannequin doing in the bed? Why are those legs walking around the room? What’s that goose thing? Either way, they all seem to enjoy watching Herbie Hancock on a crappy little TV.
And that’s just off the top of my head. Please add to the fun with your suggestions, dear Riffers.