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20 Unsung Music Videos from the 1980s

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Thursday, Sep 1, 2011

The Clash and more

The Clash
“This Is Radio Clash”
(1981, Columbia)

The Clash released one of the most iconic videos of its time, the straight ahead performance clip for London Calling. Released in 1979, the clip depicts the band playing through a storm on the river, seemingly engrossed in pitch combat in an apocalyptic setting. In contrast, “This Is Radio Clash” captured the Clash’s evolution from its garage punk roots to a multi-dimensional mélange of funk, dub reggae, and old-school rap, which the band had begun to explore in singles and dove into with relish with its sprawling three disc album, Sandinista. The video for “Radio Clash” depicts a time when the group was in the process of conquering the United States, and also demonstrates the deep impact its encounter with the graffiti artist aesthetic of urban America had on the band. The video contains great images of the band members strutting along with their boombox atop a wall with the Twin Towers in the background.

(1988, Island)

A companion to the Clash of a band crossing the Atlantic for a bit of Americana would be U2’s “Desire”, drawn from Rattle and Hum, a commercially disappointing but underrated movie documenting the Irish group’s quest for America,  a sprawling Kerouacian odyssey featuring stops in Graceland and Harlem, and sit-ins with B.B. King and a gospel choir. The film seems somewhat staged at points, yes—it seems pretty unseemly to see Bono anointing himself as the chosen one to introduce B.B. King to an American audience. But check out how the video for “Desire”, shot on Hollywood Boulevard, captures the soul of urban America. The Hollywood remix intersperses montage video, including a seminal tragedy in US history, Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination on the night of the California primary at the Ambassador hotel in 1968.

Echo and the Bunnymen
“The Cutter”
(1983, Sire)

While many of the other tracks featured here are deeper cuts from bands that achieved mass stardom, this clip by Echo and the Bunnymen represents one of the earliest impressions of these critically-acclaimed post-punk artists who, despite an avid fan base, never ascended the heights of U2, the Cure, or the Police. While Echo is better known for “The Killing Moon” (the song Ian McCulloch loves to refer to as the “most beautiful song ever written”), the video that makes a greater impression is “The Cutter”, part of the very stark suite of videos shot for Porcupine on location in Iceland. The video shows band members traipsing around on the ice, in a manner that captures the frigid feel of the music.

Time Zone
“World Destruction”
(1984, Virgin)

One of the earliest rap videos—and one that never saw the light of mainstream or cable TV—was “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash, which remains as timeless a classic today as when it wasn’t aired back in the day, documenting the litany of woes associated with survival in the city. Against the backdrop of social protest, and growing angst in the mid-‘80s, as the blight across urban America seemed at odds with the “Morning in America” visuals of the Reagan re-election in 1984, was this apocaplyptic collaboration between displaced punk rocker Johnny Lydon and electro pioneer Afrika Bambaataa. In the midst of the conflict over the ability of black artists to gain access to equal time, this collaboration, laid down in half a day, is offering a damning indictment of the fraying of world order (with vocal snippets from US Presidents Nixon and Reagan). Preceding the pop collaboration of Run-DMC and Aerosmith on “Walk This Way”, it would be mirrored in a series of metal-rap mashups that showed the affinity of the two genres, including most famously, Public Enemy and Anthrax on “Bring the Noise”.

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