20 Music Videos from the 1980s That Have Aged Well

by Dennis Shin

6 October 2011


Public Enemy and more

INXS - “The One Thing”
(Atlantic, 1982)

Here’s another clip, shot on film, with warbly sound, that jumps right out at you in the current day. This video demonstrates the tendency of kids when they’re just out of school to do things in large groups, before they’ve had a chance to couple up. It also shows off the tendency of musicians to surround themselves with glamorous models, even though one could not imagine the artist and model pairing up—oh, wait forgot Rick Ocasek. But this bacchanal feast has a lot going for it—Roman-style overconsumption seems to be making a statement about our carnal instincts—that may be revisited as the global commons deals with the issue of living beyond one’s means. This two-in-one clip offers some insight into the video editing process, how content gets repurposed, and the degree of artistic control one could exert in emphasizing different aspects in the video. Sadly, this video is bittersweet, as years later singer Michael Hutchence met his demise. While the band got itself a nice little return and payout when it went the reality show route, this video captures the band just as it was hitting its stride in the US and Europe after a steady career in Australia.

Public Enemy – “Fight the Power”
(Def Jam, 1989)

Old school hip-hoppers had their “The Message”, enjoyed “The Breaks”, and had their fun like the Sugarhill Hang. But unlike the message-oriented artists that would come out later, the initial revolution was one that would not televised. One of the lingering controversies of the day was the seeming inability of African-American artists to enjoy access to video outlets like white artists. MTV was accused of being insensitive or worse in not providing black artists with opportunities; this is in marked contrast to today where R&B and hip-hop artists dominate the airwaves. While black artists were able to get videos shown on other networks such as NBC or TBS, MTV was resolute in sticking to a rock-dominated format. When finally given the opportunity, hip-hop made its move for the hearts and minds of young male music fans, in part through the huge success of Yo! MTV Raps, the daily program which made stars of the likes of Will Smith, LL Cool J, and even helped focus attention on Ice-T, the gangsta-turned-musician-turned-holiday celebrity.

Public Enemy not only unleashed a whole new movement of politicized, message rap, it also raised the bar on discussion. “Fight the Power” brings the group’s cause to the people, a sprawling outdoor shoot featuring delegates from various representative burghs. The video and exposure from the movie Do the Right Thing were critical to bringing Public Enemy to a legion of new fans

The Minutemen – “This Ain’t No Picnic”
(SST, 1984)

The Minutemen’s debut video in 1984 is a tightly made, well executed clip that handles what might potentially be a tricky subject—“the President is sticking it to the little guy”—in a creative, winning manner. Shot for $600, the video shows our heroes singing their tale of woe, until the black and white image of Ronald Reagan flying a WWII airplane shows up and strafes the band as this sings. President Reagan was a polarizing figure; he has been canonized by the American right wing, while his detractors dredge up unfavorable memories of declaring ketchup as a vegetable, undertaking a controversial arms deal, and engaging in class warfare by generating the image of a welfare queen. A video that was too specific in criticizing his policies, or which showed images of the Teflon man would likely have aged, as opinions of Ronnie softened after his death. This video works though in that it engages in clever satire that tweaks the President by bringing up associations with a B-movie actor who served as caretaker for Bonzo. In contrast, many of the songs submitted for the Rock Against Bush! album were a little too strident and personal. The use of black and white throughout, also gives the video an old school sheen.

Black Flag – “TV Party”
(SST, 1982)

Another video from one of the veterans of the hardcore underground, “TV Party” (along with its singer, Henry Rollins) has aged really well, on so many different levels. Who can’t identify with sitting around and have a couple of brews? The TV show references might seem dated, but thanks to networks like TV Land and the Nickelodeon, these shows have been frozen into our collective consciousness. When one looks at the current network lineups and sees reboots like Charlie’s Angels,  it seems only time before we’ll see a new Love Boat, Fantasy Island, or Family.And to those prone to sit around, “TV Party” provides a rallying cry.

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