20 Music Videos from the 1980s That Have Aged Terribly

by Dennis Shin

30 November 2011


Thompson Twins and more...

Thompson Twins – “Lies”
(Arista, 1983)

“Lies” seemed doomed to obsolescence when it was released, though one would have to think this was largely by design. Using the most rudimentary image compositing tools—which lend a cable access feel to it—with its disembodied giant heads of Alannah Currie and Joe Leeway (but not Tom Bailey, the lead singer), its Charlie Chan and Fu Manchu characters, and the giant rabbit, this video is an almost immediate guilty pleasure. The surreal quality and creation of illusion creates a nightmarish hallucinatory feel that borrows from Magritte. Props to the band for going low-end; if you’re going to slum, go to extremes. Interestingly, the group never reprised this video style. While the Thompson Twins were an underground sensation, with dance club hits like “In the Name of Love” and “Love on Your Side”, the videos on their next album, Into the Gap, all had a much more highly accomplished look.

Animotion – “Obsession”
(Island/Def Jam, 1985)

Animotion’s “Obsession” video is dated on a number of fronts, the most notable being the campy spirit that Michael Des Barres and Holly Knight channel in depicting a doomed Roman power couple, who seem less Anthony and Cleopatra and more Tony and Tina at their wedding reception. To their credit, Des Barres and Knight seem to be reveling in the campiness of the moment at every turn, recognizing that they are in the midst of creating a body of work that in four minutes and two seconds of glorious goodness would channel the materialism that came to personify the ‘80s. The frequent costume changes, incessant Eurobeat, and boundless energy that seems to have rolled over from Studio B’s “Safety Dance” video shoot give this promo an unmistakable time stamp.

Huey Lewis and the News – “Heart and Soul”
(Chrysalis, 1983)

Start with the cheesy opening riffs, which evoke a Club Med song. Scratch that. this may easily be one of the cheesiest videos in music video history. But the song was an immediate hit in the US, charting in the top 10 and was the first offering from juggernaut that was the band’s Sports album. Like a slow-moving storm front that hovers over a community, Sports churned out one hit after another, aided by the News’ good natured everyman appeal, constant touring, and ubiquitous presence on MTV. For all the cheesy fun of “Heart and Soul”, it has aged pretty badly, owing to the fact that it’s one extended crowd shot, serving as a catalog of ‘80s style. Nevertheless, the group shots with extras on the dance are priceless, particularly the climactic scene where they circle each other like prey while the crowd claps along.

Styx – “Too Much Time on My Hands”
(A&M, 1981)

Perhaps the one video that could top Huey Lewis in cheese (and which also features a prominent crowd scene that showcases the styles of the day) is this tale of existentialist angst by the deep-thinking Styx. When people think of the ‘80s and Styx, the immediate cultural touchstone is “Mr. Roboto”, a certifiable jump-the-shark moment for the band, and potentially for ‘80s concept videos as well. Yet, while the earnest creation that was the Kilroy Was Here album may not have succeeded as grand rock opera, Dennis DeYoung gets props for his vision (a statement on technology) and the futurist look, sort of Blade Runner meets The Rocketeer. Escaping the ‘80s through a concept video set in a different time, setting, or galaxy was the best way to avoid being inexorably linked to the decade. “Too Much Time”, on the other hand, will linger on as an ‘80s time capsule piece due to its riffing on contemporary 80s culture. Start with the band’s period attire, and then move on to Tommy Shaw’s ennui on not having any real friends (“I’ve got dozens of friends and the fun never ends that is, as long as I’m buying”). We’ve got mullets galore, perms, girls with feathered hair, and Joe Dirt in the baby blue jumpsuit on vocals. Kudos to the band for keeping it light.

The Buggles – “Video Killed the Radio Star”
(Island, 1981)

Why yes, the final selection on our list is the video that launched a revolution. The network that first aired this clip after midnight on August 1, 1981 to announce its entry into the world—ostensibly to revolutionize the music industry—has long stopped showing videos in heavy rotation… or regular rotation, for that matter. As has MTV2, the network purportedly set up to sate the demands of users seeking music promos. Music videos have disappeared entirely, in fact, from regular commercial mainstream TV, but are instead ubiquitous on the Internet. And music is actually more ingrained in our lives today, through placements in ads, film, and TV soundtracks, meaning video representations are simultaneously nowhere and everywhere at once.

Aside from taking stock of the residual impact of this revolutionary clip, directed by Russell Mulcahy, it’s time to take a fresh look at the video itself. At the time, the Buggles’ futuristic clip was regarded as cutting edge then, and for some time afterward. Look at the video now: old video stock, the ubiquitous video terminals, futuristic space people, who look like the time travelers from an old episode of Flash Gordon... To see a fresh take on this revolution, consider the Limousines’ underground hit and accompanying promo, “Internet Killed the Video Star”, and query whether one day whether the dawning of social media will appear as quaint as the first dial-up modems. In the meantime, enjoy this double feature of the Buggles and Pat Benatar, from the first ten minutes of MTV on the air.

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