20 Music Videos from the 1980s That Have Aged Terribly

Dennis Shin

In this third and final installment of Sound Affects' retrospective of music videos from the 1980s, we focus on 20 promos that the passage of time has been especially unkind to.

The late 1970s saw the advent of cable television and dance clubs, introducing outlets for an emerging hybrid of music and film at a time when the DIY culture that enveloped punk and New Wave encouraged experimentation. Visually inventive artists such as Devo, Laurie Anderson, and Talking Heads were among the first to recognize video as a medium to make a statement, creating pieces that could stand on their own as serious works of performance art. Visually inventive and photogenic artists such as Duran Duran, the Human League, ABC, and Adam Ant would also create arresting pieces that have stood the test of time.

But as we noted in our previous entry in this ‘80s-theme List This series, with innovation and experimentation comes the risk of rapid obsolescence. This week’s list looks at a collection of video clips from the decade that have not aged well, bearing a distinctive look that instantly tags the work as a product of their time.

So here’s a look at 20 clips which, with the benefit of hindsight, remain deeply rooted in the ‘80s...

Europe – "The Final Countdown"
(Sony, 1986)

What better way to start the countdown than with "The Final Countdown"? Originally envisioned as opening music for Europe’s concerts, it opens our very own list rundown. A song, a career, and a music era are built around an opening synth riff, which keyboardist and lead vocalist Joey Tempest had tucked away since his days in school, and had to fight for to get used. The fighting spirit that went into getting the song made serves as the foundation for martial music, perhaps presaging the penultimate scene in any tale that might have to deal with coming of age, war, or sports battles -- or say in the case of Top Gun, all three (the song has indeed been a fixture in hockey video games and sports arenas). The video starts by following the path of a speeding rocket or missile honing in on its target, a nod to the Cold War or space race. Within the first minute, lighters spring up. Then comes by a shock of head-banger hair, a glorious guitar solo, and headbanging fans, shot before an appreciative hometown audience for the Swedish lads.

Toto Coelo – "I Eat Cannibals"
(Razor and Tie, 1982)

Swinging from one extreme to the other, we take you from light camp to highest camp. "Milk from the Coconut" is one of the original oddities, replete with overexposed lighting and bizarre what-were-they-thinking goodness, built on a primitive, carnal tribal drum beat that screams one-hit wonder. Or at least stature as a top 10 hit in the UK, and recurring appearances on video dance shows such as the syndicated MV3, the irreverent homegrown hipster answer to American Bandstand. What’s painful about one-hit ‘80s stars is the inevitability of doomed attempts to replicate the success of their signature hit. In this case, Toto Coelo (known in the US as Total to avoid confusion with the band Toto), came up short with "Milk from the Coconut". Actually, seeing the video for "Coconut" is grounds for positive outrage. While fusing many of the ‘80s iconic elements, "Coconut" has a certain pass-the-dutchie rap from one female member to another, which anticipates a certain Girl Power anthem. (Doesn’t that girl look scary? The one with the headband looks athletic, the other one is baby-faced, while the stylish one looks...) Enjoy "I Eat Cannibals", and savor its "Toto" package for what it is: primitive choreography, bright day-glo New Wave outfits seemingly stitched from bits of colored plastic wrap, bright washed-out lighting, and plenty of neon.

U2 - "I Will Follow"
(Island, 1980)

Think "Thing of Beauty" and repeat it to yourself in an Irish brogue. And alas, you have this magically delicious bit of goodness that is these lads back when, before they realized they would go on to their storied globe-trotting ways. Imagine an alternate timeline where the biggest name in show business had gone the way of the Alarm, where this was simply it for U2, the only way to measure a one-and-done band. Here we have the band’s lead singer in leather pants, doing the mashed potato, and performing the running man. And look at how that mullet is coiffed just so. The high school-age drummer seems to be channeling Ethan Hawke, and why is Martin Gore from Depeche Mode playing bass?

John Parr – "St Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)"
(Columbia, 1985)

This listing of dated ‘80s videos couldn’t really proceed without a Brat Pack reference. Of all the flicks to select from, we choose the film that perhaps may have been the jump-the-shark moment for the entire franchise, featuring the assembled actors reveling a bit too much in their glory. St. Elmo’s Fire (receiving a 45% Rotten Tomatoes rating) seems to be caught in a self-referential loop, referring to the bar as the touchstone for the character’s relationships, and then going to said bar, where the characters could hear the theme song resonating within. Imagine if the cast of Cheers began singing the theme from Cheers while sitting in Cheers. The music video, like all good movie trailers, is a montage of scenes that neatly sums up the film -- and inserts the singer into the movie, and the movie stars into the video. In contrast, the video for Simple Minds’ "Don’t You Forget About Me" deftly contains scenes of The Breakfast Club playing in the background on the bank of monitors, with the montage of highlights backlogged for the last few minutes of the song. The single for "St. Elmo’s Fire" was a #1 hit, and the sight of the Brat Packers at the peak of their powers, in period garb and hair, careening through Georgetown is fairly classic, albeit dated.

Scandal – "Goodbye to You"
(Sony, 1982)

We move in our list from one form of video scandal to Scandal on video. Lead singer Patty Smyth and her band sport some pretty severe Miami Vice-era fashion in a straightforward, slickly produced performance clip on a soundstage. Smyth appears to absent-mindedly saunter in stage left about 15 seconds in, as if she was off dusting the dining room, but couldn’t resist the good tidings emanating from the living room. The very peppy ‘80s pop riff and the effortless back-and-forth slide-stepping is so contagious and easy to replicate, you might expect it on the dance floor at a bachelorette party. The video features plenty of knowing shit-eating grins on the part of her bandmates, and in a nice touch, catching them in little Polaroid stills. As the song builds, so does her level of determination: looking plaintive one moment, doing a Mick Jagger duck walk the next, and then ending on a stressed-out note that has her on the brink of tears.

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