Symkus column: Free rock videos on YouTube, ranging from classic to crazy
MTV began broadcasting just after midnight on Aug. 1, 1981, spearheading a revolution that made music videos an integral part of the entertainment fabric. The first one the network aired was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles followed, in order, by “You Better Run” (Pat Benatar), “She Won’t Dance with Me” (Rod Stewart), “You Better You Bet” (The Who), and “Little Suzi’s on the Up” (Ph.D.).
But the folks behind MTV didn’t invent anything; they just provided a platform for an art form that had been around, and been used by record companies to promote their product, since ... well, many fans and scholars point to 1964’s “A Hard Day’s Night” as the first - longform - music video.
Pop-rock music videos have ranged from straightforward lip-syncs to arty little films with mini-plots. These top 10 suggestions are currently my favorites (though the list constantly changes when another old one comes to mind). All of them are - in my opinion - terrific songs and are great fun to watch. They’re in alphabetical order, by artists, and are free on YouTube. Look for versions that say “Official Video.”
a-ha - “Take on Me” - The Norwegian synth-pop trio’s first hit nabbed Best Concept Video and Most Experimental Video at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards with a dazzling action-packed mix of pencil drawings and live action, and a dramatic story of a lonely young woman whose dream guy comes to life from the pages of a fan magazine.
Antony & the Johnsons - “Epilepsy Is Dancing” - Surreal and erotic (with a touch of nudity), and wildly colorful, this is a kind of living, breathing live-action painting that suggests what goes on in the mind of a woman who is so startled by seeing a deer in a city alley, she falls into a dreamlike epileptic fit. Antony’s voice is mesmerizing.
The Beatles - “Revolution” - The lads are on an unadorned stage at Twickenham Film Studios in September 1968, lip-syncing the spirited political Lennon rocker that was recorded at near-distortion levels and filmed mostly in extreme close-up.
The Boomtown Rats - “I Don’t Like Mondays” - The Irish band’s frontman Bob Geldof based this partly acted, partly lip-synced piece of social commentary on a news report he heard, while on tour in the U.S., about a 16-year-old California girl who, on a Monday morning, gunned down students and teachers at an elementary school. Asked why she did it, she infamously responded, “I don’t like Mondays.”
Peter Gabriel - “Sledgehammer” - Pay attention to the lyrics and you’ll pick up more than a few double entendres. Concentrate on the wild, eye-popping visuals (some of them by “Wallace and Gromit” animators Peter Lord and Nick Park), and you’ll be treated to a breathtaking mix of stop-motion, pixilation, and Claymation. It’s also quite funny!
Meat Loaf - “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” - It’s an extravagant piece of operatic rock with lip-syncing performers moving around on a huge stage and delivering the story of teen lust in way over the top mode. Both big Meat Loaf and comely Karla DeVito (working to Ellen Foley’s voice on the recording) give Jim Steinman’s song and Todd Rundgren’s production their sweaty best. The moral of the story: Promises are easy to make but hard to keep.
Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra - “Want It Back” - Warning: There’s some brief, blatant nudity from the get-go and at the end, but the song is so catchy and the visuals are so arresting, the raciness is (almost) forgotten. Australian director Jim Batt uses everything from floors to furniture to Palmer’s body to display - via stop-motion - the lyrics, so it’s easy to figure out what the song is about, if you can pay attention to the words.
The Romantics - “What I Like About You” - This one’s for fans of upbeat, infectiously happy pop-rock. Filmed on a simple black stage, with a black backdrop, the members of the Detroit quartet are all dressed in black. It’s a good thing excitable lead singer Jimmy Marinos is wearing short sleeves, so we can see his arms holding his sticks. They all keep shouting, “Hey!” And there’s a harmonica solo! You should play it twice in a row ... loud.
Bruce Springsteen - “Dancing in the Dark” - It was Springsteen’s first bona fide hit single, the one that pushed him to superstar status. Directed by Brian DePalma, it was shot (and lip-synced) at an actual concert in Minnesota and features Springsteen in tight jeans, a sleeveless shirt, and no guitar, putting on some pretty good moves. And look! There’s young Courteney Cox (a decade before “Friends”), planted in the front row, being smiled at, then pulled onstage by Bruce to “dance in the dark” with him.
Neil Young & the Shocking Pinks - “Wondering” - Neil, gaudily dressed, his hair unkempt, comes across as a total goofball in this hilariously goofy, toe-tapping doo-wop song about yearning for love. People and cars move around in a jittery style, some footage is speeded up, Neil moves between staring right at the camera and staggering in and out of the picture. His vocal trio, the Shocking Pinks are, aptly, all dressed in pink.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.