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The 100 Greatest Music Videos of All Time

The Buggles once proclaimed that video killed the radio star, but it wasn’t until nearly two decades later that the slogan became prophecy.

Sal Cinquemani



The 100 Greatest Music Videos of All Time

90. Alanis Morissette, “Hand in My Pocket” (Mark Koh)

Mark Kohr’s best music video is this underrated clip for Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket.” Based on Morissette’s purported fascination with observing people in crowds, the video casts the singer/songwriter as the chauffeur of a local parade. The languid black-and-white photography, Kohr’s cynical direction, Morissette’s possessed “taxi cab” facial tick and off-kilter lip-syncing manage to add to the strange if not elusive scent of subversion.

89. Bonnie Tyler, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (Russell Mulcahy)

Before Highlander, Russell Mulcahy helped launch a network as director of the first music video to play on MTV, “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles. More threatening than the canons-cum-cocks of Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time,” Mulcahy’s cinematic clip for Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” re-imagined Wolf Rilla’s horror classic The Village of the Damned as gay fantasia. The witchy headmistress played by Tyler must defy the pink curtains and unexplained doves that shoot out at her from the vaginal hallways of her all-boys school. Tortured by her pent-up sexual energy, she discovers release in fantasy, imagining her pupils as dancing ninjas and scantily clad Tarzans. Morning call seemingly restores her faith in prudence though a child’s bright eyes portend yet another vaginal flow. Though the openly gay Mulcahy would channel some of the leftover homoeroticism into the first three episodes of the Brit version of Queer as Folk, the video’s stateside legacy is a sad one. In the 90s, the video was updated for two other Jim Steinman produced tracks: Meatloaf’s “I Would Do Anything for Love” and Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.”

88. Wax, “California” (Spike Jonze)

In one mesmerizing long take, Spike Jonze follows a man on fire running through a city street in California. Ignored by pedestrians and motorists alike, the man turns a corner as a bus pulls away from its designated stop. Jonze’s use of slow-mo works like a terrifying drawl that emphasizes a culture’s complete and utter self-involvement, not to mention its shoddy public transit. For anyone new to the Golden State or anyone without a car, the message is clear: keep out! Precedes and compliments the Daytonand Faris clip for Red Hot Chili Peppers’s “Californication.”

87. Janet Jackson, “Rhythm Nation” (Dominic Sena)

Culled from a long-form video which told the morality tale of two shoeshine boys who discover the Rhythm Nation (the mini-musical also included “Miss You Much” and the rarely-seen “The Knowledge”), the unity-themed “Rhythm Nation” clip stands on its own as one of the most intricately and powerfully choreographed music videos of all time. The solidarity of Janet Jackson’s multi-racial Rhythm Nation dancers is evoked with hyper-synchronized movements while their individuality is expressed via their separate, distinct dances.

86. Dave Matthews Band, “Crash Into Me” (Howard Greenhalgh)

Dave Matthews Band’s stylish “Crash Into Me” was pieced together from still shots taken by director Dean Karr on location in Woodstock, NY. The striking watercolor-like images (reminiscent of and perhaps influenced by the Eurthymics’s “Sweet Dreams”) include a ball-and-chain and bassist Stefan Lessard playing an upright bass submerged in a pond. The surreal video evokes a dream in which Matthews is indeed “the king of the castle” of love.

85. Alanis Morissette, “Ironic” (Stephane Sednaoui)

In Stephane Sednaoui’s video for “Ironic,” four Alanis Morissettes ride along a wintry highway and discuss things both ironic and, as many would gleefully point out, un-ironic. But grammar usage and execution aside, this colorful video clip captured Morissette’s multifarious public persona quite perfectly.

84. Foo Fighters, “Everlong” (Michel Gondry)

Inside their happy suburban home, a husband (Dave Grohl) and wife (Taylor Hawkins in drag) communicate via dreams. Grohl is Sid Vicious at a lame costume party. Pat Smear and Nate Mendel are the bouncers hot on his tail. The thugs access the couple’s shared consciousness, kidnapping the wife and hiding her inside a remote cabin in the woods. Water imagery and opening doorways heighten Grohl’s penetration anxiety. A ringing phone figures prominently in and out of sleep and serves to clue Grohl in to the power of dreams over reality. Or is it the other way around? Magritte meets Lynch in this surprisingly intimate paean to lucid dreaming.

83. Daft Punk, “Da Funk” (Spike Jonze)

Spike Jonze challenges the way music is incorporated and represented in music videos with his bizarre, ‘80s-style clip for Daft Punk’s “Da Funk.” Charlie the dog-boy moves to the East Village with a pocketful of dreams and a ghetto blaster by his side. Coping with a broken leg and lack of friends, this anthropomorphic creature is rejected by one New Yorker after another. “Da Funk” is his failed battle cry; indeed, an ornery street vendor reacts less to the noise emanating from Charlie’s boombox than he does to the dog’s lame attempt at “keeping it real.” A chance meeting with a childhood friend suggests things will get better yet the video’s devastating finale suggests that Charlie will never learn.

82. Peter Gabriel, “Sledgehammer” (Stephen R. Rosen)

Peter Gabriel and director Stephen R. Johnson teamed with the Brothers Quay and Nick Park (Wallce & Gromit) in an effort to make a video that Gabriel called “a bit groundbreaking.” Clearly meeting their lofty goal, 1986’s “Sledgehammer” paved a stop-motion, claymation path for videos by Primus, Tool and, most recently, the White Stripes. Though the award-winning “Sledgehammer” isn’t exactly profound, its visual pretenses are crafty and certainly fun to watch.

81. Nirvana, “Heart-Shaped Box” (Anton Corjbin)

Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” is as ripe with allusions as it is oversaturated with color (the video was shot in black and white and then computer-colorized). Directed by Anton Corjbin, the clip features surrealistic images including a winged, gluttonous woman reaching for plastic fetuses hanging from a tree and an emaciated Jesus with a Victorian beard and Santa hat climbing onto a cross. While the song makes vague references to cancer, umbilical cords and meat-eating orchids, the video entangles faith and sickness with the clarity of a man who’s damn close to giving up his eternal search.

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