The Top 10 Music Videos from the 1980s to the 1990s

The Top 10 Music Videos from the 1980s to the 1990s

The 1990s were not just the foundational year for synthetic pop, New wave, and Hair Metal; it was the golden generation of pop music. Though uncharacterized by very flashy and colorful videos, the golden age made up for the color with innovations, science, and a content-filled video.

It is no surprise that a survey conducted by a giant digital music broadcaster, Music Choice, found that one in three people prefers to sing along to music from the era of synthetic pop. The survey, which was the most prominent music survey in Europe, confirmed that the most popular music decade was the 1980s and 1990s. Even among Millennials, music giants like Michael Jackson, Madonna, Guns N’ Roses, Bjork and Nirvana were familiar names. 

Like the video made in the 1990s, the lyrics were reference points and inspirations for contemporary pop stars and celebrities.

Presenting our list of the Top 10 Music Videos from the 1980s to the 1990s!

10. George Michael – Freedom [1990]

I think there’s something you should know
There’s something deep inside of me

David Fincher was the architect of the video for George Michael’s “Freedom”, as much as other fantastic videos produced in the 1990s. George Michael had grown weary of appearing on the public stage. He wanted a video where he would not appear, and Fincher came up with an amazing video. Using models who were lip-syncing the song, Fincher’s video was unarguably one of the best of the 1990s.

9. Bon Jovi –Wanted Dead or Alive [1987]

I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride
I’m wanted dead or alive
Wanted dead or alive

Like most of the videos on this list, the reason behind the video for Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” was fun. The band displayed scenes of their world tour to different cities across the world. Characterized by beautiful photos, the music video was highly rated and popular among fans.

Coincidentally, New World Pictures also released a movie with the same name in 1987. However, aside from the name, there was no connection between the song and the movie.

8. Genesis — Land of Confusion [1986]

There’s too many men
Too many people
Making too many problems
And not much love to go ’round
Can’t you see this is a land of confusion?

Using a caricatured version of characters like Benito Mussolini, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Muammar Ghaddafi. Phil Collins’ idea of the music video for “Land of Confusion” was to use a satirical expression to show the world’s present state.

In Superman’s suits, Ronald Reagan paraded the streets while the lengthy list of dictators continued addressing the crowd. That scene portrayed Ronald Reagan as being inactive despite having the ability to effect a change.

The video was beyond an ordinary music video; it was a political song that has a concept that resonated well with the audience. The video earned several recognition and awards. It also turned out to be a huge commercial success.

7. ZZ Top – Legs [1984]

She’s got legs, she knows how to use them

The music video for ZZ Top’s “Legs” started with a beautiful young salesgirl experiencing different forms of intimidation at different stores. The Eliminators later found the salesgirl, who avenged her harassment and handed her over to ZZ Top.

The other part of the video that would certainly get a glimpse of your attention was the new 1933 Ford. Rightly so, the video was the third of the eliminator series that introduced the vehicle. The video earned a lot of recognition for its movie-like storyline.

6. Nirvana — Smells Like Teen Spirit [1991]

With the lights out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us

Even three decades since Samuel Bayer directed this beauty, the music video for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” still surpassed the 1 billion views on YouTube. With this number surpassed, this song is the second from the 1990s to exceed such a notable landmark. The video began with a school concert that ends in chaos. The cheerleaders in the video displayed the symbols of anarchy while disaffected teens sat on the bleachers. Though the video earned a lot of criticism for the violent depiction, a soundstage in California staged this music video. Beyond the criticisms, critics praised this video as some of the best music videos of the 1990s.

5. Madonna – Vogue [1990]

Look around, everywhere you turn is heartache
It’s everywhere that you go
You try everything you can to escape
The pain of life that you know

Would you even argue that the most relevant female artist in the 1990s was Madonna? David Fincher, the best video director of the 1990s, directed the music video for “Vogue”.

With a combination of intelligence and creativity, Fincher and Madonna decided to keep the video simple using a large casting call where hundreds of dancers came to highlight their dance steps. The video starts by displaying beautiful pieces of art. Later, people recognized the artwork as the recreation of the photos that Horst P. First, a renowned photographer at the time, had taken.

The music video did not just make “vogueing” the trending dance at the time; it also announced Madonna as the industry’s queen of fashion. Highlighting her controversial sheer lace blouse, her “cone bra,” and other outfits that made the song more attractive to her audience. Fincher and Madonna produced what Rolling Stone Magazine records as the second most outstanding music video of all time. The music video was not even the only piece of quality displayed by the pop icon. Her music would end up becoming an inspiration for modern pop stars.

4. Michael and Janet Jackson – Scream [1995]

Tired of injustice
Tired of the schemes
Lies are disgusted
So what does it mean

There are few scenes of a music video that are more attractive than watching Michael and Janet Jackson dance in the same video. The Jacksons showed the energy, the style, and the passion. Beyond that, the video earned a place in the Guinness book of records as the most expensive music video ever.

Unlike Jackson’s other videos, Mark Romanek was saddled with the responsibility of supplying an idea for the video. Mark originally conceived the idea of Janet and Michael Jackson on a large spacecraft moving away from earth while other events in the video happened. Though Jackson never credited Mark with the idea, the pop king believed the success was his team’s collaborative effort. However, it was a video that supplied some of the most exciting scenes of the 1990s.

3. Guns N’ Roses — November Rain [1992]

So if you want to love me
Then darlin’ don’t refrain
Or I’ll just end up walkin’
In the cold November rain

At the time of its release, Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain” was the most expensive music video ever made. However, the final product made every cent of the cost well worth it.

Starting with Rose getting married to his then-girlfriend in an elaborate wedding, the song ends with Rose mourning her departure. Since Rose wanted a scenic view that was only plausible in New Mexico, the production team transported the church used for this wedding to the video shoot. The relocation of the filming set further compounded the cost invested in the preparation for this video.

November rain became the first video made before YouTube to surpass one billion views and the first from 1990 to reach one billion views on YouTube. For all the efforts and resources, the music video showed it takes a lot to produce the best.

2. Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer [1986]

You could have a steam train
If you’d just lay down your tracks
You could have an aeroplane flying
If you bring your blue sky back

Peter Gabriel provided everything you need with the video for “Sledgehammer”. Gabriel was well ahead of his time. His use of animations was not something new to music videos, nor was his colorful video, but few can easily ignore the combination.

Rolling Stone Magazine voted this music video as the best video of all time in 1993. Beyond this, the video has earned Peter Gabriel lots of recognition, including a record number of MTV awards, Grammy, and other awards.

1. Michael Jackson – Thriller [1983]

You try to scream
But terror takes the sound before you make it
You start to freeze
As horror looks you right between the eyes

Ratings are subjective, but when all notable music video broadcasters, national dailies, and entertainment stations agree on a particular video as the best, it ticked all boxes. “Thriller” was the video that cemented Michael Jackson’s place as the king of pop.

In a red jacket and jeans, standing at the palace theater entrance which bears the title “Thriller.” The scenes that follow, the campy horror fest and a group of dancing zombies, displaying the dance steps which later became a cliché of the pop icon. The 14-minute video exceeded the traditional time for music videos that were common around the time. Even at that, “Thriller” earned a place in the National Film Registry in 2009, becoming the first music video to earn a place in the National Film Registry.

Acceptance, recognition, and commercial success were not on Michael Jackson’s mind when he wanted to come up with the video. The pop icon just wanted to be turned into a monster for fun. It was the fun he decided to pursue that gave birth to the best music video of all time.

“Thriller” received recognition from MTV, Grammy, and other notable awards. To music video director Brian Grant, “Thriller” was the video that made music videos a proper industry. There was no doubt Michael Jackson left a massive space in the music industry after his demise. You could argue no one, to date, fills his shoes.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, ratings are often subjective. However, it is difficult to argue that the list of songs on this list would not make any list of top music videos created in the 1990s. The directors and the artists remained popular even among millennials who watched the music videos on YouTube.


Author: Chris Ingledue 

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Bio: I am the founder and owner of Wheeljack’s Lab pop Culture and Toy Shop. My vision has always been to reunite customers with their favorite childhood toys and pop culture, triggering fond memories, and reigniting their imaginations. Every day, I work in the “lab” where it’s Christmas 365 days a year. I scour the internet, like when we had the Sears Catalog of yesteryear, for the next great treasure. Then, I await the arrival of the postman as if he were Santa Claus himself and helping collectors worldwide with their own versions of Christmas. Every day as a vintage toy buyer is an absolute joy!

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