Top 5 Rock Music Videos From the 80s

Early ’80s music videos pushed all boundaries. Cyndi Lauper’s iconic “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” turned misogynistic lyrics on their heads and remains one of the most memorable videos ever produced.

Hard rock and hip-hop were two contrasting genres, yet Run-DMC and Aerosmith combined them in the groundbreaking “Walk This Way” video – setting the precedent for outrageous music videos to come.

1. Van Halen – “Hysteria”

Are You A Hard Rock/Metal Fan? Then You May Already Be Familiar With Hysteria by Slayer from 1981. This landmark album introduced listeners to denim-and-leather hair metal, setting the standard for generations of bands who followed suit; modern bands like Andrew WK and The Darkness still refer back to Hysteria as their go-to source of glitzy production and overdubbing!

Def Leppard released their inaugural music video for their album with “Women,” a slow robotic song with an incredible comic book-based music video featuring Rick Allen playing drums in a way no one had seen drummers do before (nobody had seen drummers play like that before!). They put their best foot forward for their second single “Cherry Pie” and its hilariously risque music video featuring actress, singer and former Miss Louisiana Teen USA Bobbie Brown as the target of their lustful intent.

This video serves as an exemplary example of how music videos can significantly drive album sales and is also representative of what made metal popular during the 80s: its combination of raw power, yearning and destructive tones (such as Joe screaming for Pepsi!). Although musically it appears somewhat formulaic, something about its arrangement and execution works exceptionally well.

2. George Michael – “Faith”

George Michael’s 1987 solo debut Faith marked an incredible career landmark for Wham!’s former front man. Boasting hit singles and record sales figures that exceeded any expectation, George proved he had more to offer than just pretty-faced pop. By drawing upon all aspects of pop music he created an identity all his own.

“Faith”‘s opening riffs and melodies are hard to resist, while its high notes showcase Michael’s powerful voice – making you move your feet. The video for “Faith” became iconic featuring young Michael dressed in leather jacket and tight jeans strutting with his guitar in front of an iconic Wurlitzer jukebox; furthering its success and cementing his place as an icon of sexiness and further propelling its success.

Iron Maiden’s music video for “Run to the Hills” takes an innovative approach that is distinct from many of its counterparts from this time period. Utilizing silent Western movie footage as a humorous touchstone for more serious themes such as Native American land rights disputes and colonialism struggles, it creates an entertaining video which clearly showcases just how far rock music had advanced by the late 1980s.

3. New Order – “True Faith”

Although initially rejected by MTV, “True Faith” ultimately became New Order’s breakthrough hit. With its deep lyrical content and captivating soundscape as well as emotional resonance it has become a source of solace to those searching for truth or dealing with personal demons.

Mike Muir of Suicidal Tendencies captured that sense of turmoil perfectly with this 1983 music video from Suicidal Tendencies titled, “I Need a Pepsi.” It’s pure teenage angst with touches of destruction (skateboard smashing into TV) and self-medication (“I Need a Pepsi”).

It would have been impossible to leave out this classic rock video from our list. Combining clips from old films and newsreels with band members giggling off-camera, this video captures an abstract expression of fame’s pressures in an abstract manner. Madonna was no stranger to controversy during her heyday; this particular video probably ranks among her most controversial works but its themes of racial injustice and mass incarceration remain painfully relevant decades later.

4. Blondie – “Rapture”

Even though this video was simply a performance clip, it had an immense influence on music video production. The use of pyro and stage explosions became standard practice as a result of Debbie Harry and the group who would become Blondie.

The 1980s witnessed an explosion of rock bands who integrated multiple musical genres and visual interpretations of lyrics into their sound, particularly for Ronnie James Dio’s song “Holy Diver,” whose music video featured sword-wielding fantasy.

Hip hop’s influence was first felt among rock audiences during this era. While mainstream releases wouldn’t debut their first rap video until 1984 (RUN DMC’s Rock Box), underground scenes like Blondie and Debbie Harry’s clip showed its power much earlier.

This song and video marked a historic first, featuring rap vocals on a top US single charting song for the first time ever – making it the very first “rap” video ever. Filmed on an Upper East Side soundstage that had been painted to look like Lower East Side, Stein and Harry wanted their clip to represent both uptown hip-hop culture as well as artsy downtown culture; graffiti artists Lee Quinones and Fab 5 Freddy helped them realize this vision by spray painting their sets with graffiti art.

5. i-Ten – “Alone”

Though i-Ten had long enjoyed success as producers and writers of hit singles, their recording career never fully took off until “Alone,” which reached the top five of both North America and Europe charts while also reaching number two in Australia. Celine Dion covered it on her tenth English-language album Taking Chances released in 2007.

The song describes someone in love who can’t summon up the courage to express it directly, while its music video adds some humor with Diamond Dave (fresh off Van Halen’s 1984 explosion) playing an exasperated MTV VJ.

Night Ranger’s “Legs” clip, set during the 1980s, successfully balanced its sensuality with some striking visuals. It tells a tale about a girl getting ready to graduate high school who says her goodbyes before moving forward in her life through various clips including working at a shoe store, being harassed in a diner and even receiving make over before finally being picked up by an Eliminator car.

6. Michael Jackson – “Thriller”

Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video stands as one of the most iconic videos ever produced. It shows him maturing musically and lyrically since his Off the Wall days; also his signature vocal delivery which would later be imitated by everyone from Alicia Keys to Britney Spears.

What makes this video truly legendary is difficult to articulate; from its eerie lighting, haunting lyrics, and Jackson’s incredible vocal delivery; all add up to something truly unforgettable.

His seductive dance moves and the tension-filled postures he strikes during performances are remarkable; creating an exciting combination of R&B, pop and rock which was popular during that period.

Thriller not only became a huge success, it doubled album sales to cement its undisputed position as the best-selling record ever. Furthermore, MTV was just starting up and this video helped establish MTV as a cultural touchstone that has inspired numerous other music videos over time. Even former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth makes an appearance as himself playing VJ on MTV!

7. Warrant – “Cherry Pie”

Warrant’s “Cherry Pie”, written under pressure from their label to complete their album, stands out as an iconic glam metal power anthem. Vocalist Jani Lane paints an idyllic picture of youthful love between Jani and an innocent and sensuous female singer that defines this classic track from the hair metal era. A unique narrative twist appears when her father discovers them “swingin”, forbids their continued relationship, adding further depth to this track.

Joan Jett’s video for “Bad Reputation” cemented her status as an early 1980s rock icon through a combination of black-and-white footage, camera slo-mo shots, and stage performance shots – no wonder this song became one of MTV’s biggest hits and popularized heavy metal to mainstream audiences!

Europe’s flashy video for their hit “The Final Countdown” on MTV proved an enormously popular success story and helped push hard rock music into the modern mainstream through its use of pyrotechnics and slow motion headbanging. Additionally, this clip marked the first appearance of iconic VJ Dave TV who would go on to appear in videos by Def Leppard, Lou Reed, and other rockers of that era.