No matter what your opinion of the movies of 1983 may be, one thing is indisputable – 1983 was the single greatest year for music videos ever, and it always, always will be, forever and ever, amen.
Of course, music videos were still very new in ’83. While labels had been creating some promotional films for their acts since they were inspired by the Beatles’ in HARD DAYS NIGHT, music videos didn’t really start capturing the public’s imagination in a big way until MTV launched on cable airwaves in August of 1981 with their debut broadcast of The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.”
But that was 1981, and even with MTV on the scene, it’s not like the radio’s Powers That Be suddenly fell over and surrendered that very moment. Back in those days the network had to secure slots with cable providers by working city to city, and in cities where they were being piped into homes the screen could go black while VJs were switching out VHS tapes. So yeah, it really wasn’t an overnight conquest.
Over the next year and a half, however, MTV added more and more markets to their distribution, adding New York and Los Angeles in – you guessed it – 1983, and the labels started to take notice.
As Les Garland, the Vice President of Programming for MTV, said in 1982, “The record companies were in serious trouble in 1980 and 1981. But they’re just now starting to have visions of coming back.”
“Yeah, thanks MTV!” all the record companies said back to him.
And as they noticed that suddenly the acts getting airtime on cable television but ignored by terrestrial radio began to rack up sales, all of the record company executives began developing artists specifically for this new medium, which meant no more uglies like Bob Dylan and Carly Simon.
No, those guys were radio stars, and the video stars were here to kill them. And so 1983 was the year that really gave birth to pop stars, and to dance music as a separate genre from the disco that had come before.
And yeah, that means that the music videos of 1983 are pretty much to blame for Skrillex, and I know everyone likes to hate on Skrillex and DJ culture these days, but I don’t care, because dancing is fun. And hating pop or dance music now because you think it’s cheesy just makes you one of those DETROIT ROCK CITY kids who mocked the disco kids, and those “rock” kids in the movie were going to see Kiss, one of the cheesiest bands of all time (although I do love “God Gave Rock and Roll to You,” because BILL & TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY is most non-heinous).
Also I should mention that 1983 was the year Kiss first appeared in public without their make up on – on MTV. So… yeah.
All of which is to say – pop music is great, and modern pop music really came alive with the music video culture of 1983. So the following top ten videos of 1983 are the forefathers to all of the great videos that came after them, and for that, we should all be in their debt.
With that out of the way, here are the Top Ten Videos of 1983, as picked by our Action Pack DJs.
10. “Little Red Corvette”
- Prince, Video Directed by Bryan Greenberg
This is a really simple video, and a perfect example of what a lot of videos were like before ’83. But if you’ve seen the terrible video for “Alphabet Street” then you know that a simple video is 100% the right way to go with Prince. Because you don’t need fancy cameras and weird green screen effects when you have Prince on a stage, because you have Prince. On a stage. And he’s PRINCE. Half of PURPLE RAIN is just Prince on a stage and that’s one of the best movies of all time.
9. “Flashdance… What a Feeling”
- Irene Cara, Video Directed by Adrian Lyne, kind of
This isn’t even a music video, but it’s important for that. The video for this Academy Award winning song from FLASHDANCE just happened to be the first video for a song from a movie that featured extensive clips from the movie. Not just clips like they have now, or like the KARATE KID II video that cuts between shots of Peter Cetera looking awesome and scenes from the movie - this video is nothing but scenes from the movie, cut to the music in a way that lets you watch all of FLASHDANCE in just three minutes and twenty seconds. That’s amazing!
- Hall & Oates, Video Directed by Mick Haggerty and C.D. Taylor
Now we’re getting into a sort of staged performance where, unlike Prince, Hall & Oates don’t feel the need to pretend they’re actually on a stage somewhere. They also didn’t really care about their videos, so the label hired some directors and the directors were like, “Cool. We’ll call our panther guy.”
We get more lighting effects, plus Hall & Oates’ direct staring into the camera while shoulder dancing and singing right at you. Also, there’s a woman who transmorphs into a panther, which meant that when you watched this video on TV as a kid you naturally assumed that they were really singing about a panther woman who literally ate men. I still think that’s what they’re trying to warn us about, and I’m glad that there are fewer reports of man-eating panther women in the 21st century than there were in the ‘80s.
And fun fact – the cat got loose on the set, and everyone had to just run away for a minute, because he apparently had two settings: super lethargic and about to eat you. They eventually found him lethargically eating a huge coaxial cable elsewhere in the building.
7. “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me”
- Culture Club, Video Directed by Julien Temple
Culture Club won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 1983, and that wasn’t only because the Grammy voters wanted to celebrate the fact that Boy George’s name helped those little kids who believed in panther women understand that grown men could have luxurious hair and fabulous make up. This video gets into some serious storytelling, and it features a Boy George on trial in what looks like the American 1950s with a jury of black people wearing black face and a British judge with one of those funny wigs. Then he remembers back to a simpler time when he sang and danced around in a ‘30s night club while wearing a super long sweatshirt, and he asks everyone if they want to hurt him, and if they really want to make him cry.
Nowadays of course the “Do you really want to hurt me?” defense is a standard in courtrooms around the world, but in 1983 that was a breakthrough legal strategy. Also, like the video for Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” this video features the words “The End” at the end of it, making it a perfect choice to end Sing-Along parties.
6. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”
- The Eurythmics, Video Directed by Chris Ashbrook
Oh shit. This is what I’m talking about. Annie Lennox looking like a badass in her suit with her short bright red hair. And early video effects that are actually used well.
Unlike Hall & Oates that spells out “Maneater = Panther Woman,” this Eurythmics video gives the viewer no real idea what the “this” is that sweet dreams are made of. We just get androgynous Annie Lennox, some cows, stand up bass players wearing elaborate masks, and that faked early 1983 typewriter computer thingy that has a TV monitor on it. And that’s all we need, because this video is everything that’s great about ’83 in one three minute clip.
This technique of singing about a “this” or “that” and then filming a video that doesn’t show what that thing is would later be copied by The Backstreet Boys in their video for “I Want It That Way” that simply features them singing to a crowd of screaming fans before boarding a private jet without ever telling us what “that way” really is.
These kinds of videos really upset Meatloaf, however, so when he called Michael Bay and asked him to direct the video for “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” he told him directly, “The thing I will not do is turn a ‘90s model into a vampire. Please make a video about that so people will stop thinking this is a song about not wanting to be anally penetrated by a chick in a strap on.”
5. “Billie Jean”
- Michael Jackson, Video Directed by Steve Barron
Yeah, 1983 was also the year Michael Jackson won all of the Grammies in the world for releasing THRILLER. And yeah, that video is on this list, too, but obviously it has to be in the number one slot.
Billie Jean was the first music video I ever saw, and as it did for so many people, it instantly changed my life. Yeah, yeah, the Moonwalk is cool, but for a little kid the sight of Michael Jackson walking on sidewalk squares that light up under his feet was AMAZING. I had no idea who Billie Jean was and why Michael was so adamant about not being her lover, but I didn’t care. This video blew my mind, and from that moment on I was hooked, as was the rest of the world. After MTV started airing this video (the first from the King of Pop), his album THRILLER went on to sell another 10 million copies.
4. “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”
- Journey, Video Directed by Tom Buckholtz
Oohhhh man. This is actually the Cheesiest Video of All Time, but it’s soooo over the top in its terrible cheesiness that it achieves a rare kind of perfection. All the members of Journey play their air instruments and take themselves so seriously while they stare into the camera doing their best impressions of actual badasses who probably work on that dock every other day of the week. A random hot chick with spikey ‘80s hair keeps walking by in the background. Steve Perry is wearing an A-frame shirt and has the best male version of Farrah Fawcett hair ever, and there’s a close up shot of two dudes singing into each other’s faces about how true love won’t desert you while that random hot chick is walking toward them from the background.
Then at the end we see the whole thing was just the dream of a girl who fell asleep listening to her Walkman. Oh shit! Didn’t see that coming! “Our concepts were so inane,” is an actual quote from producer John Diaz when talking about this video now.
“I’m at a loss to explain that video,” says Journey’s keyboardist, Cain. “I will never live down those air keyboards. No matter what else I’ve done in my career, sooner or later people find a way to ask me about the ‘Separate Ways’ video.”
But while it makes sense that MTV put it down as number 13 on its list of the 25 Worst Music Videos of All Time, I think that’s an unfair judgment. Maybe if I’d been older when it debuted and could really remember seeing it as a representation of a band that I would later enjoy telling other people they couldn’t sing songs from at karaoke bars then I would have been disappointed. But this video is such a PERFECT representation of 1983, and it was Journey’s first ever attempt at a staged video, so they should get cut some slack. The only thing Journey ever did that was better than this is the shot of Steve Perry sadly shaving off his mustache in the music video for “Faithfully.”
3. “Love is a Battlefied”
- Pat Benatar, Video Directed by Bob Giraldi
“What a Feeling” was one of the first videos to compile scenes from a movie to create a music video, but with “Love is a Battlefield” Pat Benatar became the very first pop star to add in dialogue that wasn’t already in the song as part of the storytelling in her video. That story, of course, is all about how the then 30-year-old Pat Benatar finally decides that it’s time to run away from home, so she moves to the big city to try to make it in America. While she’s there she writes to her brother about how life is hard, and one night she’s in a bar when a creeper starts trying to put the moves on one of her girlfriends. So she gathers the whole gang together and they shimmy and shake at him until her has no choice but to run away. Then the girls all dance the night away, only parting at dawn, when they each walk their own separate ways while wearing super awesome ‘80s fashion. Heartache to heartache, they stand, and we’ve stood with them all this time.
2. “Total Eclipse of the Heart”
- Bonnie Tyler, Video Directed by Russell Mulcahy
This one is the very ultimate “what were they thinking when they put this concept together?” video, and it’s just so, so, so, so, so great. It turns out that what they were thinking was, “Hey, what if Bonnie Tyler was a teacher at an all boys school, but we didn’t know that and thought she was just having this surreal experience with ninjas and fencers and shirtless young men who throw doves at the camera, then only at the end will we find out that was just her erotic dream she had about her students and it gets all creepy when one of the boys in her school gets the ‘bright eyes’ and seems to know how much she wants to hook up with all of them?” and that is the kind of story that doesn’t diminish the awesomeness of this ultra-classic video in any way.
- Michael Jackson, Video Directed by John Landis
Duh. It’s “Thriller.” Of course it’s Number One.
It has been scientifically proven in dozens of clinical studies that there will never be a music video better than this. Some proof: It’s directed by John Landis. It costars a former Playboy centerfold. There’s a voiceover from Vincent Price (and a zombie Vincent Price) and Rick Baker worked on the prosthetics and make up. Every year people all over the world come together to dance the iconic choreography (at one point we even held the world record for the most zombie dancers in one place with our Alamo event in Austin that had 8,000+ dancers on the patio at the Long Center), and it has influenced every single music video director that has come after it. If you think there will ever be a music video better than “Thriller” you need to punch yourself in the face as hard as you can.
So yeah, the music videos of 1983. I mean – seriously. Spike Jonze is great. Adam Yauch/Nathaniel Hornblower was a fucking genius. And Hype Williams is really good at getting close up shots of boobs in bikinis. But goddamn it, 1983 was a great year for music videos.
Which is why the Action Pack is MORE than happy to join in on the entire Summer of 1983 party the Alamo is throwing this year, and we will be celebrating the music videos of 1983 in all of our ‘80s dance parties throughout the month of June.
Those events will feature all of the top ten videos as well as a lot of other favorites we didn’t have room for here. Because that video for “Say Say Say” with Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney is just too good.