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The 20 best music videos of the '80s

Jennifer Van Evra

When the '80s hit, so did the relatively new phenomenon of the music video. As the form proliferated, so did the TV networks.

MTV was launched in 1981, MuchMusic launched a few years later in 1984, and suddenly, bands had to not only make great music, but they had to create unforgettable visuals, too.

So what are some of the very best clips from that fledgling era? The ones that have survived three decades? Here are 20 of the most memorable, starting with 10 Canadian, then 10 international. Scroll through the list below. 

Artist: Blue Peter
Track: "Don't Walk Past"
Year: 1983

Highlights: Multiple martinis, a typewriter (what is that again?), a checkerboard floor, artsy lighting, mysterious authorities, David Byrne-like dancing.

Did you know? The video was once number 85 on a MuchMusic list of top videos of the century.

Artist: Corey Hart
Track: "Sunglasses at Night"
Year: 1983

Highlights: Fashion police, a phone booth (what is that again?), big hair, lots of '80s shades.

Did you know? CBC host Laurie Brown plays the prison guard who eventually sets Hart free.

Artist: Men Without Hats
Track: "The Safety Dance"
Year: 1983

Highlights: Waist-high fields of grass, people dancing around a Maypole, Morris men, a Punch and Judy show, one of Canada's only attempts at starting a dance craze.

Did you know? The song was reportedly lead singer Ivan Doroschuk's protest after getting kicked out of a bar for "pogoing" — the new wave dance that eventually morphed into moshing, and was at first considered dangerous.

Artist: Neil Young
Track: "Wonderin'"
Year: 1983

Highlights: Young singing vintage pop in the middle of the new wave era, vintage cars, vintage home-video style, backup singers in pink suits, Young smiling multiple times.

Did you know? The song comes from Young's shortest album ever, Everybody's Rockin', which clocks in at just 25 minutes.

Artist: Images in Vogue
Track: "Lust for Love"
Year: 1983

Highlights: A real live tarantula, a singer singing in a morgue, a court case, it's shot in black and white, the weirdest ending kiss ever.

Did you know? "Lust For Love" was Images in Vogue's first Top 40 hit, and the Vancouver band's video was produced by Doug Bennett of Doug and the Slugs, know for their hit "Makin' It Work."

Artist: Gowan
Track: "A Criminal Mind"
Year: 1985

Highlights: Comic book styling, classic crime tale, hilarious torture machine, people coated in mysterious thick paste.

Did you know? The Juno-winning video was produced by Rob Quartly, who also made videos for Corey Hart, Platinum Blonde and Rush.

Artist: Maestro Fresh Wes
Track: "Let Your Backbone Slide"
Year: 1989

Highlights: Dancing, Maestro as classical composer, more dancing, '80s hip-hop duds, more dancing, '80s graffiti backdrops, more dancing, odd group photo/video at the end.

Did you know? The video was shot at a Toronto nightclub, and in the first few seconds CBC News anchor Dwight Drummond plays the role of a cameraman.

Artist: The Box
Track: "L'Affaire Dumoutier (Say to Me)"
Year: 1985

Highlights: Another crime story (what's with Canadian '80s videos and court drama?), tightrope walking on a highway, amnesia, a literal downward spiral.

Did you know? The band was formed in 1981 by Jean-Marc Pisapia, who was an early member of Men Without Hats. Pisapia's brother Guy also joined the band on keyboards.

Artist: Platinum Blonde
Track: "Doesn't Really Matter"
Year: 1984

Highlights: Slamming doors, flying objects, multiple projection surfaces, great dresses, exceptional hair.

Did you know? This stark-white video landed a Juno nom for best video, but lost to "Sunglasses at Night."

Artist: Dalbello
Track: "Gonna Get Close To You"
Year: 1984

Highlights: Fatal Attraction and Rear Windowrolled into one video, a piano on its side, awesome elevator shots, hair that goes nuclear.

Did you know? From 2002 to 2008, Dalbello's voice was heard introducing CBC News anchor Peter Mansbridge on The National, and it was also featured on the theme song for the first three seasons of Degrassi: The Next Generation.

Artist: A-ha
Track: "Take On Me"
Year: 1985

Highlights: Mix of animated pencil sketches and live action, an afternoon at a café that turns very exciting, police chase, twist at the end.

Did you know? The band reached number one on the Billboard charts in October 1985, due in large part to this video, which went into heavy rotation on music video channels and landed six honours at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards. 

Artist: Michael Jackson
Track: "Thriller"
Year: 1983

Highlights: A terrible date night, ghouls, Vincent Price, one of the most enduring dance routines of all time.

Did you know? The 13-minute video was directed by famed filmmaker John Landis, and was, at over $500,000, the most expensive music video ever made. The woman in the video was Playboy Playmate Ola Ray. Dance legend Fred Astaire also reportedly visited the set.

Artist: Kate Bush
Track: "Cloudbusting"
Year: 1985

Highlights: Canadian actor Donald Sutherland, weird science, a really cool machine that makes rain, triumph of the little guy over the skeptics.

Did you know? Bush was a huge fan of Terry Gilliam's film Brazil (also a favourite of Arcade Fire's Win Butler), and recruited the famed filmmaker to help create a storyboard and neutral colour palette. Gilliam's cameraman Julian Doyle directed and, without enough notice to get the correct work permits in place, Sutherland ended up doing the shoot for free.

Artist: David Bowie
Track: "Ashes to Ashes"
Year: 1980

Highlights: The solarized colour and black and white, David Bowie in Pierrot costume, a beach, water, a bulldozer, various religious figures.

Did you know? The other actors in the video were members of the London Blitz scene, and were only asked the night before to join the shoot. They were also told to choose their own costumes. And that famous moment when the priest bends down? According to Steve Strange, who played the character, it was not at all part of the act; he was just keeping his robe from getting caught up in the bulldozer.

Artist: Peter Gabriel
Track: "Sledgehammer"
Year: 1986

Highlights: Painstaking stop-motion animation, dancing fruit and vegetables, sperm, eggs, trains, bumper cars, a roller coaster, dancing chickens, a head made of ice.

Did you know? Peter Gabriel allowed himself to lie under a sheet of glass for 16 hours while the video was shot, one frame at a time. And who created the claymation and animation? Aardman Animations, who went on to create Wallace and Gromit.

Artist: Tears for Fears
Track: "Pale Shelter"
Year: 1983

Highlights: Chaotic juxtapositions, live alligators, a giant iron on an airplane runway, paper airplanes.

Did you know? The video was directed by Steve Barron, who also directed the videos for "Take On Me" and "Billy Jean," as well as the filmsTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Coneheads. During the paper airplane scene, band member Roland Orzabal gets a plane right in the eye.

Artist: Talking Heads
Track: "And She Was"
Year: 1985

Highlights: Colourful animation, great David Byrne appearances, a woman floating over her suburban existence.

Did you know? The video was directed by Jim Blashfield, who went on to direct videos for Paul Simon, Tears for Fears, Michael Jackson and even Weird Al Yankovic — and went on to win awards at Cannes, the Grammys and the MTV Video Awards. But when he directed this video, he was a relative unknown, and was amazed when Byrne called him after Blashfield's girlfriend secretly sent a sample of his work.

Artist: Art of Noise
Track: "Close (To the Edit)"
Year: 1984

Highlights: Little girl in punk garb ordering three men to smash instruments, weird jarring movements, power tools.

Did you know? The video was reportedlybanned in New Zealand because it was deemed to encourage violence toward children. Said keyboardist Anne Dudley, "Nothing could have been further from our minds." The video also got a coveted two thumbs up from Beavis and Butt-head.

Artist: Bonnie Tyler
Track: "Total Eclipse of the Heart"
Year: 1983

Highlights: Over-the-top theatricality, fencing, football, swimming, old-school greasers, boys with glowing eyes, sumo dancers, enormous amounts of wind.

Did you know? The song was Billboard's number six song of the year for 1983, and one of the biggest ever by a Welsh artist. The video was shot at Holloway Sanitorium in London, known for its gothic architecture.

Artist: R.E.M.
Track: "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)"
Year: 1987

Highlights: Chaos of the song captured in a young skateboarder rifling through the relics of a crumbling farmhouse, artful cinematography, cool artifacts, distant cows.

Did you know? The video's director, James Herbert, was one of R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe's art professors at the University of Georgia.