Michael Jackson (1983)
Directed by John Landis (The Blues Brothers) and filmed for a then-staggering budget of $500,000, Jackson’s 14-minute opus saw the King of Pop morph into a werewolf and compel a dancing army of the undead. It sold 9 million retail copies (a Guinness World Record) and raised the bar on artists’ commitment to music videos — elevating them from chintzy promotional items to genuine works of stand-alone art.
”Hungry Like the Wolf”
Duran Duran (1982)
All the elements of a major cinematic event — Intrigue! Exotic locales! Some type of oblique Romancing the Stone-meets-Indiana Jones vision quest! — crammed into three and a half small-screen minutes. No wonder the Sri Lanka-set clip went into heavy rotation on MTV and went on to win the first-ever Grammy for Short Form Video.
”Hot for Teacher”
Van Halen (1984)
With little more than a bikini-clad woman, some good old-fashioned teenage rebellion, and one of the most awkward dance sequences ever captured on film, Van Halen managed to get across the message that every rock band would try to sell for the next decade: If you listen to us, your life will be way more awesome.
”Take On Me”
By 1985, plenty of bands had experimented with animation in their videos, but Norway’s a-ha managed to imbue the incredibly kinetic visual trickery (which used the power of rotoscoping) with a surprisingly effective narrative, keeping the images on screen as frothy as the tune underneath.
The relatively chaste ”Material Girl” wasn’t as censor-panicking as Ms. Ciccone’s too-hot-for-TV clips ”Like a Prayer” and ”Justify My Love.” But in channeling Marilyn Monroe, Madonna planted the seeds for the copious character reshuffling that defined her latter-day career and inspired countless pop idols to follow her shape-shifting example.