Remember when MTV used to play music videos religiously because, hey, that was the point of the entire channel? Well, “Music Television” is now more focused on making crappy shows. Gone are the times when you would just leave your television on that channel and just let them show you new music videos.
I still think a good music video is a good way for artists to get their songs out there into the public consciousness since, if the accompanying video is extremely well made, they could have a hit tune on their hands… even if the song is just so-so. There are a good number of songs which became huge hits because their music videos were fun to watch.
Here are five examples of music videos that are much better than the song itself. Now, I’m not saying that these songs are terrible. However, I don’t think they would’ve been the smash hits they were if it weren’t for the accompanying music video.
Take on Me by A-ha
There’s nothing more 80’s sounding than Norwegian synthpop group A-ha’s Take on Me. With its pulse pounding synth notes, an unforgettable earworm of a riff, an unbelievably piecing falsetto performance by lead singer Morten Harket and extremely catchy rhythm, it’s totally possible the song would’ve become a big hit without the music video. But there’s no doubt in my mind that, whenever anyone hears this song, their minds immediately drift to the music video which, to be fair, was incredibly groundbreaking at the time and still looks great even today.
The video makes full use of a technique called rotoscoping, which basically has someone create animation cells by tracing over live footage frame by frame. The result is Take on Me’s incredible visual design where the mix between live action and rotoscoped animation blends perfectly with each other. Oh, and, unlike most music videos today, it’s not just the band singing as there’s actually a story where a girl is transported into a pencil sketch comic book and falls in love with the protagonist. The protagonist, played by Harket is being chased by bad guys and helps the girl flee into the real world. Eventually the hero also manages to escape into the real world where they live happily ever after… until the “sequel.”
Yep, that’s right. In a-ha’s follow up single, The Sun Always Shines on TV, the cartoon hero starts fading back into the comic book world and runs away from his true love. The more you know!
Opposites Attract by Paula Abdul with MC Scat Kat
Before J-Lo was Jenny from the Block and way before Beyonce was a part of Destiny’s Child, there was Paula Abdul. Oh, she was extremely popular in the early 90’s. She was even positioned to become the top pop star over Janet Jackson at the time. So, when Janet Jackson released Black Cat, Paula Abdul had to respond. So, she created MC Scat Kat to sing on her song Opposites Attract.
Okay, that’s probably not how things went… but it makes for a great story, no?
Anyway, Opposites Attract is a catchy enough song. It has a memorable enough hook and an okay beat. But what many people remember about the song is seeing Paula Abdul dancing with MC Scat Kat in the music video. You can say that the music video was capitalizing on the success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? which also mixed live action with cartoons. But, hey, it worked really well! Besides, it’s kind of hard to forget watching a real live woman singing and dancing with a cartoon feline.
While Paula Abdul did reach some level of success, the same can’t be said for MC Scat Kat sadly. He formed a group and released his self titled album, The Adventures of MC Skat Kat and the Stray Mob, an album that’s just littered with cat puns upon cat puns. The only hit to come from this is Skat Strut.
Sadly, after his album bombed, MC Scat Kat was found in his hotel room, dead from an apparent overdose from a combination of coke and kitty litter. Okay. Not sure if that’s true or not… but it’s sound totally believable, right?
Here It Goes Again by OK Go
Actually, I could name a whole number of songs from OK Go for this post. But let’s just go with their first real viral video, Here It Goes Again AKA The Treadmill Song.
Here It Goes Again is a fun enough song. It’s upbeat and catchy. It’s got a nice beat as well. But it does sound a lot like the kind of songs that’s kind of hard to distinguish from the other songs that came out during that time period. It was honestly the music video that made Here It Goes Again the sensation it became. And, honestly, it’s notoriety is well deserved because it’s one hell of an entertaining video!
There’s just something magical about the music video. It’s actually well choreographed almost to a fault. It’s also actually deceptively easy to copy the video as all you need are eight treadmills and four guys willing to rehearse the entire sequence from start to finish. The silliness of the video also perfectly suits the song perfectly. But the most amazing thing is that it’s just one continuous shot. There aren’t any cuts or any kind and it actually took OK Go to perform the entire video seventeen tries to get it right. Imagine how frustrating it must have been for them by their fifteenth take!
Virtual Insanity by Jamiroquai
When it comes to eye catching music videos, it’s hard to top Jamiraquai’s Virtual Insanity. The song itself is pretty smooth and its smoothness is only punctuated by lead singer Jay Kay’s dance moves. While the song is pretty good, the thing that made Virtual Insanity stand out is its incredible music video where Jay Kay would be doing his funky dancing in a room with an apparently moving floor and avoiding all the furniture. It’s a definitely eye catching visual and its something that hasn’t been done before.
Now, the weird thing about the video is that most people think that they created a set with a large moving floor, which is what it looks like in the music video. In actuality, according to the making of video, it was the entire room that was moving and the floor remained stationary!
Essentially, they created a room that had the walls on wheels and strapped to a huge crane like device and with the camera affixed facing “inside” the room. So, while Jamiraquai’s Jay Kay is dancing, you think he’s avoiding the furniture because it’s moving all over the place. But actually, the chairs and he aren’t the ones that are moving and, since the walls and the camera are the one’s that are floating all over the place, it gives the illusion of a rolling floor. Now, that’s really clever! The video itself was amazing when it made to think they built this elaborate set with a huge moving floor. It’s much easier to admire the ingenuity of the simple visual special effect.
Money for Nothing by Dire Straits
My, computers have advanced a whole lot since the 80’s, haven’t they? If you need proof, just take a look at what “high-tech” graphics looked like in Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing music video.
I’m not sure if you can call Dire Straits a one hit wonder. The group was formed way back in 1977 but never received mainstream success until the release of Money for Nothing in 1985. A lot of the song’s success is probably from the groundbreaking use of computer graphics in the music video. The song itself had the making of a hit as it did have a great guitar riff as well as being controversial at the time due to that one homophobic slur in the second verse. However, it’s definitely the music video that caught people’s attention.
This was made during the birth of MTV and Dire Straits definitely made a striking video with the use of 3-D models to depict the blue collar workers who are singing praises for how rock stars don’t do much to make lots of money and fame. While the computer graphics look terrible and incredibly primitive by today’s standards, the graphics in Money for Nothing was really spectacular for the time. It certainly caught the attention of MTV viewers because it was just so different from the other music videos of the time.
On a side note, remember when you would actually tune in to MTV to watch music videos instead of YouTube or other streaming sites? Crazy, huh?
BONUS: Weapon of Choice Fatboy Slim
I’m just including Fatboy Slim’s Weapon of Choice here because, well, besides the fact that I love the song, just watching Christopher Walken dancing and floating around an empty hotel is surrealism at its best!
By the way, wow! Christopher Walken sure can dance, can’t he? He’s got them fancy moves!
What are some other songs that benefited from having a great music video? Let me know in the comments section below!