The 20 Best Music Videos of All Time

Patrick Daughters is one of our top five favourite directors.

He’s made music videos for Depeche Mode, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beck, Liars, Feist, Grizzly Bear, No Age, Interpol and Bright Eyes among others, and he is very, very, very good at what he does. All the way back in Issue 38 of Monster Children we asked Patrick to give us his 20 favourite music videos of all time, and here’s what he went with.

Johnny Cash – Hurt, directed by Mark Romanek

Unassailably good. The shots of Johnny Cash and June Carter, their house, the museum, are all perfectly sombre and gothic and beautiful. It’s the old footage of Johnny that really makes the video sing. These scenes, especially when his dialogue plays over the song, interrupt the trance of the perfect visual style of the new footage. From there the whole video elegantly bends the knee to a much bigger idea—the valediction of a great life.

Michael Jackson – Thriller, directed by John Landis

This is the first video I ever saw. I remember being terrified by it and yet remembering that it was truly awesome even as I lay in bed at night unable to sleep. A friend of mine had it on Betamax so we would watch it when my parents and I went over there for dinner. He wasn’t really my friend but the son of my parents’ friends. He was kind of highly strung and would throw tantrums. Maybe that’s how he ended up with a copy of the “Thriller” video on Betamax.

Yes – Owner of a Lonely Heart, directed by Storm Thorgerson

This is the second video that semi-traumatized me. I would imagine snakes crawling over my face as I went to sleep.  Something about the nightmarish animal symbolism and the bleak Kafka-esque storyline really stuck with me at age 8.

Aha – Take On Me, directed by Steve Barron

I was about 9 when this one came out and I saw it on Casey Kasem’s show on Sunday morning. I was into comic books so I really dug the animation style. The transitions at the end of the video between the animated world and the real photographed world were really impressive. I wished I looked like the singer—the animated version of him, not the real one.

Van Halen – Hot for Teacher, directed by Pete Angelus and David Lee Roth

This video reminds me of a particular kind of carefree summertime fun that I associate with Southern California in the ‘80s. The teacher-fantasy story and the level of wit really spoke to the 9-year old/present-day me.

Guns N’ Roses – November Rain, directed by Andy Morahan

I never wanted to like Guns N’ Roses but this video really stuck with me.  I’ll never forget the scene at the altar where Slash forgets the wedding ring and the other band member saves his butt and then Slash steps outside the church and does a guitar solo.  Plus the scene where the wedding cake gets knocked over in the chaos of the storm at the reception was so over-the-top opulent and pretty in slow motion.

Metallica – One, directed by Bill Pope and Michael Salomon

I loved Metallica when I was in junior high school. This was their first music video. The use of existing footage and the dialogue playing over the music are so effective. I can’t listen to the song without the image of a masked amputee nodding frantically in total futility. For a video to be able to condition that kind of dark, claustrophobic response in a listener is really wonderful.

Lionel Richie – Hello, directed by Bob Giraldi

The first few times I saw this video it was a love/hate experience.  I thought it was definitely bad but there was something about it I found really appealing.  Much later on, in the ‘90s, I realized this was one of my first brushes with irony.

Beastie Boys – Sabotage, directed by Spike Jonze

When we first got cable, I stayed up all night hoping they would play “Creep” by Radiohead so I could record it. I started to pay attention to the director’s name at the bottom of the screen when MTV would flash the credits on at the beginning and end. I started to recognize the name Mark Romanek because his videos were always really cool and pretty and tip-top professional. Then I saw Weezer’s “The Sweater Song” and remember thinking, I should remember the name Spike Jonze.  Then “Sabotage” comes out and you realize he’s like the Peter Pan of music videos—someone you love to follow on whatever journey.

Radiohead – Karma Police, directed by Jonathan Glazer

I don’t know where to begin with this one. It’s like if Stanley Kubrick made a video. I think I’ve ended up ripping this video off on countless occasions in ways big and small. That’s because it’s so good and looms so large that it always pops in when you’re trying to think of something else. You try to run away but it keeps pulling you back toward it.

Gould meets McLaren – Glenn Gould plays Bach Fugue No. 14 in F Sharp Minor, directed by Norman McLaren

This was the first Norman McLaren film I saw. It’s essentially a music video for a Bach piano solo. Like the music, it’s beautiful math: spare and hypnotic.

Chemical Brothers – Let Forever Be, directed by Michel Gondry

You could make half this list Michel Gondry videos and still have plenty of great ones to spare. This one has the most dazzling transitions of any music video, or any piece of media for that matter. Clever transitions have become a genre unto themselves in videos and commercials, and Gondry is the master of it. This video takes it further than any before or since.

Replacements – Bastards of Young

I really like videos that flirt with being boring. When it comes to flirting with being boring, this one’s like the drunk old guy at the bar that slurs his speech and leans in too close while speaking and generally doesn’t respect other people’s boundaries but somehow never ends up leaving the bar alone. There is no director credited but I think maybe Randy Skinner did it.

The Darkness – I Believe in a Thing Called Love (original version), directed by Alex Smith

This video is so inspiring. I never understood why they made another one. They should show this to students in music video school.

Bonnie Prince Billy – No More Workhorse Blues, directed by Harmony Korine

I really like the racquetball scene in this video. Really set the bar for all future racquetball scenes. The whole video is one compelling image after another—ridiculous and disturbing and mundane things all aquiver and hauntingly beautiful.

The Knife – Pass This On, directed by Johan Renck

Dustin Hoffman is a great actor. I just saw Tootsie for the first time and it was so disappointing. I guess when you take an idea that is challenging for its time and turn it into a mainstream success you always end up with this kind of balmy subversiveness.

New Order – Perfect Kiss, directed by Jonathan Demme

This is another great video that is so simple and honest and restrained, it flirts with being boring. It’s shot like an ensemble scene in a film. In the end, what comes through is a really honest video that shows the song as a dialogue between the band members. He’s not selling you an idea or a look or attitude. Something very subtle and special.

Aphex Twin – Windowlicker, directed by Chris Cunningham

You watch this video and think, boy I’d like to go camping with this guy—I bet he tells one helluva good ghost story with a flashlight under his chin.

Beck – Lost Cause, directed by Garth Jennings

Hammer and Tongs have done so many classics it’s hard to choose just one. I wanted to include “Imitation of Life” and “Pumping on Your Stereo” too, but I ran out of room. I like this Beck video because it’s the most beautiful wind-it-up and let-it-go video. The camera is just documenting a piece of sculpture/performance but when you slow it down and set it to the music it becomes sublime.

Dave Lombardo and Steve Tucker – Cremaster 2 ‘Johnny Cash’ scene, directed by Matthew Barney

This one I saw at SF MOMA in a blue-carpeted room, sitting on sperm-colored bleachers, surrounded by memorabilia from the film. In other words, I watched the film inside its own super-expensive merch shop. The film was another case of one compelling thing after the next. This scene is unforgettable. I have a profound respect/envy for what he’s able to do/get away with.

Secure yourself a bit of vintage, get MC 38 here.

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