Sunday, October 12, 2014

Is This the Most Iconic Music Video of All Time?

I happened to catch part of a music video recently that did a different kind of spin on the image from a popular 1980s music video.  That reminded me of how many times those images had been repeated in videos over the years.

Now “iconic” means different things to different people.  Those old enough to remember when Mtv actually stood for “music television” might be thinking Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer.  It certainly was played a ton of times and it wouldn’t surprise me if it holds the record for most times played on Mtv.  While the claymation aspect of it was entertaining, other than Gabriel’s next video I don’t think too many other people have copied the look of it. (Weird Al Yankovic did do the train around the head bit in his Lady Gaga parody “Perform this Way”.)

No, my pick for the most iconic music video of all time is Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love.  The image of models in identical makeup and outfits as the backing band was very popular and immediately recognizable as coming from this video.  Over the years several other artists have re-used this imagery in their own music videos.  Let’s take a look at them.

First, here’s the one that started it all: Addicted to Love by Robert Palmer from 1986.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the pale face and sharply defined lipstick look of the models was itself inspired by the artwork of Patrick Nagel, who was popular at the time.

Palmer followed up Addicted to Love with I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On (which I could not find the video of on Youtube – so much for the reputation of having every music video ever made on there.)

Next he really upped the ante with Simply Irresistible off his next album in 1988.

Then he had some fun with the image in his animated music video Change His Ways.

You might be thinking “it’s just one person copying himself over and over.  How is that iconic?”  Well, by the end of the 1980s Weird Al Yankovic had a movie titled UHF and the music video of the title song included parodies of some popular 80s video images, including Palmer and the models.

Then the next year Michelle Shocked put a female spin on things with male models in her video On the Greener Side.  Once again I couldn’t find this on Youtube.  And I couldn’t embed the video from the site I found it at, so here is a link to it so that you can watch it.

After almost a ten year lull Shania Twain came out with her music video for Man! I Feel Like a Woman! and she also did the male model spin on things.  She went Michelle Shocked one better by getting into the outfit and makeup for part of the video.

A few years later in 2004 Bowling for Soup released their cover version of the song 1985 and the video featured many images from 1980s music videos, including the backing members of the band in the outfits and makeup.

Finally, the video I saw recently that reminded me of all of these was Ingrid Michaelson’s Girls Chase Boys.  I find it interesting that more female artists are re-using the image than male artists (in a non-parody way, at least) because there was complaining by some women about the “objectification” of the models when the original video came out.

For the sake of completeness, Stardust’s late 90s music video for the song Sounds Better with You had a couple seconds of a music video on a TV that copied the image, but since it was such a small part of the overall music video I chose not to include it.  If you want to see it, you can find it at this link: 

Have I forgotten any?  Please let me know.

Do you disagree with my choice?  If so, what would you pick as the most iconic music video of all time?


  1. I don't know about iconic, but I think Thriller is the most important music video ever made. It demonstrated that music videos could be more than just a goofy little film. Michael Jackson put money into it and made it into a thing. Hell, he hired John Landis to direct it, and this was well after Landis had a name in Hollywood. That said, it's hard to argue with Palmer. It's immediately recognizable and instantly referable.

    To round out a top-5, probably A-Ha's Take On Me, Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer, and Ok Go's Here It Goes Again, which was one of the first definitions of a viral video.

    1. They not only got Landis off of American Werewolf in London, but I'm pretty sure they got Rick Baker to do the monster makeup, too.

      I really consider Thriller to me more a short movie that happens to have a song in part of it, than a music video. Perhaps that is splitting hairs.

      ZZ Top's videos for Sharp Dressed Man and Legs, with the custom classic car were big, as was Dire Straight's Money for Nothing with its now very rudimentary 3D animation.

  2. There's another homage and that is Michelle Shocked's On a Greener Side which also parodied Robert Palmer. I think it's debatable on whether it's the most iconic video of all-time but it is still one of the greatest. If you ask what's my top 5 favorite music videos of all-time:

    1. David Bowie-Ashes to Ashes
    2. Nine Inch Nails-Closer
    3. Duran Duran-Rio
    4. Peter Gabriel-Sledgehammer
    5. Michael Jackson-Thriller

    1. I did mention Michelle Shocked and gave a link for it. I just couldn't embed it in this post from the site it was at.

      I can't even picture the Bowie video you mentioned. I'll have to look for it sometime. I know all of the others very well.

    2. I forgot to ask - do you remember anything out of the ordinary happening when you left this comment? I did not get emails for either of the last two comments you've left. I've happened to see them because I got emails for someone else's comment and saw yours when I went to respond to theirs.

      Was there another comment you've left recently that I never responded to? I don't know how long this might have been going on.

  3. Most iconic, tough question, would require a lot of thought. Thriller has already been mentioned, so I'll go with Smooth Criminal video. Or maybe Billie Jean for the glowing pavement.
    I delved into the music of Robert Palmer about 6 months ago. His hits are good, of his lesser known songs I like Spanish Moon.

    1. Almost all the suggestions have been from the early days of videos, probably because they were played so much more often on TV then.

    2. Recent music videos, OK Go - I Won't Let You Down could be the best video of 2014(the music is average).
      Weapon Of Choice by Fatboy Slim feat. Christopher Walken is awesome(from 2001)

  4. I came across this looking for an old Michelle Shocked video. I’m speculating you were young and thinking with hormone brain. Palmer was so lame. We all hated his opportunistic attempt at becoming a legitimate artist by using sexed up woman body robot pseudo dancers. He sucked so bad. Speaking of robots…Herbie Hancock started it all…