Why are 80s music videos so bad?

While watching a music channel (playing, predictably, ancient Christmas hits) just now, it struck me how bad the music videos of the 1980s were:

Exhibit A: Shakin’ Stevens’ Merry Christmas Everyone
Exhibit B: Wizzard’s I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day

  • Poor acting/lip-synching/performing by musicians/actors
  • Poor lighting
  • Cheap props and sets
  • Unsteady cameras
  • (etc…)

OK, I get that technology back then wasn’t all of that - but none of the above can really be explained by not having fancy computers. The production values of videos from this era really sucked, yet these songs were mainstream commercial releases. Why are they so bad?

Could it be that, actually, there just wasn’t that much money around for that sort of thing back in those days? Maybe it was reasoned that comparatively few people would ever watch a music video, so why bother going to a lot of time, cost and effort?

Or perhaps ‘new’ music videos (which were not simply an audiovisual recording of a band playing) back in 1984 were such a new thing that people hadn’t quite figured out how to do it properly. They were necessarily amateurish, because no-one had built up enough experience about how to do it professionally yet.

Until MTV, Music videos were a promotional afterthought since there was no venue to really show them in. Once MTV created a place to air them, they became mini movies that took art and care to make (usually).

Both videos show up as unavailable to me for some reason.

Well both your links are for the Wizzard song, and they had a hit with their song for the first time back in 1973. The video might be from then rather than the 1980s, I’m not sure. (I’m not actually watching it through as I’ve heard it far too often every year since it came out)

They had already had several huge UK hits by then and their Top of the Pops performances were always just for fun and were basically taking the piss.
They were miming and everybody knew they were miming and that was part of the fun!

The first part of this article is for the op


It presumably would have been difficult to justify spending a lot of money on a slick music video before it was known that this would actually significantly boost music sales. It seems unlikely that this would have been the case before MTV became widely available in the mid 1980s.

A slick music video may also cost a lot more money than you might imagine, especially with 1980s technology. According to the Wikipedia entry on most expensive music videos, the 1980 video for David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” cost $582,000 at the time, or $1,671,487 adjusted for inflation. But by modern standards this video seems embarrassingly cheap and cheesy looking. IMHO Madonna’s 1989 “Express Yourself” still looks pretty good – a bit dated perhaps, but clearly professional quality sets, costumes, lighting, editing, etc. – and that cost $2-5 million ($3.9-9.5 million today).

I never heard of Shakin’ Steven OR Wizzards.

As for routine MTV videos of the 80’s, the first few were kind of simplistic. “Pop Music” was bare bones. On the whole, I LOVED 90% of MTV videos of the 80’s, inordinately. I taped quite a few on VHS tapes, still have them AND a VCR, as long as they hold up they are among my most prized possessions.

I was around in the '80s.

Back then, big fluffy hair and jackets with shoulder pads were all the rage. In the '70s there men wore their hair long, and beards were common. Non-designer jeans, suede jackets, peasant shirts, beads, and any number of upscaled hippy fashions were being worn. The '70s were the ‘Back to Nature’ decade. In the mid-'70s there we saw Punk get its beginnings, but it wasn’t commercial. (Which was rather the point of Punk.) We got Glam and the start of ‘stadium bands’. Kiss had their makeup and costumes. With the '80s we got New Wave. People started discarding the jeans and suede, and dressing up in jackets and ties. Elements of Punk were incorporated into New Wave fashion, but with a ‘successful’ twist instead of the working class one. Men’s hair got shorter and beards started going away. Women’s hair got, as I mentioned, big and fluffy. Music tended to a more electronic sound. Spanish Colonial and log cabins gave way to bright, smooth, clean designs and a lot of neon. We had Nagel. The scene was futuristic.

Serious films were still shot on film. (They still are, but there’s a lot of HD out there now.) Video was still somewhat crude and, while the equipment was enormously expensive, the medium was cheaper and faster. So there were technological and cost considerations to making a music video. But I think a lot of it is just the fashion of the time. Videomakers made their artistic decisions based on that. At the time, many of those videos were just so cool :cool:. Look at Men Without Hats Safety Dance. To them, the renaissance faire thing was cool. To much of their audience it was cool. Even then though, many people thought it was lame. Since modern audiences likely were not influenced by living in the '70s, they might not appreciate it. On the other hand, look at Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse Of The Heart. That’s actually a well-made video. I think it holds up pretty well today; and back in 1983, it was awesome.

So I think that the badness comes from the tastes of the audience and the ‘scene’ as it was in the early-'80s as much as any technical limitations. I’m a fan of old movies. In the '30s the equipment was unwieldy, many of the stories were highly contrived, and some of the acting was over the top. But that’s what people liked.

Whoops - here is the Shakin’ Stevens link:


One thing that’s occurred to me is that both Wizzard and Shakin’ Stevens were/are *British *- were American music videos (and those from other countries) of the time any better?

The videos you link are from 1991 and 1973 respectively. (Also, your links are broken.)

A factually incorrect OP with broken links, okay - but my premise still stands :slight_smile: 80s music videos sucked.

I’ll defer to Patton Oswalt on this one.

Um… yes. “Thriller” (1982) is generally said to be the greatest music video of all time.

“Take on Me” (1986) by aha was really clever and the winner of 6 video music awards. Arguably the video was better than the song ever was.

“Wrapped Around Your Finger” (1983) by the Police was the first video I remember to be “arty” in that it didn’t even attempt to tell the story of the song but rather just kind of “looked cool.”

Most of them? Yeah, they were terrible. There were exceptions, of course.

There were lots of great videos in the 80s. Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” was groundbreaking in the use of computer-generated imagery. Ditto the Cars’ “You Might Think”. ZZ Top had some fun videos. Billy Joel’s songs from his album “An Innocent Man” had a few good videos: “Tell Her About It”, “Uptown Girl”, “The Longest Time”, and “Keeping the Faith” were all good. To mention another Police video, I liked “Every Breath You Take”.

80s music videos? You mean there’s any other kind? :confused:

Because most of them are, the same way pretty much everything on tv today is crap. But you have jewels in each period. My favorite mv’s are those that have singing and little else. People forgot how to dance correctly after the 1970’s, and writers can’t even be creative enough for a story line covering a 4-minute song.

Exactly. I think MTV turned into a reality TV network sometime in the 90’s.

Every medium develops its own language, and videos from the early 80s predated the development of this language. Hall & Oates’s “She’s Gone” was directed by the sister of one of the singers (instead of a seasoned producer/director of professional videos) and it tried to literally depict the lyrics being sung.

IIRC, the first video to cost more than a million dollars to produce was Fleetwood Mac’s “Gypsy.” “Thriller” came along soon after. A few pioneers showed the way, and video directors after that fell into line. And while lots of 70s stars (notably Rod Stewart and David Bowie) were eager to make as many videos as they could as quickly as they could, it wasn’t until the apotheosis of Michael Jackson and Madonna that a generation that understood the medium’s potential started participating in it in a big way.