Readers' Poll: The 10 Greatest Videos of the 1980s - Rolling Stone
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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Greatest Videos of the 1980s

Your picks include ‘Sledgehammer,’ ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Hot for Teacher’

Peter Gabriel

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When MTV premiered in the summer of 1981, they didn't have many videos in their vault. Most of what they had were cheap-o affairs shot in a couple of hours by superstars like Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones. All that changed very quickly when record labels realized that the new channel had an incredible ability to sell records. Just two years later, Michael Jackson released Thriller and videos were never the same.

We asked our readers to select their favorite videos of the 1980s. Click through to see the results. 


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3. A-ha – ‘Take on Me’

The video for "Take on Me" wasn't created by computer animation, but rather a team that painstakingly rotoscoped sketch drawings frame-by-frame onto film. The entire thing took 16 weeks, but it was all worth it. The video swept the 1986 Video Music Awards and broke Norwegian pop band a-ha in America.

Ever wonder what happened to the guy and the girl after he broke free from the drawings? Check out the sequel video, "The Sun Always Shines on T.V." Hint: Things don't go very well, though the two actors did briefly date in real life. 

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2. Peter Gabriel – ‘Sledgehammer’

Former Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel was fairly popular when his "Sledgehammer" video hit the airwaves, but once MTV put it into heavy rotation, his career was never the same. "I think it was the most played video on MTV, and still is today," he told Rolling Stone in 2012. "But I was trying to get some income from it, which is another battle, another story." Stephen R. Johnson directed the video, and was helped along by the same animation team that went on to create Wallace and Gromit. It's endlessly inventive, moving wildly from dancing chickens to flying fruit to a dance party in a room with spinning furniture. He tried a few times to follow it up with even more impressive videos, but they always fell short. 

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1. Michael Jackson – ‘Thriller’

What more is there to say about the video for "Thriller?" It's a video so iconic that 30 years later, people all over the world are still recreating the thing, from goofy white people at weddings to hundreds of inmates at a prison in the Philippines. The 13-minute video was directed by Jonathan Landis at a time when Thriller began falling down the charts. That stopped the second the video hit MTV. It captured the attention of the entire country and forever changed music videos. They were never again seen as simple clips meant to promote records: "Thriller" turned them into an art form. 

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