I was born in an MTV world and grew up obsessed with channel 29, which featured Canada's equivalent, Much Music. But while I couldn't live without it during high school, I haven't seen it since, and I wondered why...except not really, because even very brief channel-surfing reveals the stark truth. I remember the glory days of music videos - when real musicians who played real instruments made miniatures movies that actually meant something in terms of the music they were set to. Today videos feature short shorts, bouncy cars, and not much else. The days of the 'concept video' are clearly over, and the stuff that I remember are relics of the past.
1991 Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit
The opening chords to this song served to incite an entire generation, and the video defined it. It was later called an anthem for apathetic kids, but as the video aptly shows, if the kids are apathetic, it's only until they found a suitable outlet. The video captures not what high school is like, but what high school feels like - dark, angry, and teeming with anarchy. I have never heard another song where the distortion is so fucking appropriate.
1992 Guns N Roses, November Rain
It's hard to believe that Axl Rose was ever cool, but nothing lasts forever, and we both know hearts can change. However, for a brief time (well, not that brief, this sucker clocks in at nearly 9 minutes) Guns N Roses ruled, and this song and its video were nothing short of iconic (and set the standard for mini skirts and tongue-kissing in church). The video is epic, and leaves no doubt as to the true rock godliness of Slash, who features prominently, not just atop the piano, but in the church yard playing his face-melting solo.
1993 Aerosmith, Livin on the Edge
This video is a time capsule of social ills - school violence, unprotected sex, theft, vandalism, the wrecklessness of youth - and it turns out that much of what was wrong with the world then is still wrong with the world today, only by now, we do know what it is. Combining lyrics inspired by the L.A. race riots (If you can judge a wise man\By the color of his skin\Then mister you're a better man that I) and unexpected, theatrical imagery, this video was a mainstay then and a treat to come across now. Nearly 15 years later, my heart still races every time Joe Perry just barely misses getting pulverized by the train.
1994 Live, Lightning Crashes
Birth, death, forces of nature, the whole damn circle of life for those of us who were too old to go see the Lion King. This song made me realize that not only could lyrics could be poetry, but so could video.
1995 Radiohead, Fake Plastic Trees
This is probably the only Radiohead video that's anything less than subtle and obscure, but not to worry, it still has that unassuming Radiohead essence that we all expect. The song comes down hard on the artificiality of the life we've constructed, and the video draws parallels to mass consumerism, and both call attention to the vast, empty voids that result. Lonely and desperate, it's no wonder this song has sunk into the consciousness of so many people.
1996 Smashing Pumpkins, Tonight, Tonight
Somehow, the video, which features a zeppelin to the moon, manages to capture both the urgency and the longing of the song's lyrics while painting a dreamscape which contrasted dramatically to the usual Pumpkins fare.
1997 Green Day Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)
Releasing an "adult" sounding acoustic song is often considered the most punk thing these boys could do. Lyrically about a breakup, the video highlights the crossroads at which we often find ourselves, and is surprisingly introspective for a single off an album titled nimrod. But no matter how much it was overplayed (it even made it into the final episode of Seinfeld), it made us all hope that one day we'd grow up to be half as mature as Billie Joe - for what it's worth\ it was worth all the while.
1998 Fatboy Slim, Praise You
Most excellent video EVAH. It has nothing to do with anything, and that's probably why it was so stand-out-able. It was novel, but the strange thing was, the novelty never wore off, and I find that even 10 years later, this one still makes me smile.
1999 Our Lady Peace, Thief
It's hard for me to pick just one OLP video because I doubt even Raine Maida's mother is as big a fan as I am. I even have a scar on my body from rushing down the stairs when I heard the opening strains to a newly released song (fittingly, the song is called clumsy). And though the band has many honourable mentions in terms of video, I chose this one for its simplicity and the fact that it's hard to watch and not be moved. The song's lyrics grapple with a little girl's cancer and I think the video is just plain grief.
And finally, the only video I find worthy of mention since 2000, brought to us by a man who's career spanned many pre-MTV decades - Mr. Johnny Cash. Originally this was a Trent Reznor song, but with this video, JR brings new meaning to it (and proves that radio stars can adapt). It's emotional and raw, and especially poignant because his wife, who appears in the video, died unexpectedly as it was released (and Cash followed soon afterward). This is Hurt.
Which ones meant the most to you?