Lights, camera, action: The 50 best rock videos ever

40. Ozzy Osbourne - Crazy Train (1987)

The bleached-out visual effects show their age, and Ozzy Osbourne appears to have borrowed a 1980s pub landlady’s hair, but the video that accompanies this live version of his debut solo single (taken from 1987’s Tribute) album stands as a testament to the late Randy Rhoads, from the instantly recognisable Flying V zooming down the train tracks, to the exhilarating jump-cut of still photos from 2:55. For anyone who never got to see guitarist Randy live, this is what we think of when we hear his name.

39. Tenacious D – Tribute (2001)

If you can’t trust a pair of Hollywood’s finest comic actors to deliver a killer video, then who can you trust? The chucklesome clip for the D’s self-mythologising anthem finds Jack Black and Kyle Gass laying down “the best song in the world” in a tiny foodcourt recording booth, before flashing to aRobert Johnson-inspired narrative where an unrecognisable Dave Grohl gamely hams it up as our heroes’ red-skinned, cloven-hoofed, demonic antagonist. If you’re not ripping open your shirt and hollering “We are but man!” by the end, you are truly not human.

38. Boomtown Rats - I Don’t Like Mondays (1979)

Helmed by pioneering video director David Mallett, the video for I Don’t Like Mondays brought Bob Geldof and co’s unforgettable single, inspired by 16-year-old school-shooter Brenda Spencer, to life. 

Avoiding the glaringly obvious, it instead places the band as characters in the teenage protagonist’s humdrum life – as a misfit choir singing to a classroom of dead-eyed kids; as unlikely interlopers in a 1970s living room – before wrapping it up with Saint Bob, all cocaktoo hair and white-rimmed shades, a bundle of nerves against a white backdrop, while pyjama-clad keyboard player Johnny Fingers ramps up the drama on piano. This is one of the reasons it stayed at No.1 for four weeks.

37. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts - Bad Reputation (1983) 

Proof that Joan Jett is the coolest person ever to walk the planet. Between ripping it up with the Blackhearts in some artfully scuzzed-up back alley, a leather-clad Joan leads her gang of rock’n’roll greasers through the streets of New York like prime Marlon Brando with a feather cut and a kohl-eyed death-stare. 

They get thrown out of hotels, gatecrash supper clubs, and re-enact all the rejections she received from record labels before breaking big. If it was anyone else, this would be cheeseball guff of the highest order. But that’s the thing: she’s not anyone else. She’s Joan Jett.

36. Rolling Stones - It’s Only Rock And Roll (But I Like It) (1974)

A video that’s way more fun to watch than it apparently was to make – Mick Jagger called the experience “most unpleasant”. Still, it looks like a blast. Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg (of The BeatlesLet It Be movie fame) persuaded the sailor-suited band to mime their last classic single of the 70s inside an inflatable tent as a rising tide of foam slowly enveloped them. Jagger preens, Keith looks baffled, Charlie gets swamped and, despite it all, even old stone face Bill Wyman raises a smile.

35. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Give it Away (1991)

This is what happens when DayGlo Californian energy collides with arty French sensibility. Photographer-turned-director Stephane Sednaoui subverts the Chili Peppers’ cartoon socks-on-cocks personas, spray-painting them silver, plonking them in the desert and leaving them to gyrate manically. 

The resulting black-and-white video was full of imagery that wouldn’t look out of place in some surreal arthouse movie: Flea stepping out of thin air to play bass, singer Anthony Kiedis’s glitter-covered lips flapping in close-up, guitarist John Frusciante dancing blissfully while waving a flowing aluminium ribbon. Weird and brilliant, this started the ball rolling on the megastar phase of the Chilis’ career

34. Aerosmith - Janie’s Got A Gun (1989)

When Aerosmith got serious with 1989 single Janie’s Got A Gun, they decided to hire a suitably serious director to make a video to go with it – future Hollywood bigshot David Fincher, the man behind Seven and Fight Club

Fincher turns Steven Tyler’s tale of domestic sexual abuse and revenge into an artfully filmed murder-mystery that looked as expensive as any big-screen blockbuster, complete with enormous empty house, behatted detectives, and a colour palette designed to signify the good and evil in humanity; Love In An Elevator it wasn’t. Bonus fact: the abusive father was played by Nigel Guest, brother of Spinal Tap’s Christopher ‘Nigel Tufnel’ Guest.

33. Muse - Knights Of Cydonia (2006)

We could fill a chunk of this list with Matt Bellamy and co’s brilliant promo videos – the disturbing disembodied limbs of Plug-In Baby, Time Is Running Out’s surreal Dr Strangelove tribute… But for sheer entertainment, the tongue-in-cheek sci-fi kung-fu B-movie western that accompanies their barking mad Bohemian Rhapsody homage Knights Of Cydonia wins it, if only because every single person involved in it looks like they’re having the time of their lives. And no, the video’s alleged producer Gustof von Musterhausen doesn’t exist (we checked).

32. Alice In Chains - Rooster (1992)

Sometimes simplicity is the key. The video for Jerry Cantrell’s emotional tribute to his Vietnam vet father, also named Jerry, hits all the harder because it features footage of Cantrell Sr himself looking back over his time in the army, while the Alice In Chains guitarist talks about how his dad never spoke to him about it when he was growing up. 

The bulk of the video is taken up by a Platoon-style recreation the horrors of war spliced into a performance by the band – including a never-more-luminous-looking Layne Staley – but it’s that fleeting connection between father and son that leaves a lasting imprint.

31. R.E.M. - Losing My Religion (1991)

Anyone searching for the true meaning behind Michael Stipe’s enigmatic lyrics for Losing My Religion will be hard-pushed to find it in the video for it. 

Instead, the video for R.E.M.’s most enduring song comes on like a Renaissance painting brought to life, pulling together a string of vivid, if disconnected, images drawn from Christian and Hindu mythology, early 20th-century Russian cinema, the stories of magical-realist author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the sight of Stipe, lip-syncing for the very first time in an R.E.M. video and dancing/flailing as he’s lost in the moment. Pretentious as hell, but unforgettable with it.

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.