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

30. Iron Maiden - The Writing On The Wall

With a handful of exceptions, Iron Maiden videos were rum affairs. 2015’s videogame-themed Speed Of Light changed that, but it was the apocalyptic animated clip for 2021’s Writing On The Wall that kicked everything to a whole new level. 

The brainchild of frontman Bruce Dickinson, and brought to vibrant life by ex-Pixar duo Mark Andrews and Andrew Gordon, it drew on everything from the Bible to Sons Of Anarchy and Mad Max, packing out its seven-and-a-half-minute running time with sociopolitical allusions, sly cultural references, Maiden easter eggs and all the Eddies you can shake a katana at – including the Harley-riding Four Horseman Of The Apocalypse, naturally.

29. Pearl Jam - Jeremy (1992)

I Don’t Like Mondays updated for the grunge generation; the powerful video for Pearl Jam’s empathetic tale of a bullied schoolboy who shot himself in front of his classmates swapped dramatic sensationalism for early-90s anguish, flashing between Eddie Vedder’s intense emoting and the tribulations of the kid at the centre of the song’s lyrics. 

A classroom full of Sieg Heiling kids is chilling, but a climactic scene of the boy (played by Trevor Wilson) placing a gun in his mouth was deemed too much and cut. (It was restored in 2020 to mark National Gun Violence Awareness Day.)

28. David Bowie - Life On Mars? (1973)

Little seen at the time, Mick Rock’s clip for David Bowie’s momentous 1973 single is a triumph of style over budget. Rock was Bowie’s greatest visual chronicler, and here he films the singer – all powder blue suit, electric blue eyeliner, orange Ziggy haircut and wonky teeth – against a stark white studio background. 

But that’s all it needs, as the singer’s extra-terrestrial charisma burns through the screen, like The Man Who Fell To Earth arriving three years early. Ashes To Ashes, with its Pierrots and New Romantic cameos, is more venerated, but this is the essence of pure Bowie at his absolute peak.

27. Blind Melon - No Rain (1993)

For a moment, Heather DeLoach was one of the most recognisable 10-year-olds in America. She was Bee Girl, the born-to-dance protagonist of the video for hippie-grungers Blind Melon’s sweetly psychedelic 1993 hit. 

Laughed off stage at a tap-dancing audition, she spends the rest of the video attempting to spread a little joy in a world that has no time for her. She’s unsuccessful until the very end, when she finds (spoiler alert!) a whole group of Bee People to dance with. It should be schlocky, but honestly, it’s just really sweet.

26. The Buggles - Video Killed The Radio Star (1979)

Or: how two silver-suited studio boffins kicked off a revolution. Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes’s landmark new-wave pop single was the very first video played on MTV when it launched two years later. The song itself was a perfect hit of retro-futuristic nostalgia, but the promo (featuring a friend of director Russell Mulcahy as the pink-wigged, sad-eyed pop star created in a giant test tube) felt like the future arriving – and so it would prove. 

Bonus fact: the black-clad keyboard player in the final section is film-soundtrack kingpin Hans Zimmer.

25. Kate Bush - Wuthering Heights (1978)

“Woman in a white dress waving her arms about in a dark room” is an unpromising pitch for a video, but the original promo (opens in new tab) for Kate Bush’s debut single is completely spellbinding. Owing more to modern dance and mime than it did to the peacocking of rock’n’roll, it had the saucer-eyed 19-year-old bringing her tale of ghostly love to life via the power of pure physical drama. 

A second version, featuring Bush in a red dress giving it her all in the middle of a field, was even more memorable. Everything that followed was already in place here in this video.

24. Run DMC (feat. Aerosmith) - Walk This Way (1986)

Aerosmith were yesterday’s men when producer Rick Rubin persuaded rap hotshots Run DMC to rope in Steven Tyler and co for their cover of the Boston band’s 1975 classic. The accompanying video pitched the two acts as warring neighbours trying to out-volume each other, and the look on Tyler’s face when he opens his mouth to sing the first line, only to be gazumped by rapper Run, is priceless. 

When Tyler smashes through the wall and he and Joe Perry join Run DMC to finish song, it’s a significant moment – it wasn’t the first time a black hip-hop act and a white rock band had teamed up (John Lydon and Afrika Bambaata beat them to it), but it sure as hell was the most exciting.

23. Talking Heads - Once In A Lifetime (1980)

David Byrne, art-rock’s King Awkward, is absolutely riveting as the focus of the video for Talking Heads’ 1980 dissection of existential unfulfillment. Choreographed by Toni ‘Hey Mickey’ Basil, it had a besuited, bespectacled and bequiffed Byrne channelling the trance-like fervour of US televangelists, African tribespeople and Eastern religious sects into a series of jerks, bends and sweaty twitches – a human marionette at the mercy of a mad puppeteer tugging invisible strings.

22. Soundgarden - Black Hole Sun (1993)

“We just wanted to pretend to play and not look excited about it,” was Soundgarden’s approach to video making. Instead it was left to British director Howard Greenhalgh to deliver the bad-trip promo for the Seattle band’s breakthrough hit: a super-saturated vision of a suburban neighbourhood where someone had dumped a truckload of liquid acid in the water supply. The band played as dark clouds raced behind them, while the boggle-eyed, forked-tongued inhabitants were swept up in the solar apocalypse of the song’s title.

Greenhalgh went on to direct a video for Steps, which was even more hellish for entirely different reasons.

21. David Lee Roth - Just A Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody (1985)

If Busby Berkeley had made rock videos, they would have looked like this: Diamond Dave at his Diamond Dave-est, highkicking, jazz-handing and showboating his way through his post-Van Halen cover of an old Louis Prima medley. 

It’s a million-dollar mini-movie like they don’t make any more, packed with dancing girls, Hollywood caricatures and all manner of latex-faced grotesques, most of them played by his manager/director/partner-in-crime Pete Angelus. Along the way, Roth skewers Billy Idol, Cyndi Lauper, Michael Jackson and the hair-metal bands his former band inspired. This is what he was born to do.

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.