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

20. Rammstein - Sonne (2001)

Leave it to Germany’s leading purveyors of industrial-strength naughtiness to serve up a twisted take on Snow White And The Seven Dwarves. Till Lindemann and his merry men play the dwarves as a bunch of fearful, dirt-faced gold miners receiving regular spankings from an eroticised, scarlet-lipped Snow White who is more S&M dominatrix than wide-eyed ingenue. 

Rammstein have made grander videos (for 2019’s cinematic Deutschland) and ruder ones (the ejaculatory X-rated clip for 2009’s Pussy), but none have quite captured the band’s sense of warped perversion like this one.

19. Dire Straits - Money For Nothing (1985)

The most iconic video of the 80s? Could be. It’s certainly the one that turned these glamour-vacuum pub rockers into one of the biggest bands of the decade. Mark Knopfler and buddy Sting are transformed via the medium of Quanatel Paintbox into blocky, computer-generated removal men grumbling about the easy life pop stars have, as they watch the real-life Dire Straits play on TV (strange that neon headbands never caught on). It’s witty, meta and hasn’t aged at all. Which is more than can be said for the homophobic ‘F’-bombs that pepper the song itself.

18. Jane's Addiction - Been Caught Stealing (1990)

Jane's Addiction took over a minimarket in LA’s Culver City to shoot the video that would help usher in the 1990s. A kleptomaniac’s fever-dream featuring a parade of vivid characters including a broccoli-waving cheerleader, a gyrating pole-dancer (played by the video’s director, and Farrell’s girlfriend, Casey Nicolli) and, most memorably, a shoplifter disguised as a pregnant women shoving groceries up ‘her’ dress, it was funny and surreal. 

Garnering heavy rotation at a time when MTV was still dominated by hair-metal and Headbanger’s Ball, it served noticed that a change was coming.

17. U2 - Where The Streets Have No Name (1987)

In 1969, The Beatles played on top of the Apple building in London. Paying homage 28 years eight years later, U2 went several steps further, blocking a busy Downtown Los Angeles intersection as they performed on the specially reinforced roof of Republic Liquor on the corner of 7th and Main. 

The threatened crowd of 35,000 people and attendant riots never quite materialised, but the video still captured the excitement of the whole day, from the early-morning radio announcements to the police bust that almost shut it down. Even more significantly, it marked the precise moment Bono and co. ascended to megastardom.

16. AC/DC - You Shook Me All Night Long (1986)

Forget the original 1980 pretend-live performance video (opens in new tab) that accompanied AD/DC’s ode to bonking. Much more memorable was the version shot by director David Mallett – yes, him again – to coincide with 1986’s Who Made Who album. 

Shot partly in glamorous Huddersfield, it saw Brian Johnson in full Andy Capp mode stumbling into the bedroom of a terraced house, only to find rubber-clad Page 3 Girl Corinne Russell writhing on a mechanical bull (the moment where Beano drops his bag of chips is comedy gold). Russell later married one of the roadies she met on the set. Angus Young reportedly gave her a toy mechanical bull as a wedding present.

15. White Stripes - Fell In Love With A Girl (2001)

Frenchman Michel Gondry is one of the most innovative video directors of the past 30 years. His stunning clip for The White Stripes’ two-minute blast of garage-punk noise took the simplest of ideas – an animated video made entirely from Lego bricks? – and turned it into reality. 

Gondry filmed Jack and Meg White playing live, converted the footage to large digital pixels, then physically rebuilt it all in Lego. The result made an already intoxicating song even more exhilarating – albeit no thanks to Lego, who refused to lend Gondry any bricks with which to make the clip.

14. Judas Priest - Breaking The Law (1980)

On the one hand, Judas Priest’s greatest video is two and a half minutes of low-budget comedy in which a bunch of heavy metal reprobates armed only with guitars rob a Barclay’s bank in London and then speed back up the motorway to Birmingham in an open-topped car with the spoils of their blag (a gold record for their British Steel album, no less). 

On the other, the Julien Temple-directed clip could be seen as a cutting critique of the devastation and hopelessness wreaked on the youth of Britain by successive governments, suggesting that crime is the only way out. Who are we kidding? It’s about a bunch of dudes robbing a bank with pretend guitars.

13. Bob Dylan - Subterranean Homesick Blues (1967)

Bob Dylan was already the poet-king of rock’n’roll by the time he made what is a strong contender for the first-ever promotional video. 

Shot by Don’t Look Now director DA Pennebaker in a rubblestrewn alley next to London’s Savoy Hotel while the singer was in town for his 1965 Tour Of England, and featuring background cameos by beat poet Allen Ginsberg and fellow folkie Bob Neuwrith, the image it presented of an insouciantly cool Dylan casually tossing away giant flashcards with the lyrics scrawled on them like a pale-faced mime artist made it clear beyond doubt that he was anything but a puppet of the music industry. The video was as revolutionary in its own way as Dylan going electric.

12. Beastie Boys - Sabotage (1994)

Hip-hop pranksters the Beastie Boys found their perfect foil in maverick video director Spike Jonze, whose left-field spin on pop culture dovetailed perfectly with their own. The unforgettable video for this classic 1994 floor-filler was a loving pastiche of 70s US cop shows, from the nylon wigs, fake moustaches and period-piece polyester clobber to the retro-style credits (“Nathan Wind as… ‘Cochise’”). 

The Beasties are having a blast as they blaze around LA in a clapped-out old motor, kicking down doors and throwing bad guys against chain-link fences, but for all the winking irony there’s an unstoppable kinetic energy and pure creative genius at play.

11. Weezer - Buddy Holly (1994)

The pitch for the video for geek-rock kingpins Weezer’s second single is simple enough: the band play a gig at Al’s Diner, the restaurant from beloved US TV show Happy Days. But that doesn’t cover the attention to detail director Spike Jonze lavished on it. Jonze kitted out Rivers Cuomo and co. in vintage beige cardigans and flattened down hair, and put them on a stage in the centre a carefully recreated set, then proceeded to splice what he’d filmed into footage from the original show, complete with archival appearances from its stars Ron Howard, Tom Bosley and Henry ‘The Fonz’ Winkler. 

But it was the spot-on touches that truly made the video special – the canned laughter, the fake ad break, and especially an appearance from actor Al Molinaro, who played the diner’s perpetually harassed owner in the show. It was a huge dollop of winking nostalgia that single-handedly kicked Weezer’s career up several levels. Added bonus: the real Henry Winkler introduced them at a show later that year

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.