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The 10 biggest rock music videos of all time

rock music videos
(Image credit: Louder)

There used to be a time when a single's success hinged on its music video. With an innovative and imaginative musical showreel, a song would be all but guaranteed heavy rotation on music television, and the rest, as they say, was history. What would have become of Queen's I Want To Break Free, for example, had it not been for Freddie Mercury hoovering in a mini skirt?

Over the years, the trend for creating music videos has waned somewhat, but it seems your appetite for watching them hasn't. With Guns N' Roses breaking world records twice with their music vids, and Slipknot breaking their own records with pretty much every video they release, the viewing figures on a host of the world's biggest rock videos have more digits than your average phone number. 

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Vevo has totted up a definitive list of the world's most-viewed rock music videos, and we've compiled them all for you below.

On how the data was compiled: The list below is of the top 10 most viewed rock videos globally. That means that the data pertains to the entire world, but only those songs counted as "rock". These views are taken from the artists’ YouTube Vevo channels. The source used here is Vevo's Internal Analytics, US 2019 viewing metrics, which they kindly shared with us.

10. Europe - The Final Countdown (1986)

Worldwide views: 695m

The Final Countdown is among the most celebrated run of notes in popular music – so ubiquitous that the Queen could most likely hum it upon request. So it follows that its video's total views come in at roughly double the entire population of the United States. Not bad for a little band from Sweden.

With a tenuously space-aged concept – the band are being watched from monitors in some sort of space craft, heading to Venus as they were – it helped the band slide into heavy rotation and finally made them a household name.

9. The Police - Every Breath You Take (1983)

Worldwide views: 701m

Directed by 10cc's Kevin Godley and Lol Creme – whose greatest impact arguably stemmed from the 50+ videos they directed in the MTV-dominated 80s – this video was based on Gjon Mili's 1944 short film Jammin' The Blues. 

Praised for its artistic aesthetic and abstract narrative, it's become something of a touchpoint for 80s music video cinematography. It also highlighted the usefulness of a good video, with A&M co-founder Jeff Ayeroff commenting "With a good video, the return on your investment is phenomenal" off the back of its success.

8. Scorpions - Wind Of Change (1991)

Worldwide views: 721m

Scorpions’ greatest hit has variably been referenced as their Stairway To Heaven, their Freebird and their albatross. Inspired by the Scorpions’ performance at the 1989 Moscow Peace Festival, it did well enough to see the German hard rockers through the incoming grunge explosion. The rousing video, which chronicles the building and toppling of the Berlin Wall, interspersed with footage from German history (and obligatory moody band shots) didn't hurt its success a jot.

"Almost every act that came from where we did in the 80s got killed," vocalist Klaus Meine told Classic Rock in 2016. "If this album had been a flop, it could have easily been the end of us too. The success of Wind Of Change helped us survive."

7. Bon Jovi - It's My Life (2000)

Worldwide views: 786m

From the album Crush, this track is almost a rejuvenation of Bon Jovi's upbeat 80s philosophy. With writing help from Britney Spears collaborator Max Martin, Jovi reference the characters Tommy and Gina from Livin’ On A Prayer – the video for which has only managed to amass 625m views, fact fans – while Richie Sambora brings back the talk box. 

It all makes for an unexpected burst of effervescently convincing pop/rock, propped up by a dramatic, narrative-driven video spliced with slick live footage – all in all showing a band continuing their prime right on into the 21st century.

6. System Of A Down - Chop Suey! (2001)

Worldwide views: 904m 

Within days of the release of their 2001 album Toxicity, System Of A Down began notching up airplay for the track Chop Suey! However, almost as soon as it was picked up, it was dropped by radio stations who found its lyrical references to ‘self-righteous suicide’ and dying angels too near-the-knuckle in the wake of 9/11.

Not that it did the video any harm. A raucous, fan-filled affair which sees the band perform the track to a heaving crowd in the open air, it's become the defining video of the MTV nu-metal era.

5. The Cranberries - Zombie (1994)

Worldwide views: 964m

Irish alt-rockers The Cranberries had enjoyed success with their sweet ballads, but this storming left-turn, Zombie – an incendiary, furious track about the bombings in Northern Ireland – made them massive. That was helped in no small part by the accompanying video, in which the late vocalist Dolores O'Riordan was painted gold and surrounded by silver-painted cherubs. It was inter-cut with documentary footage of soldiers and children on the streets of Northern Ireland, filmed by director Samuel Bayer, who also made the video for Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit – which is funny, considering what's up next in this list.

“I actually thought the director was very brave,” said O’Riordan at the time. “When he got back, he was pretty pumped – there was a lot of adrenalin pumping through him. He was telling me how tense it was and how he was blown away by the whole thing. He got footage of the kids jumping from one building to another, and he got a lot of footage of the army. He was a very good director.”

4. Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991)

Worldwide views: 971 million

This infamous video is pretty much as famous as the song it accompanies, which is saying something. Shot at Culver City Studios in California on August 17, 1991, the fans in the video were all from a gig the band had done two days previously at The Roxy in West Hollywood. They gave out flyers there, inviting everyone to come along. But the climactic destruction at the video finale wasn’t choreographed – the fans were angry and fed up at the end of the shoot, which took over 12 hours, and they were allowed to go bananas and destroy the set. 

The video was inspired in part by the 1979 movie Over The Edge, a favourite of Cobain’s, and the cheerleaders were hired from a local strip club.

3. Guns N' Roses - Sweet Child O' Mine (1987)

Worldwide views: 1 billion

Not the first Guns N' Roses video to hit the one billion views mark – you can find out more about that below – 1987 hit Sweet Child O' Mine has made records in its own right by becoming the first video from the 80s to surpass the big one bill point. Understated in its nature – mixing black and white footage of live performances with candid behind-the-scenes shots – it showed a slightly more thoughtful GN'R than we were used to. On the surface, at least.

At time of writing, the video has a whopping 1,003,493,902 views, which works out at an average of almost 600,000 views daily. Wild.

2. Imagine Dragons - Believer (2017)

Worldwide views: 1.2 billion

The fact that this is the only song and video released this decade says something about the massive appeal US rockers Imagine Dragons have across the world. 

Many of the best Imagine Dragons songs are built from the beat up. Here, a simple handclap rhythm acts as a launchpad for a stadium-sized anthem with a drop-and-release chorus that hits like an industrial hammer. The video's pretty nifty, too, all psychedelic light displays and lasers, mirroring their live stage show and highly-curated visual aesthetic.

1. Guns N' Roses - November Rain (1992)

Worldwide views: 1.2 billion 

Turns out GN'R have something of a monopoly in the old music video stakes. In 1992, Guns N’ Roses unveiled their epic November Rain video. It was, at the time, the most expensive promo ever made, costing the label $1.5 million. Geffen had to stump up $150,000 to build the white chapel in the desert alone. Taking into account the budget to get a helicopter to film aerial shots, Axl Rose’s velvety coat and the costs of staging a lavish wedding complete with a fake rainstorm, it’s no surprise to see how a band could burn through that amount of cheddar for a nine-minute mini-film. 

Turns out it was an investment worth making, as nearly 30 years on the video broke records, becoming the first video from the 90s to reach one billion views. It's still the most-viewed rock music video of them all.