The 1980s was the Golden Age Of The Music Video. The game-changing impact of MTV meant kids didn’t have to shell out actual money to see their favourite bands live – they could now watch them gooning about 24/7 on the box in the corner of the living room.
The music industry quickly cottoned on to this emergent artform, ponying up obscene amounts of money so a generation of cinematic geniuses could bring their fever-dream Hollywood fantasies to life via the medium of a three-minute Whitesnake video.
The greatest rock and metal promos of the era are burned on the back of our collective retinas: Metallica’s One, Guns N’ Roses’ Paradise City, Van Halen’s Jump… absolutely none of which have made this list. Nope, we’re going way further down the food chain, all the way to the bottom. These audiovisual gems make Motley Crue’s Girls, Girls, Girls look like Citizen Kane. Lights, camera, action…
Thor – Anger (1983)
Forget Chris Hemsworth. The only Thor we care about is a 1980s muscleman-turned-heavy metal singer whose party trick involved blowing up hot water bottles until they exploded onstage. There are no hot water bottles in this zero-budget Conan The Barbarian knock-off, but there are kids dressed as hobbits running through a forest, half-hearted sword fights and a bloke in a fake beard pretending to be a wizard stroking an electronic crystal ball in a weirdly erotic manner. It’s so bad that even the man who produced it posted it on YouTube under the heading ‘The Worst Music Video Ever Made’, which takes some beating as far as shitting on your own doorstep goes.
Candlemass – Bewitched (1986)
Jonas Åkerlund made his name as the go-to video director for Metallica, Madonna and more. And how did he get his break? With this hilariously low-rent promo for doom behemoths Candlemass, which starts with a chubby Swedish dude in monk’s cowl and Brillo Pad hair busting his way out of a plywood coffin and ends with a spot of synchronised doom dancing that would kill on Strictly. Bonus black metal fact: future Mayhem singer Dead makes a cameo appearance as one of the headbanging gumbies in the vid.
Queensryche – Queen Of The Reich (1985)
The thinking person’s metal band? Bah. The video for Queensryche’s debut single is an incomprehensible Star Wars-meets-Doctor Who mash-up featuring a heroic heavy metal band taking on a bikini-clad villainess while being assailed by a bunch of rubber monsters that would have been thrown off the Star Trek set for looking too stupid. Somehow, the band went on to have a successful career afterwards.
Savatage – Hall Of The Mountain King (1987)
In 1987, power metal kingpins Savatage probably wished they were hanging out with Guns N’ Roses and Motley Crue in some LA strip club with their faces buried in a great big pile of nose-ningle. Instead, they were standing on a dark cliff, hamming it up to their new single while a little person in a bald wig and gnome prosthetics wandered through an underground cave system looking for treasure like a character in the worst game of Dungeons & Dragons ever. And what was gnome-boy’s glistening reward for completing this arduous quest? A copy of the new Savatage album. On cassette. Talk about a kick in the nuts.
Yngwie J Malmsteen – I’ll See The Light Tonight (1985)
You couldn’t throw a rock on an 80s metal video set without hitting some bozo dressed as a wizard, gnome or sword-waving evil demon. The cheap-as-arses promo for Swedish axe-botherer Ynwgie Malmsteen’s 1985 single I’ll See The Light Tonight featured all three and chucked in a giant papier-maché snake-dragon creature poking its head out of a paddling pool like a turd rising from a toilet bowl. And we haven’t even started on the singer’s 1970s footballer haircut.
Nitro – Freight Train (1989)
Nitro were the most preposterous metal band of the late 80s, and the video for Freight Train is proof. The exploding barnet! The four-necked guitar that only a well-trained octopus would be able to play properly! The voice that literally shatters a wine glass! Sweet Jesus. Grunge couldn’t come soon enough.
Krokus – Screaming In The Night (1983)
Just imagine the pitch meeting: “So guys, you’re Switzerland’s most famous metal band, we want to make a video where you and your girlfriends are kidnapped by angry tribesmen of indeterminate origin, then your singer gets bundled in a coffin and dumped in a pyramid, and because that’s not mad enough, a trapdoor opens and he ends up in a greasy spoon café walking over people’s fry-ups.” Jesus Christ, the 1980s.
Judas Priest – Hot Rocking (1981)
The classic let’s rob-a-bank-with-cardboard guitars video for Priest’s 1980 single Breaking The Law is comedy genius. This is even better: one part homo-erotic soft porn movie, one part public safety information film flagging up the perils of unregulated pyrotechnics. Yes, your feet could literally catch fire just like Rob Halford’s if you’re not careful. You have been warned.
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Samson – Biceps Of Steel (1980)
If you ever wondered what Bruce Dickinson got up to before he joined Iron Maiden, it involved making brilliantly hokey mini-movies with his old band Samson and – amazingly – arthouse director Julien Temple, in which a roadie in a terrible wig fights a bunch of tattooed bouncers then has his ‘hair’ cut off by a seductive ‘wench’ just like the fictional Samson. In fairness, Maiden never made a video that came close.
Virgin Steele – Perfect Mansions (Mountains Of The Sun) (2012)
OK, we’re cheating here a little. This doozy of a video was filmed in 2011 for a reissue of an album by Long Island troupers Virgin Steele that originally came out in 1988, but there’s no way we could ignore it. Clearly shot in an afternoon on a borrowed 1990s video recorder, there’s almost too much to unpack here: the whole ‘middle aged dudes in too much leather’ vibe, the unnecessary jumps between utterly random locations (a beach! a forest! somebody’s front room!), the gigantic sword that’s been plonked in the ground for no reason whatsoever. The only thing stopping it from being the greatest metal video ever made is the absence of someone in a false beard pretending to be a wizard or a gnome.