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Greatest Music Videos of All Time

Using music and video together as a medium to tell a story can be a very powerful tool for communicating a message. Today filmmakers and musicians add Hollywood visual effects and other fancy tricks to make music videos have impact, but the pioneers of the format used their imaginations to push music videos to all new heights:

Artist: Bob Dylan
Song: “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (1965/1967)

Bob Dylan, the Voice of His Generation, trying not to look bored in the groundbreaking music video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” (The bearded guy to the left is poet Allen Ginsberg, author of the Beat classic “Howl.”)

How It Changed Music Videos: It was the first modern music video built around an artistic concept. The primitive black-and-white film was made to promote the song – the video was initially created for the 1967 D.A. Pennebaker documentary “Don’t Look Back,” which shadowed Dylan as he toured England during 1965.

It’s a pretty simple idea really, but one that has struck a chord with several generations of rock audiences. A guy stands in an alley holding a stack of cue cards. The audio from a rambunctious folk rock song starts to blast, each line of which is a non-stop barrage of hipster verbiage (example: “Johnny’s in the basement mixing up the medicine/I’m on the pavement thinking about the government”).

As the video progresses, the guy in it, rock poet Bob Dylan, drops each cue card after its corresponding piece of lyric has been sung in the audio. Dylan does not sing or perform the song. In fact, he shows no particular emotion, except mild irritation and boredom. When he runs out of cue cards, he just walks out of the camera frame, leaving puzzled audiences to try and figure out what it all meant.

Artist: Michael Jackson
Song: “Thriller” (1984)

With Quincy Jones-produced rhythms and Michael Jackson as a zombie, “Thriller” proved to be a genuine media event.

How It Changed Music Videos: By 1984, MTV had taken over control of the music industry; at this point, a new album or single had to have a top-notch video. Michael Jackson took the challenge and ran with it, making this first single song video epic from what would become the decade’s biggest album.

Jackson brought on film director John Landis to oversee the project. Landis was already a Hollywood power-player, having directed “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” “Trading Places,” “The Blues Brothers,” and “An American Werewolf in London” before tackling “Thriller.” For the video he was given a half-million dollar budget.

Jackson made multiple music videos to promote several tracks, but the “Thriller” music video was more than just a regular video, adding eight minutes of additional narrative to the song’s six-minute length. Thematically, “Thriller” was a G-rated creep show with a disco beat and which featured a vocal cameo by Hollywood horror legend Vincent Price.

The video was so popular that MTV was eventually airing the 14-minute video twice per hour. Jackson was hailed as a creative genius for his own remarkable dancing, as well as arranging the zombie choreography.

The video helped propel sales of the “Thriller” album to 110 million units worldwide, making it the best-selling album of all time. Never again would either Jackson or the music video be so big.

Artist: Nirvana
Song: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (1991)

Grunge started here…with deliberately low production standards.

How It Changed Music Videos: As the 80s progressed, video production techniques improved. Inspired by the massive success of “Thriller,” the trend toward lavishly produced videos continued. But not every musical act wanted to create an ultra-slick music video. Enter Seattle’s Nirvana in the early 90s, with a Punk-like desire to avoid seeming to be “corporate.”

So when the first Grunge band of note got ready to produce a music video for the breakout hit from its powerhouse album Nevermind, it had definite ideas about what it wanted. For its director, the band selected first-timer Samuel Bayer…specifically because he didn’t have much experience. Kurt Cobain (accurately) assumed Bayer would be technically inept and the resulting footage would have a raw, undisciplined quality.

The song became a major Alternative anthem and the music video a smashing success. Nirvana won numerous MTV Music Awards in 1992 and the Guinness Book of Records considers the video the most played music video on MTV Europe. In 2001, VH1 named it the fourth-greatest music video of all time.

Artist: Beastie Boys
Song: “Sabotage” (1994)

“Sabotage,” a loud and abrasive triumph of threat-screaming rage, was paired with the hilarious visual concept of the opening credits of a (fake) 70s police show.

How It Changed Music Videos: Part cop-show homage, part rock/rap blaster, the Beastie Boys’ greatest video was 100 percent pure fun.

The Beastie Boys were always highly creative when it came to making music videos. But the group’s signature music-video moment was directed by genius director Spike Jonze, who took a one-chord shouter from the “Ill Communication” album and turned it into music-video gold.

An instant classic upon release, the “Sabotage” music video was nominated in five different categories at the 1994 MTV Music Awards, yet took home no awards. However, fifteen years later, when the new category of “Best Video (That Should Have Won a Moonman)” was introduced, the very first recipient was “Sabotage.”

Artist: Johnny Cash
Song: “Hurt” (2003)

“Hurt” is a song about reaching conclusions and sifting through all of what has come before.

How It Changed Music Videos: Plenty of “serious” music videos have attempted to make a statement, but none more powerful than this stark goodbye from the Man in Black. Nobody expected the most powerful music video of its year to feature the great Johnny Cash, then working in his sixth decade as a recording artist. But then, nobody had expected Cash to make one of the biggest musical comebacks of all time during the 90s, suddenly becoming wildly popular with fans young enough to be his grandchildren.

For the music video, director Mark Romanek used extensive footage and photographs from throughout Cash’s life, which were contrasted with footage of the 71-year-old man. Cash was weak and facing a range of health problems at the time.

The combination of music and visual images made the “Hurt” video one of the most powerful music-video experiences ever. The video received the 2004 Grammy for Best Short Form Music Video and was listed as CMT’s top video for 2003 as well as the Number One greatest country music video for the following year.

In July 2011 New Music Express named it the best video of all time. Sadly, Cash himself didn’t get to see the video’s massive success; the Man in Black passed away seven months after the video was produced.

Make Your Own Landmark Videos
Music videos represent a perfect intersection between two wonderful art forms – but bringing the two together requires talent to create a quality video. It takes training, too, and learning how to make a music video is the perfect place to start. If you want to learn music & video production you need hands-on training in digital audio, music and beat production, and filmmaking skills, too. Once you have a good grasp of those things, you can take your idea and turn it into an award-winning and groundbreaking music video.


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posted by DMA Jordan in Digital Music Production,Music Production,News Blog and have No Comments

A Tribute: Beastie Boy Adam “MCA” Yauch Dies at 47

He was the most mature and coolest Beastie Boy. The Rap world lost a true auteur and pioneer in Adam “MCA” Yauch, who died on Friday, May 4, at age 47 from complications due to cancer. A Brooklyn native and practicing Buddhist, he lived in New York City with his wife and daughter.

Yauch became proficient on both the electric and acoustic bass, laying down the pulse on tracks like 1994′s “Sabotage.”

Only recently inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, the Beastie Boys first burst onto the music scene with 1986′s “Licensed to Ill,” which sold more than 5 million albums, making it the biggest selling Rap album of the 1980s. The Beasties were rappers, but they were a lot more, and always had been.

Rhyming ‘n’ Stealing
They started out playing loud, abrasive Punk Rock and Thrash. Yauch first played bass with Michael Diamond on drums (“Mike D.”) and was later joined by Adam Horovitz on guitar (“King Ad-Rock”). Through a combination of New York street smarts, a remarkable sense of Rap and Hip-Hop, as well as extensive Rock ‘n’ Roll chops, the band was able to blaze through a succession of cutting-edge 90s albums that were rocking as well as rapping, funny as hell but also capable of keen human insight.

The Beasties will forever be known for albums such as “Check Your Head,” “Ill Communication,” “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two,” and “Paul’s Boutique,” the latter a genuine production masterpiece and an album that has been hailed as “the ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ of Rap.

With total sales in excess of 40 million albums, the Beastie Boys became Rock ‘n’ Rap legends.

Beyond his musical accomplishments, Yauch was a genuine humanitarian and human rights activist. He organized concert benefits for the liberation of Tibet and personally worked alongside the Dalai Lama. He also had an offbeat and mischievous sense of humor, such as the time he heckled the lead singer of R.E.M. during an awards show (while wearing an Austrian goat herder’s outfit).

Paying Tribute to the Rap Genius
Yauch (who also used the stage name of Nathanial Hörnblowér) and his humor was on full display in such production masterpieces as the music video for “Sabotage,” which is now recognized as one of the landmark music videos of all time. There has been no statement on the future of the Beastie Boys, although it’s difficult at this moment to imagine the band continuing on as before. Yauch was that vital to the sound.

Don’t worry – he’ll be back. The Beastie Boys on “Futurama.”

We recently saluted the group and paid tribute to the top Beastie Boys tracks ever. Join us as we  journey through 25 years of unbridled artistic creativity. That a band this good has sold more than 40 million albums is a tribute to the collective genius of its members.

Rappers and Rock ‘n’ Rollers alike mourn the passing of this great artist and agent of cool, including Coldplay, which recently gave this touching tribute to Adam Yauch at the Hollywood Bowl on May 4th:

Thank you, MCA. You and your fellow bandmates taught us how to “Fight for Our Right to Party” and liberate our musical thinking. Adam Yauch…the mighty and majestic MCA…will be missed.


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