The '80s saw the emergence of hard rock and metal, bolstered by a new format -- the music video. The arrival of MTV provided a visual outlet unlike anything that had come before it, making the rock stars of the day even more familiar and visible to their adoring fans. Here we pay homage to that era with the 30 Most Epic '80s Rock + Metal Music Videos.
Though hard rock was prominent during the preceding decade, metal was still evolving and emerging as a somewhat new genre as the '80s arrived. By the time the '80s were over, metal was about as popular and mainstream as it had ever been, due in part to the demand for the music videos that put these acts on the map.
With this list, we'll take you back to an era of ripped, stone-washed jeans, big hair, black leather and some really great music. Reflect and enjoy the 30 Most Epic '80s Rock + Metal Music Videos below.
"Institutionalized" (1983)Suicidal Tendencies
The teen years can be difficult, especially when you feel like nobody truly understands you. Suicidal Tendencies frontman Mike Muir captured that feeling perfectly in his hyperactive stream-of-consciousness kind of way in the 1983 video for “Institutionalized.” His parents question his mental health, going so far as to turn his room into a padded cell, while “Mike” argues about what’s in his best interest, all while longing for a Pepsi. It’s pure ‘80s angst, with touch tones such as destruction (skateboard smashing into TV) thrown in for good measure.
"Bad Reputation" (1981)Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
Gotta love the early ‘80s, when music videos were still a new artform and production value hadn’t quite advanced yet. Still, Joan Jett continued her emergence as one of music video’s early stars primarily based on the performance of “Bad Reputation” on the alleyway stage. Black and white footage, camera slo-mo and even title cards were some early tricks of early videos, but first and foremost Joan just kicks ass in her no holds barred performance of “Bad Reputation.” Those labels didn’t know what they were missing out on, did they?
"Nobody's Fool" (1986)Cinderella
Time is not on her side … or is it? Cinderella continued their “Cinderella” story from the “Shake Me” video, with Tom Keifer escorting his newfound groupie to a video shoot, only to watch her grow weary of the late hours and bolt from the set. The rocker girl runs home, passes out on her bed and at the stroke of midnight, the magic bed ditches her bad girl threads, leaving her in a virginal white dress. Did she blow her shot? Apparently not, as Keifer shows a hint of recognition when the newly madeover girl returns to the shoot seeking an autograph.
"Once Bitten, Twice Shy" (1989)Great White
Jackson Browne once sang in “The Load Out” that the roadies should make sure it’s all set to go before they come for his piano. In the video for Great White’s “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” we get a glimpse as to why that’s good practice. The clip for the band’s cover of the Ian Hunter favorite shows the members meeting up at a hangar rehearsal space. They each arrive in nifty rides and bringing along beautiful women for an audience and backing vocals of course. The video shows a bit of the fun of the late ‘80s, with leather and big hair en vogue, but really the star of the clip is the performance, which relies heavily on the piano to give it that bluesy swing that made the song such a hit. Please, bring back the piano in hard rock.
"Run to the Hills" (1982)Iron Maiden
Though Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills” has more serious themes about the fight for land among America’s indigenous tribes and the new settlers, the video for the track plays it lighter, interspersing footage from a silent movie Western. The film appeared to be played for comedy, as a scene of a Native American ready to scalp a settler only to find his hair was a wig is worked into the narrative. Still, “Run to the Hills” was one of the early “settlers” at MTV, helping to put metal on the map.
"Ace of Spades" (1980)Motorhead
Sometimes a performance is all you need to sell a song. The high energy, fast-paced Motorhead classic “Ace of Spades” didn’t really need anything more. There’s a young Lemmy, full of gruff gumption singing upward into his mic, “Filthy Animal” Taylor pounding away on the skins, and bullet-belt wearing “Fast Eddie” Clarke making those killer riffs look simple. Motorhead would later add to their MTV presence, bringing the track to the weekend late night British import, The Young Ones.
"18 and Life" (1988)Skid Row
Poor Ricky, the troubled youth whose search for a good time and penchant for pushing the edge led him down a tragic path. There was more loaded than just him, as he took the life of his best friend while playing with a gun. Now the youth is just a cautionary tale, living out his life behind bars. Still, the story-themed clip hit its mark with the MTV audience, with the song rising up the charts and the video becoming a highly requested hit.
Dio’s music had plenty of fantastical lyrical themes to it, and the early ‘80s gave rockers a chance to provide visual interpretations through video. Enter Ronnie James Dio as a sword-wielding, magical warrior for the “Holy Diver” video. Snagging some freshly smelt steel from a blacksmith, Dio faces his final challenge, three red-hooded figures waiting at the end of a church corridor. Though we never see the carnage that lies in wait, Dio’s exit at the end of the clip suggests he emerged victorious.
"Rock You Like a Hurricane" (1983)Scorpions
Scorpions had already been releasing music for a full decade-plus by the time “Rock You Like a Hurricane” hit. But much like the gale force winds the title suggests, Scorpions catapulted into the popular mainstream in 1983 with their video for the track. The clip centered on Klaus Meine emerging from a pod to join his Scorpions bandmates, playing for a caged crowd of cat people. The video would be a key player in advancing metal’s presence at MTV in its early years.
"Breaking the Law" (1980)Judas Priest
Theft … by guitar! Judas Priest, you are guilty and we still love it. In the band’s video for “Breaking the Law,” Rob Halford and two guitar-wielding assailants enter a bank, ready for a heist, eventually making their break with a gold record after incapacitating all of the patrons with their feverish riffage. It’s a clean getaway for our metal heroes, cruising the streets top down and rocking along to the enjoyment of their dastardly deed.
"Round and Round" (1984)Ratt
Ratt …. It’s not for your parents or your grandparents, but it might be for your grandparents’ favorite comedian. In 1984, rising rockers Ratt landed the cameo of all cameos, with legendary comedian Milton Berle playing multiple roles as the head of a household and the matron of the house, both equally upset at the racket caused by the band upstairs infringing upon their dinner. Berle’s nephew Marshall was Ratt’s manager at the time, which is how they were able to pull off the casting coup. The video helped “Round and Round” become Ratt’s biggest song and kept them in heavy rotation back in the mid-‘80s.
"Cult of Personality" (1988)Living Colour
By 1988, hard rock and heavy metal were dominating the music landscape. Then Living Colour came along and broke the rut of what was becoming an all too familiar sound and look. No long teased hair, no all black clothes, no power ballad or pop-leaning hard rock. This was furious, chaotic heaviness. Throw out the standard metal video tropes, as Living Colour donned brightly colored clothing, touched on political and social themes and basically rocked the daylights out of their chaotic breakout single “Cult of Personality” in the video for the track. The clip would go on to net the upstart rockers the MTV VMA Best Group Video and Best New Artist honors.
"Sister Christian" (1984)Night Ranger
Time flies quickly. In Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” video, the clip centers on a young woman ready to graduate, but unlike many of her classmates, she’s in a reflective mode before taking that next step in life. The video finds the contemplative girl taking in the good times, paying her respects to her high school life and eventually coming back to living in the moment.
"Crazy Train" (1987)Ozzy Osbourne
The original release in 1980 came sans video as the artform hadn’t really taken off yet, but that was rectified in 1987 when Ozzy’s Tribute live album arrived, complete with concert photos and footage of Ozzy’s late guitarist Randy Rhoads included. The clip also is notable for the imagery of a flying V guitar flying along the rails of a train track. Meanwhile, Osbourne is shown performing with a white and black outline effect.
"You Shook Me All Night Long" (1986)AC/DC
When “You Shook Me All Night Long” arrived on 1980’s Back in Black, it came with a performance-based clip that served it well for MTV purposes. But with the song getting a second life on the Who Made Who album, a second video popped up with more of a narrative to it. The clip found singer Brian Johnson at the center of the action, with Malcolm and Angus Young tailing along, as they walk the streets of an English town, eventually coming upon a lovely woman who catches their eye. In the years since, the latter, David Mallet-directed version has received more airplay.
"The Final Countdown" (1986)Europe
In an era where guitar gods were king, let’s give it up for one of the most recognizable keyboard parts you’ll ever hear. Europe’s “The Final Countdown” was primarily a performance clip, save for a few shots of aerial nature footage and a director overseeing the video shoot. Still, this very ‘80s clip features plenty of performance clip tropes, including pyro, stage explosions and slow motion choreographed headbanging and stage moves.
"Mony Mony" (1987)Billy Idol
Though Idol initially released his cover of the Tommy James classic in 1981, it got a significant boost when it appeared on his 1987 Vital Idol collection reimagining his past hits. The live version of the song -- which featured Idol’s gyrations and grinding against his female keyboardist -- was a hugely requested hit at MTV. Though muted in the clip, you can also see Idol visibly mouthing the traditional “get laid, get fucked” chant during his live performance.
"Kiss Me Deadly" (1988)Lita Ford
God bless form-fitting acid-washed ripped jeans and leather pants. After the Runaways, Lita Ford’s career got a second wind with her self-titled 1988 album and its lead single “Kiss Me Deadly.” At the height of the hair metal era, Lita broke through the boys club with a killer song and one extremely sexy video. The clip made many a metalhead stop, however passively they were watching MTV, and give it their full attention.
"Just a Gigolo / I Ain't Got Nobody" (1985)David Lee Roth
Louis Prima doesn’t exactly scream MTV, but that didn’t matter once David Lee Roth put his spin on the ‘50s era medley (which was derived from two pre-World War II songs). Diamond Dave, fresh from Van Halen’s 1984 explosion, went a little meta, paying homage to the network that would be airing the video the most. As an exasperated “Dave TV” VJ, Roth imagines crashing the sets of Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Billy Idol, Willie Nelson, Culture Club and more. In the end, we got something uniquely Dave, as the charismatic frontman showed just how fun rock could be.
Metallica had largely ignored the music video format until unleashing “One” upon the masses in early 1989. The clip includes footage and dialogue from the 1971 film Johnny Got His Gun, which centered on a young man going off to war and emerging from battle significantly affected both mentally and physically. Lars Ulrich revealed that the band felt the film mirrored the themes of the song so it was a natural fit. The clip would go on to be one of the band’s most popular videos of their career.
"Pour Some Sugar on Me" (1988)Def Leppard
While the Hysteria was no doubt huge for Def Leppard, many may forget that the album didn’t really peak until the fourth single “Pour Some Sugar On Me” came nearly nine months after the album release. Unhappy with the clip they initially shot, Def Leppard decided to let their “In the Round” touring be the basis for a live video they’d use to promote the song stateside. The extended video intro also gave fans who had the album a little something different. At the period of the video’s arrival, Def Leppard were ascending to one of the biggest acts going and viewers responded by making “Pour Some Sugar on Me” as one of the most requested clips of the year.
"Cum On Feel the Noize" (1983)Quiet Riot
Who wouldn’t kill for the stereo system in Quiet Riot’s “Cum on Feel the Noize” video? Sure, it may seem a little nondescript at first, but as soon as the kid turns the stereo on, the room starts shaking like an earthquake, the stereo grows to humongous size and the attempt to pull the plug out puts you right in the audience at a Quiet Riot show. Who needs streaming when that’s an option?
Though Eddie Van Halen was the ‘80s guitar god, “Jump” gave us one of the era’s most recognizable keyboard parts. Still, the keyboard was barely visible in the clip for “Jump.” Instead, we got a performance clip that gave us plenty of mugging for the camera, David Lee Roth high kicks and yes, a scintillating Eddie Van Halen guitar solo.
"Walk This Way" (1986)Run-D.M.C. Featuring Aerosmith
There may not have been a more important video in the ‘80s. The pairing of Aerosmith with Run-D.M.C. helped legitimize the emerging artform of rap in the eyes of many rock fans and it helped rejuvenate the career of the ‘70s rock gods all in one fell swoop. The video plot proved prophetic as Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry initially took issue with each other housed in neighboring studio space, but eventually broke down the walls to find something awesome together in collaboration.
"Every Rose Has Its Thorn" (1988)Poison
The power ballad: Poison may not have been the first, but there were few that better captured the spirit of the power ballad than they did on “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” The clip opens with Bret Michaels in bed with a young woman, breathing an exasperated sigh as he finds his acoustic guitar and starts strumming and singing about their tortured relationship. She’s later seen driving away while Bret and his band continue their time on the road.
"You Give Love a Bad Name" (1986)Bon Jovi
While Motley Crue, Def Leppard and others may have carried the torch for heavy music in the early part of the decade, Bon Jovi’s emergence in 1986 really kicked the hair metal era into high gear. The Wayne Isham-directed live video for the song helped make Jon Bon Jovi one of the most recognizable figures in hard rock. As the song rose to No. 1 and the video became a staple at MTV, Bon Jovi went from opening act to major headliner over the course of a few months.
"Welcome to the Jungle" (1987)Guns N' Roses
Fresh off the bus and new to L.A. … oh what you might encounter. That’s the case for Axl Rose in Guns N’ Roses’ debut video, “Welcome to the Jungle,” as he’s immediately met by a seedy drug dealer and a streetwalker before peering into a storefront and being confronted with a bank of TVs showcasing nothing but sex and violence. Welcome to the Jungle, indeed. Believe it or not, the band was initially met with some reticence to play the video by MTV with the clip only airing late at night, but demand quickly soared and soon the video was an MTV staple.
"We're Not Gonna Take It" (1984)Twisted Sister
Teen rebellion was best on display in 1984’s Twisted Sister video for “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” A young man playing his guitar in his room gets viciously scolded by his father (Animal House’s Mark Metcalf, who throws in some Animal House references for good measure). But once the dad completes his saliva-flying rant, he’s put in his place by three words from the kid – “I wanna rock!” The remainder of the clip finds the father attempting to escape his son’s metal influence, often catching the brunt of it anyway.
"Here I Go Again" (1987)Whitesnake
Is there a more ‘80s video image than that of Tawny Kitaen somersaulting over two sports cars and writhing on the hoods of the vehicles? The Bachelor Partyactress became one of the era’s video vixens, also eventually marrying singer David Coverdale for a brief period. Though the marriage didn’t last, the pairing did give us one of the most memorable clips of the era. The song remains an anthem to this day, while the clip became one of the more popular ones in MTV’s history.
"Home Sweet Home" (1985)Motley Crue
Motley Crue weren’t the first act to have a power ballad or the first band to do a “road” video, but 1985’s clip for “Home Sweet Home” certainly showed us how it should be done. Opening with a little humor as the bandmates reveal, “I’m on my way” from various locations, they eventually get to the heart of the clip that is their performance. Shots of road life and performance footage are interspersed with crowd shots, including one in which a fan nearly loses her top just as the camera cuts to a Tommy Lee reaction shot. The “Home Sweet Home” clip tops our list as MTV had to institute “The Crue Rule” after the video became so popular they felt forced to retire it on their request show to give other videos a chance. After “Home Sweet Home,” clips were ruled ineligible after 30 days.