The 40 Best Music Videos of 1981: Staff List
24. Earth, Wind & Fire, “Let’s Groove” (dir. Ron Hays)
This was a relatively high-budget, technically ambitious video for its time, reflecting EWF’s status as one of the premier R&B acts of the previous decade. The video features electronic effects created by director Hays using an analog computer system. Bruno Mars wasn’t even born when “Let’s Groove” was a hit, but the video clearly influenced his 2013 “Treasure” video. “Let’s Groove,” an ultra-catchy, ultra-commercial, defiantly disco smash (released more than two years after disco was pronounced dead) reached No. 3 on the Hot 100. Alas, it was the final top 10 hit for this great band. — P.G.
23. The Stray Cats, “Rock This Town” (dir. Julien Temple)
The Julien Temple-helmed videos for Stray Cats’ “Rock This Town” and “Stray Cat Strut” essentially generated a rockabilly revival out of thin air, with the Brian Setzer-led trio’s iconoclastic sound and image making them a phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic in the early ’80s. “Strut” was the more memorably cartoonish of the clips, but “Town” was earlier and more kinetic, a Saturday night’s worth of excitement in 2:40 of bowling, jukebox demolition and swing dancing — presaging the next time Setzer would take over MTV with an unlikely retro wave. — A.U.
22. Gleaming Spires, “Are You Ready For the Sex Girls?” (dir. unknown)
One of the earliest and purest examples of a tried-and-true MTV staple: pairing a conceptually simple music video with a song that couldn’t have less to do with its visual. In this case, new wavers Gleaming Spires (led by Sparks’ then-new rhythm section Leslie Bohem and David Kendrick) matched an inscrutable lyric, loosely about sexual frustration and fascination, with a video that featured the duo baking a lemon meringue pie. It shouldn’t work, obviously, but the non-sequitur clip reveals its absurdist brilliance slowly — helped by sporadic moments of synchronization, like dough being slapped in time to a synth hit — and by the end, you’re absolutely salivating for that damn pie. — A.U.
21. Rick Springfield, “Jessie’s Girl” (self-directed)
Costing less than $1,500, the video helped catapult the photogenic (to put it mildly) Springfield to stardom in part due to his angst-ridden performance (calling on his General Hospital acting chops). Shot partially at 3:00 a.m. in the alley behind the Guitar Center on Sunset before he and his band got chased off, the clip perfectly captures Springfield’s seething, barely restrained jealousy every time he sees Jessie with the girl he so desperately covets. Springfield’s skinny tie and boxy suit may seem dated, but unrequited passion never goes out of style. (Points too for the cameo at the end by Springfield’s dog, Ron, who also appears on the Working Class Dog album cover) — MELINDA NEWMAN