Every so often, I'm reminded of the absolute mastery that is PUP's video for "DVP". I found out about PUP back when I was a habitual Needle Drop viewer (the less said about Anthony Fantano now, the better), and "DVP" is both a badass song and a video that gives me chills. It's effectively a lyric video with the lyrics edited into the text boxes of old NES, SNES, Genesis, and GBA games. It's so expertly done, from the fact that the lyrics are romhacked into each game, to the analog video noise and artifacting that more than likely came from a real composite capture—it's magnificent.
That got me thinking of some other music videos I love. Part of being autistic is associating audio with visuals, and basically any song I've loved, I have in my head some ridiculous big video treatment I'd make for it if I had the time, resources, team, space, or animation department. These videos get the closest to what those in my head look like. They've inspired me, they're burned into my brain, and I think they both match, elevate, and in some cases eclipse the song they go to. I have a couple fanmade music videos at the end too, speaking of the kinds of things I'd make.
Hum - "Comin' Home"
(1998, Phil Harder)
The song: I've never loved Downward is Heavenward as much as I have Hum's earlier stuff, but "Comin' Home" hits hard and sounds downright twisted. The entire song is in this crazy mix of 4/4 and 6/4, the vocals go from bored to strained in a single transition, and it's heavy. For a band that liked to take their time with their songs, the 2:45 runtime feels impressively short. Definitely Hum distilled down to their best parts.
The video: You've got the band, all in black turtlenecks, performing in front of a green screen showing this eternally-spinning mixture of bubbling, abstract imagery, interspersed with this brunette with goggles on a throwback sci-fi expedition to snowy, mountainous alien planets, complete with a big brick communicator she sings into at times. I don't put much stock in the "space rock" label, but they were fully on board with it for this video.
Why I love it: I tend to prefer Failure to Hum, but Hum had Failure absolutely beat in the cool music video department. The angles on the soundstage footage are sharp, and the band is practically in silhouette for some of it (some of the other videos on this list do that too, I'll come back to that). Compare that to the strangely cramped, yet cinematic quality of the shots of the girl scanning beetles—I dunno, way cooler than "Stuck on You".
Vampire Weekend - "Cousins"
(2009, Hammer & Tongs)
The song: It's a two-and-a-half minute energetic piece of indie pop off an album that's undeniably weird, one I covered for the Rediscovering back in 2020. I've loved this song since I was a lad in middle school—all fluttering, tremolo picked guitars, deceptively punky drums, and weird, yelpy vocalizations, and it rules. It reminds me of an upgraded version of "A-Punk", which was Vampire Weekend's first hit when they broke in 2008.
The video: Speaking of "A-Punk", the same team that directed the video for that one did this one too, and there's some similar video trickery going on. A train cart repeatedly goes down an NYC alleyway, and the band spend half the time playing on the cart and half the time watching it go past. There's a bit at the end where they wear each other's faces on the backs of their heads and take turns lipsyncing—freaky.
Why I love it: It's just memorable! Everyone's all overly perky and jerking around as they play, there's the lipsync bit at the end, or the part where Ezra turns goggles into a shoe into a calendar into a box with a drum on it into a snare drum—you kinda just have to watch it to get it. I only noticed as I started working on this page that it actually starts raining halfway through the video. Neat!
R.E.M. - "Crush With Eyeliner"
(1994, Spike Jonze)
The song: Monster is misunderstood—it's at least fourteen times more interesting than the wet noodle of Automatic for the People, and the songs are R.E.M.'s take on what swagger sounds like, so it's nothing like any of their other albums. They come out with a good half-dozen catchy sorta-glam tunes with Michael Stipe's weird, nasal voice and neurotic lyrics over top. This is one.
The video: Ironically, despite the swagger, R.E.M. were at the start of their "please stop looking at us" phase with Monster, and decided to have a group of Japanese kids be the band for this video instead! R.E.M. themselves are seen watching on as these kids rock out, get into fights, and hang around on the subways lip-syncing the song to the camera.
Why I love it: I'll be honest with you all: I do everything these kids do, alone, in my bedroom, every single day when I'm listening to music. They're clearly acting, but they do a pretty decent job miming with their various instruments. The girl with the guitar is having the most fun out of the lot of them, love her playacting the solo. Visually, it's warm, organic, and soft too—the color grading on this one is super attractive.
Beck - "Deadweight"
(1997, Michel Gondry)
The song: I love Odelay, but I think I might take "Deadweight" over about half that album. Beck always seems to write bangers when he's inspired by Brazilian music, and this one is just such a catchy, eerie, funky brew of shuffle grooves and classical guitars that I just adore it. Beck's abstract lyrics are really good too—the man knows his way around a memorable line.
The video: Beck lives in a paradoxical world—working at the beach, taking vacations to the office (me too gamer), pictures as wallpaper and wallpaper in picture frames, and his shadow drags him around, all the while people around him are re-enacting the events of 1997's largely-forgotten romantic black comedy A Life Less Ordinary—and Beck feels the effect of every scene.
Why I love it: I think I just love Michel Gondry. He's such an inventive director, and every single thing he's involved in has a really strong look to it. Beck doesn't just live in a world of paradoxes, he's hallucinating the events of A Life Less Ordinary happening to him. He's living in this world and stuck in a fictional world, as seen when he goes into the theater at the end and sees himself on the screen. It's a total trip.
The Breeders - "Huffer"
(2002, Kevin Kerslake)
The song: Title TK is such an underrated Breeders album. I think the intentional shoddiness turns folks off—there's a lot of random drum rolls and noises in the mix, accidents left in, and "Off You" sounds distorted because Kim explicitly asked Steve Albini to cook the master tape a little, as the rough mix cassette was overloaded and she liked the texture. "Huffer" is the fun, catchy, punky closer to Title TK and one of its three singles.
The video: The Breeders play the song in this neat, aged pool hall! You get a good look at the early 2000s-era Breeders lineup here, Kim Deal, her sister Kelley, Mando Lopez and Richard Presley of the band Fear on bass and guitar, respectively, and José Mendeles on drums (who apparently was some of the YouTube commenters' history teacher—and if you watch the video, he absolutely looks like one). Sounds simple, but it's all in the details...
Why I love it: There's a style of cinematography and lighting I love in several of the videos on this list, where the band is almost secondary to the room. Some shots have the band front and center, and others have them in a corner, not even remotely the focal point. Kevin Kerslake is a master of this style of shooting, just putting his bands in cool looking locations and filming those instead of them.
Stone Temple Pilots - "Lady Picture Show"
(1996, Josh Taft)
The song: Off the eternal springtime pop rock joy that is Tiny Music...Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop, "Lady Picture Show" is one of my favorite STP tunes point blank period. The lyrics are pretty macabre, but the music is so goddamn pretty, the band grooves like motherfuckers, the solo is top-notch, and Scott Weiland sings the whole thing in his lightly gritty voice, peppered with falsettos like a 70s glam star. It's so righteous.
The video: Since the song's about a dancer, it only makes sense the video is full of them. The entire thing is rendered as this silent film-era peep show, the film absolutely filthy with scuff marks and in black and white aside from the solo. The band plays, Burlesque dancers perform, lots of playing cards and diamonds appear; this thing looks so authentic, it's genuinely really impressive.
Why I love it: I know Nirvana filmed "In Bloom" on kinescope for that authentic 60s look, but this one takes things back to the 1910s with all the superimposing and mirror film trick techniques. The solo, where Dean DeLeo plays in this meadow as it suddenly cuts to technicolor, is seriously one of the prettiest things I've ever seen in a music video. It's a real feast for the eyes—for those who like ancient-looking film, anyway.
Sonic Youth - "Mote"
(1990, Ray Agony)
The song: All of my attempts to get into Sonic Youth, despite them being the noise band that everyone knows and loves, have failed. Thurston Moore is cool, I find Kim Gordon completely unlikable, Steve Shelley is a beastly drummer, but my favorite one of the lot is Lee Ranaldo. He gets one song per album, and "Mote" is the one he wrote for Goo. It's an awesome bit of experimental rock with a great chorus and J Mascis helping Lee on vocals.
The video: The video for "Mote" is best described as a seven minute video collage. The Fisher Price PXL-2000 wasn't yet the notorious and expensive outsider art camera it is now, but Sonic Youth saw the value in something so low-res and used it for all the shots of the band, mixing in tons of other ephemeral footage and underground bits of weirdness, including very blatant pornography and also Faces of Death (watch the noise coda, blegh).
Why I love it: This video is a real big analog fever dream; the PXL is black and white and records on cassette tape, which is why the framerate is so low and you get so many strange artifacts. The cropped in shots of peeps fucking, a man being executed (dunno if it's staged), rocket launches, airports, all clearly a bit on down the line in terms of tape quality, and you get quite the freaky watch. You kids putting VHS filters on everything take notes.
Soundgarden - "Pretty Noose"
(1996, Frank Kozik)
The song: I don't like calling absolute favorites, but "Pretty Noose" is pretty fucking up there for me as far as Soundgarden goes. It's astounding how this band could layer so many complex parts, like Ben Shepherd's hyperactive bassline, Chris Cornell's harmonies, and Matt Cameron's shuffly drum part and dizzying fills, into such a catchy song and not have it sound busy or cluttered. Absolutely peerless musicianship.
The video: This one has two videos, and we're talking about the cool one, not the one with the band performing. You've got all these shots of all the members of Soundgarden in these seedy situations, getting rammed by the cops, hustling in a bar, and a dead girl next to Chris in bed right at the tail end, with all these CGI transitions of eyes, fire, and dancers in between. It makes an impression. I don't think there's much out there like it.
Why I love it: Soundgarden were pretty against your typical big dick lipsync rock video, which I think is what makes the ones we got from them so iconic. They're all loaded with computer graphics and trippy visuals, and if they could get away with it, the band wasn't featured at all. This one's basically all iconography, and what fantastic iconography it is. For a song about an attractively-packaged bad idea? This video is full of 'em.
Sebadoh - "Skull"
(1994, Russell Bates)
The song: Bakesale was a highly important album to me when I was in college. I can still hear Colton (this was early days for Pennyverse) in a song like "Together or Alone", or the start of my own relationship in "Got It". "Skull" is a pretty typical Lou Barlow ballad, about a "one night stand under stoned persuasions" (Lou being the pothead he is), just one a little more crunchy than usual. Great tune.
The video: According to the guy who shot the video, Sebadoh themselves had this loose idea for a practice session that never starts, and that was the genesis for the "Skull" video. Try as they might to practice the song to varying degrees of seriousness, they instead drive out to the middle of nowhere, Lou dragging along this absurdly bulky amp cabinet for no reason, which almost ends up in the river. It's a total non-sequitur, but it's great.
Why I love it: Just such a great 90s vibe. It's in black and white (like a lot of Sub Pop videos at the time were, because monochrome film stock was cheaper than color), I love the soft crossfades, I love the random Dinosaur Jr. picture taped to Lou's guitar, I love the slapstick with the amp and the bumbling goofery of the attic scenes. Watch the Sub Pop upload of the video; you can see the line 21 closed captions in the overscan at the top!
Garbage - "Stupid Girl"
(1995, Samuel Bayer)
The song: "Stupid Girl" is the sound of the past melting away. I can't get enough of it. From that opening guitar arpeggio to those wistful pianos after the second chorus, God, has Garbage written a better song? Not many. I also love the way they had a "broken and repurposed" aesthetic with their sounds on those first few albums; the gurgling sounds in the pre-chorus are from a malfunctioning DAT machine, and they just used it in the song.
The video: Filmed in an L.A. warehouse, apparently everyone except Shirley was drunk and exhausted from shooting the "Only Happy When It Rains" video, but that's hard to tell given the intense degradation of the visuals. The director, Samuel Bayer (he was the guy who did the first edit of the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video, fun fact), dyed, scratched up, and tore up the filmstock in his own bathtub to give it an organic, textured quality.
Why I love it: And that right there is why I love it. You have this song that's marked by accidents and repurposed sounds, and it's accompanied by visuals that are completely destroyed to match. The colors are oversaturated, visible scratches, markings, and sprocket holes, and you couldn't recreate any single bit of that on a computer. It's such a human, breathing, living thing, absolutely ruined, but that's the fun of it.
Autolux - "Turnstile Blues"
(2004, Shawn Kim)
The song: The pounding, grinding opener to one of my favorite albums ever made, Future Perfect, this song perfectly shows off every single aspect of Autolux's sound during that era. You've got Carla Azar's bonkers drum tone and unwavering backbeat, Greg Edwards' bent guitar leads, and Eugene Goreshter's contrasting gentle vocals and bandsaw noise patches. It's odd, but it works perfectly.
The video: It seems like a pretty standard performance video at first, with the group in this big warehouse with strip lighting—until the monitors show up. A giant array of CRT monitors are used to play with bizarre camera angles and drag the band around the stage, with Carla's drumkit even being made out of monitor images at one point. You get some real nice closeups of the CRTs' dot masks right at the end too.
Why I love it: Whenever alien futuristic imagery gets mixed with ancient technology, I'm in love with it. Remember that Kevin Kerslake style of filming the room, not the band I mentioned earlier? There's a bunch of angles in this video of each band member just barely on screen, or harshly backlit so their features are obscured. It looks so fucking cool.
OK Go - "Maybe, This Time"
(2007, John Mandish, fanmade)
The song: I don't think OK Go gets enough credit for their weird, insidious streak. Especially on the first two albums, there's a lot of low-key, droning, often depressed tunes that I find far more interesting than their singles (though those are cool as shit too). "Maybe, This Time" is a little underrated number tucked in at the end of Oh No, all dry guitars and skeletal drum parts, about futilely trying to convince a stubborn know-it-all.
The video: This one was put together by a group of high schoolers for a class (if the circumstances under which their also-excellent "15 Step" fan video are the same for this one), with the part of the know-it-all being played by a ventriloquist dummy who's trying to skeeve out the singer. The instrument miming isn't great, but I'd say the blocking and editing about matches some of the official stuff on this list. Impressive for high schoolers.
Why I love it: If I had friends growing up, I would've been trying to convince them to make shit like this with me. I'm happy with what all I get up to creatively, but if I could somehow make a life around making music videos, even amateur ones, I would. I fucking would. (Random aside: I like the implication of the singer and dummy being one in the same at the end of the video—easy to criticize when you see yourself in your target.)
Breaking Benjamin - "So Cold"
(2005, Paul Marino, fanmade)
The song: Perennial radio rock band here in the states. Pretty good, and based not too far away from me! (They're from Wilkes-Barre, which is only an hour drive from the heart of the Poconos.) "So Cold" is definitely my favorite of their singles, a big, heavy ballad with that deep voice over top, crunchy enough for the rock boys but pretty enough that girls can make AMVs to it too. And you know they did.
The video: Using the power of the Source Engine, this guy mashed up "So Cold" with scenes from Half-Life 2, complete with the G-Man singing the vocal part (done by Paul singing the song himself to get the Source SDK's Faceposer to extract the lipsync). MTV2 just happened to be doing a series of game-based music videos themselves called Video Mods, and wound up licensing "I'm Still Seeing Breen" for air.
Why I love it: Frankly, discovering Video Mods and this specific machinima in particular about sent me out of my body. I wanted, so fucking badly, to make music videos in Source and Half-Life 2, I spent so much time researching ways to do it legit—no Idiot Box "strap thrusters to a ragdoll" shit, real machinima. I never found a way that satisfied me. Seeing someone did exactly what I spent my teenager years dreaming about? Best video ever made. This will never be topped. I still get misty-eyed watching it, holy shit.