Bizarre '80s music videos that we still love

Story highlights

  • Music videos became popular when MTV launched in 1981
  • Many of the '80s music videos were bizarre and technically innovative
  • Explore the decade's music scene on "The Eighties" Thursdays at 9p on CNN

(CNN)While a lot of people remember the '80s for formulaic pop music and solid rock 'n' roll, there were some fantastically weird things happening in music as well.

The decade's musical pioneers weren't afraid to push the boundaries to create some memorably bizarre music videos -- and while we might have been scratching our heads, we were too busy jamming to the tunes to really care.
Here's just a few of the strangest music videos from the '80s:

    "Burning Down the House" by Talking Heads

    David Byrne is known for being gloriously odd. If you don't know where that reputation came from, all you have to do is eyeball some old Talking Heads videos.
    The 1983 video for "Burning Down the House" featured Byrne's giant open-mouthed face sliding down a highway, a child version of himself and awkward synchronized shoulder dancing.
    The title of the song is inspired by a Parliament Funkadelic audience chant, which drummer Chris Frantz was yelling around the studio before Byrne decided to use a modified version for the name of the song.
    Anyhow, the video is a fully legal acid trip, and still a bit haunting to this day.

    "Land of Confusion" by Genesis

    If you had to describe this 1986 Genesis video to someone who had never seen it, you might say that it was about the Reagans -- and that Ronald drowns, dresses like Superman and meets a Triceratops. Prince also turns his tongue into a hot dog.
    Did we mention the characters were all puppets from the British television show "Spitting Image"? They were certainly not Jim Henson's cute Muppets. In fact, they were all terrifying.
    Genesis frontman Phil Collins commissioned the show's creators for the video after seeing himself on "Spitting Image" as a caricature.

    "Total Eclipse of the Heart" by Bonnie Tyler

    Did you know this karaoke favorite has a completely bewildering video that plays like a drowsy memory of a nightmare?
    The dancing ninjas should give it away, but they're really just getting it started. Think wandering in a dark house, topless football players awkwardly gesticulating and a chorus of people with white zombie eyes. Terrifying!
    It was filmed in 1983 at Holloway Sanatorium, a Victorian Gothic hospital in Surrey, which borders Greater London. We suppose Bonnie Tyler wanted it to be spooky -- and she succeeded.

    "Loverboy" by Billy Ocean

    There seems to be a common theme in a lot of videos from the '80s: bizarre scenarios that have little to nothing to do with the song's lyrics.
    Billy Ocean sticks with that theme in his 1985 video for "Loverboy," which is a rocking song all on its own. The video seems to want us to know that a hooded man on a similarly hooded horse is on a quest to meet aliens that have stumbled out of Mos Eisley Cantina from "Star Wars."
    Why was everyone so obsessed with puppets in the '80s? And more importantly, what do the men with TVs for heads have to do with the little guys bowing to the cube?
    So confused.

    "Sledgehammer" by Peter Gabriel

    Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" got major airplay both on radio and on MTV in 1986, and the video won nine awards at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards.
    It used claymation, stop-motion animation and pixelation to create funky images of Gabriel as his face was covered with fruit, transformed into modern art and used as a train track. The singer also lay under a sheet of glass for 16 hours while filming it.
    The folks behind it were none other than Aardman Animations -- who would go on to create "Wallace and Gromit" -- and The Brothers Quay, highly influential stop-motion animators.
    While "Sledgehammer" was very weird (think dead dancing chickens weird), we must admit it was a major technical feat. It was also a hit, and holds the honor of being the most-played video ever.

    "Self Control" by Laura Branigan

    It's probably a dead giveaway that this 1984 video will be odd as soon as you see that Laura Branigan apparently lives with a ballerina who wears full stage makeup at all times. (Does she even know that she's there? It's never clarified.)
    Then she catches a cab that's driven by the Phantom of the Opera, who apparently becomes obsessed with her at first sight.
    There's an orgy later, too. If this is what the nightlife is like where you live, it's probably safer to stay in.
    The video was actually directed by William Friedkin of "The Exorcist" fame, which may explain some of its creep factor. Friedkin described his vision for the video as "edgy and dark" in a 2012 interview with The Austin Chronicle.

    "Nothing Bad Ever Happens to Me" by Oingo Boingo

    A bathtub catches on fire. Lead singer Danny Elfman shaves while women dressed as statues sing to him. Disembodied faces sing from the walls as Elfman spastically dances.
    We'd love to have been in on the pitch meeting for this 1983 video: "So, the main course served in the dinner scene will be THREE singing human heads!" How does that get greenlit?

    "Sat in Your Lap" by Kate Bush

    Much like the Talking Heads video, Kate Bush is wonderfully weird, so her videos fit the bill as well.
    In the 1981 video for "Sat in Your Lap," Bush flails along with red and yellow jesters and roller skates with people wearing dunce caps as they disappear into a faraway light.
    Later, guys with bull horns and ears show up and everyone dances together. It's also notable that Bush's expression in this video is equally as scary as all the characters!
    In a 1981 interview on the English childrens' show "Razzmatazz," Bush said that the song itself was direct inspiration for the video, and she drew the storyboards for "Sat in Your Lap" herself.