The 1980s were a golden decade for sci-fi — one that lived out its dystopian Cold War-laced paranoia vicariously through futuristic David vs. Goliath stories on the silver screen. It all added up to some of the best sci-fi cinema ever made, in my humble opinion.
Empire Strikes Back, Flash Gordon, and Battle Beyond the Stars kicked it all off that first year. Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, Blade Runner, and Tron (all 1982) defined the next wave. That’s before we got revved up on E.T., The Last Starfighter, Aliens, Predator, and, well, you know how it went from there.
What a time to be alive.
But Hollywood wasn’t the only entertainment juggernaut predicting what it might look like when unearthly overlords descend upon our planet to control the minds of the masses.
MTV in the ’80s was rife with dystopic imagery thanks—somewhat ironically—to some of the pop-friendliest, macho-saturated groups of the decade.
Here we’re breaking down some of the weirdest sci-fi music videos of the glorious ’80s.
ZZ Top — “Rough Boy”
If you distilled ZZ Top’s brand essence to its core, it goes as follows: beards, cars, gee-tars, and Texas. So what happens when that brand goes to space?
BEARDS in space. Plus, a celestial car wash.
If you ever thought a ZZ Top music video would run sans car, you got another thing comin’.
And did I mention BEARDS?
Here we have a space-ready Cadillac ship exiting Earth’s atmosphere for a super-bleak carwash in orbit (two years before Princess Vespa pulled a runaway bride in her white Mercedes 2001 SEL Limited Edition in Space Balls.)
The collective BEARDS seem to operate the carwash, or at least act as a strange user interface that I hope never comes to fruition. We’ve got heavy-handed imagery (hello Ms. Leggy Robot!), a pretty dope house band, and one gigantic carbon footprint of a carwash.
FUN FACT: The only guy in ZZ Top without a beard? His name … drummer Frank BEARD.
A-ha — “Take on Me”
Who hasn’t fallen in love with a comic book character? And then watched them creep into your personal space at a diner—which, in this dystopian world, advertises having “nice cold, ice cold milk,” whatever that means—and yanks you into their violent existence after a good ol’ fashioned, seductive wink.
A-ha’s 1985 video for the runaway hit “Take on Me” was directed by Steve Barron, who you might know as the mastermind director behind the 1990 feature Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Michael Jackson’s 1983 music video, “Billie Jean.”
So, it’s no surprise we have a compelling video here with a relatively strong narrative: Girl meets comic book boy. Girl becomes comic book girl. Boy gets attacked by a pipe-wielding gang of 13s. Girl leaves comic. Boy leaves comic. And, well, it’s a classic fairytale ending.
What comic book character with way too much baggage would you allow to pull you into a panel so you could immediately be like, “oh crap, I really just wanted to watch TV tonight”?
Styx — “Mr. Roboto”
In this video, we’re invited into “The Official Madame Tussaud’s and Disney’s Hall of President’s Presents a VERY Limited Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame” exhibit. The exhibit mostly features a pelvic-gyrating Elvis and Styx, which I think is a bit presumptuous by the latter, but this is the world that’s presented to us, so let’s roll.
In this video ecosystem, much like Marvel’s Collector, we meet the robot seemingly from the 1927 sci-fi drama “Metropolis,” which is apparently a fan of rock-n-roll (AWESOME), but with a very narrow scope on what that entails (DAMN IT), so it built itself a museum of wax-meets-robotics-meets-people exhibits for the galactic population to check out (NOT GOOD). It turns into a bit of a nightmare.
Bummer moral of the story: WE were the monster inside the machine this whole time.
Useless fact: This video features robots doing the dance move “the robot,” which was choreographed by Kenny Ortega, who also directed the High School Musical trilogy.
Good to see he summited his career mountain peak.
Rick Springfield — “Human Touch”
One wouldn’t necessarily peg power-pop hitman Rick Springfield (“Jessie’s Girl”) as a sci-fi guy, but he has the bona fides to back it up.
Back in the 1970s, the full-time, power-chord plucker and part-time actor worked on the series Six Million Dollar Man, Wonder Woman, and the pilot episode of what became the original Battlestar Galactica, among others.
To the uninitiated, he’s like cool freak James Franco in “Freaks and Geeks” playing DnD for the first time (long live Carlos the Dwarf). I suppose it makes sense that sci-fi weaved its way into his catchy, frat-friendly ’80 songs.
You wanna get nuts?!? Rick Springfield revolts and performs a concert in “Bop Till You Drop,” another choice sci-fi offering from his video catalog.
Tom Petty — “You Got Lucky”
I’m convinced this 1985 music video is what inspired Kevin Costner to make the arid, dry-throat ‘90s action drama, The Postman—and thusly, I’m forever indebted to it.
Delivering mail is a sensible occupational suggestion in the post-apocalypse, and I appreciate the advice and consider myself prepared. How else am I going to get coupons?
Written by Chris Staten.