The early days of MTV videos were largely an experiment. Kids like me didn’t care, because watching 24 hour music on TV was revolutionary. Seeing guys in red leather pants scream about working for the weekend? Sign me up.
The filmmakers knew their audience – basically young, hormone-riddled teens stuck on the family room couch – and they played straight to them, with video after video hammering home the eternal truths that school’s a drag, teachers are lame, and the only thing that could save us from the educational industrial complex was rock ‘n’ roll rebellion and sweet, sweet shredding.
Here’s a list of hair metal videos that use the prison of school as a backdrop. The winners prove music was the only salvation when authority is breathing down your neck. The losers get detention.
9. Aerosmith | “Crazy” | 1994
Alicia Silverstone and Liv Tyler skip school to go skinny-dipping and strip clubbing. There’s not much reference to education in this classic Aerosmith blues-rock slider, just Silverstone sneaking out a school window to catch a ride. The plot is a lousy cover to give the impression Aerosmith is concerned the pair might ruin their lives by playing hooky and selling their bodies for shits and giggles.
8. Bon Jovi | “Runaway” | 1984
Another naughty schoolgirl in uniform runs away. Science class must have been pretty traumatic for her to leave home. The girl is also carrying some strange emotional baggage. There’s a weird underdeveloped backstory that includes an incident of radiation exposure. Bon Jovi is trying to be serious here, but it’s still the early days of MTV. All they can muster for a storyline for this synth-rock song is footage of a teen who looks pissed off while running in place, and fire sometimes shoots out of her eyes. The lesson here is don’t quit school, but also, don’t live near a nuclear testing site.
7. AC/DC | “Thunderstruck” | 1990
AC/DC guitarist Angus Young and his schoolboy uniforms were the living equivalent of rebellion in the 80s. They served as a sort of nonverbal objector to the rigors of adhering to a dress code just to learn about science and history. Young made the job of rock star seem pretty damn cool, and dressing like he was eternally 12 was all part of the act.
Enjoy “Thunderstruck,” which shows off one of Young’s most recognizable, driving guitar riffs.
6. Night Ranger | “Sister Christian” | 1984
School’s out, and graduates of a girls’ Catholic school (of course) line up to accept their diplomas in Night Ranger’s weepy piano rock ballad. The focus narrows on one girl who was apparently afraid to have fun. She’d rather stare out the window while everyone else hops in the back seat to go joyriding. It was a weird choice for Night Ranger to highlight the Type A personality who wanted to skip the search for “Mr. Right” to find success and happiness. In the end, she rips off her stuffy graduation gown and drives away with her friends. Thankfully, it appears all her lofty aspirations were just a dream.
5. Twisted Sister | “We’re Not Gonna Take It” | 1984
This brings the ennui of middle/high school home. “We’re Not Gonna Take It” features the same vindictive teacher who we’d soon also see in “I Wanna Rock,” except in this first installment, he’s being a controlling parent instead of a tyrant teacher. As drool again hangs out of his mouth, he asks: “What do you wanna do with your life!?” As will become s pattern, Twisted Sister are the only ones who have the power to blast him out of the house with righteous shredding.
4. Living Colour | “Cult of Personality” | 1988
The Corey Glover-fronted band always hovered near heavy metal more than so-called hair metal. But Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality” sought to dissect the phenomenon of its title: what happens when a crazed government leader aims to skew his people’s’ thoughts by promoting positive images of choreographed military maneuvers. Released at the tail end of the 80s, it features a young kid in school uniform, possibly in her living room, watching a black and white timeline of political events on TV. Images like Beatlemania, Martin Luther King, Jr., poverty food lines, and police standoffs race by on the screen. Maybe education really does start at home.
3. Mötley Crüe | “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” | 1985
The principal initiates corporal punishment on a student because the kid said a dog ate his homework. What? It could happen. In the boys’ bathroom he wishes his “side of the story” could be heard. Cue glam-rock’s Mötley Crüe, who drag the kid into “The Other Side” to see a dystopic nightmare full of brainwashed teens, mechanically dancing at prom. Oddly enough, no one is seen smoking.
2. Van Halen | “Hot For Teacher” | 1984
“Hot For Teacher” boasts some of the best video production for its time, at least in MTV terms. It doesn’t hurt that “Hot For Teacher” is still a fiery, raucous song. The video’s got the whole package – badass Van Halen kid doppelgängers, the nerdy kid with the squeaky clean hair, and a clever, funny backstory that wraps it all up. And Eddie Van Halen’s buttery guitar solos are still unmatched — smooth, slick, and easy on the ears. But portraying the teachers as beauty contestants knocks it off the top of this list.
1. Twisted Sister | “I Wanna Rock” | 1984
This is one of the most fun, fuck-you school videos of the 80s. A student gets berated by a drooling, rabid teacher who seeks to make a mockery of the kid for scribbling on a book. The student, for his part, could care less. In an answer to “What do you wanna do with your life?” the student spins into Twisted Sister, launching the teacher through the ceiling and into a basketball hoop. The teacher spends the rest of the video trying to foil those crazy kids. The song’s fist-in-the-air, anthemic hook, its chunky guitar riff, and defiant shouts of “no no no no no” is all you really need. Extra points to Twisted Sister for being one of the few entries on this list that doesn’t objectify women, and instead shows students — boys and girls — headbanging into school lockers. So, yeah, school sucks, but music rocks forever.