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Remember When David Fincher Made Music Videos? Here Are His 25 Best

Without MTV we never would have met the maniacal Tyler Durden, in his silver screen incarnation. Without MTV we never would have discovered what John Doe had been hiding in that damned box. Without MTV, the film world would be absent of the menacing mind of David Fincher. The director of the films mentioned above — Fight Club and Se7en, as well as the recently released Gone Girl — began his film career as a trailblazing music video creator. Between 1984 and 1994, Fincher directed over 50 avant-garde musical narratives, many of which paved the way for the art form’s future. In doing so, he became one of the most award-winning video directors of all time, alongside his fellow filmmaker Spike Jonze.

In celebration of Fincher’s latest feature-length film, Gone Girl, we decided to cull through his music video catalogue to select his 25 greatest contributions, pinpointing his creative trademarks along the way.

25. “Downtown Train”
Artist: Patty Smyth
Year Released: 1987
Patty Smyth’s cover of Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs single was featured on her own debut album, Hometown Girl. The song is obviously a bit brighter than its heavily rasped predecessor, but David Fincher smoked things up in a black and white music video that closely resembles Waits’ own shadowy story.


24. “(It’s Just) The Way That You Love Me”
Artist: Paula Abdul
Year Released: 1988
“(It’s Just) The Way That You Love Me” marked the first of a series of Fincher-Abdul collaborations. Although it wasn’t her most successful single, two versions of the video were made; the first featuring Abdul and a team of male backup dancers (below), and the second being a flashy series of tight shots on the singer’s face and gaudy gear and garb — which in 1989 meant bulky PCs and a pirouetting Gordon Gekko.


23. “L.A. Woman”
Artist: Billy Idol
Year Released: 1990
This selection clearly illustrates that we did not make this list according to the songs themselves. Billy Idol’s jaunty cover of The Doors’ “L.A. Woman” may have been a reprehensible excuse for the singer to roar, but we have to give Fincher credit for keeping Idol’s “tough” intact by littering scenes with bizarre imagery like the stomach-turning cockroach cocktails. If Fincher’s dealt a shitty song, he crucifies a Marilyn Monroe look-alike on a telephone pole.


22. “No Surrender”
Artist: The Outfield
Year Released: 1987
Fincher’s third video with Manchester trio The Outfield matched the group’s power pop ballad with grainy black and white flashbacks (and forwards?). Although the video dances a fine line between being a commercial for Levi’s and Celebrex, we’re confident there’s a touching story buried in there…somewhere.


21. “Bad Girl”
Artist: Madonna
Year Released: 1993
Madonna only performed this single live once, and for good reason. The video, however, has an extensive plot — one whose written synopsis takes longer to digest than its six-minute visual. It strangely (and luckily) stars Christopher Walken as Madonna’s guardian angel and features appearances by Matt Dillon, Tomas Arana, James Rebhorn and others. Fun Fact: Directors Ellen von Unwerth and Tim Burton both rejected offers to direct the video.


20. “Don’t Tell Me the Time”
Artist: Martha Davis
Year Released: 1987
After working on videos with Los Angeles new wave act The Motels two years prior, Fincher teamed with the band’s lead singer to direct the video for her solo single “Don’t Tell Me the Time”. It’s an early example of Fincher’s affectation for decayed settings. This is the point where we all say, “Holy shit, every video has someone in a black suit.”


19. “Say You Will”
Artist: Foreigner
Year Released: 1987
Fincher goes tight-shot crazy in Foreigner’s 1987 Inside Information single. We’re supposed to assume that the lens of the camera is that of a woman’s pupil, and it’s also safe to assume that Fincher had recently watched Un Chien andalou.


18. “Cold Hearted”
Artist: Paula Abdul
Year Released: 1989
If you’re not a member of the MC Skat Kat fan club, this is probably your favorite Paula Abdul music video. Fincher dabbled in molding together a short, introductory narrative and presented us with a shabbily clad (yet sexy) dance crew in a dilapidated venue. If it hadn’t been set in a New York City dance studio, one might mistake it for a run-down Victorian home, say… on Paper Street?


17. “Notorious”
Artist: Loverboy
Year Released: 1987

Before becoming recognized for his grungy palate, Fincher was well known in the ‘80s music video-verse for his high-fashion style.


16. “Endless Nights” Artist: Eddie Money
Year Released: 1987
Although Eddie Money looks like Rowdy Roddy Piper in Michael Jackson’s shoes and socks, Fincher stuck to his sinister, film noir style for the ex-cop’s non-“Take Me Home Tonight” ballad off his sixth studio album Can’t Hold Back.


15. “Cradle of Love”
Artist: Billy Idol
Year Released: 1990
Another tacky tune from Idol’s 1990 record accompanied by another Fincher music video. “Cradle of Love” would lure a slew of think pieces chastising its totally creepy, jailbait theme these days, and for that, we commend it.


14. “Judith”
Artist: A Perfect Circle
Year Released: 2000
Following a four-year hiatus from music videos, and after releasing feature films Se7en, The Game and Fight Club, Fincher returned to the MTV world to direct a lethal and trembling music video for Tool’s Maynard James Keenan’s side project A Perfect Circle.


13. “Oh Father”
Artist: Madonna
Year Released: 1989
Fincher clearly enjoyed bringing Madonna’s ominous tales to life. The singer has said that the end of the video was her attempt to embrace and accept her mother’s death, and it’s compared stylistically to Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. The video was nominated for at the 33rd Grammy Awards for Best Short Form Music Video, and according to the countless academic write-ups about it, people used to care about Madonna a lot more prior to her adoption of a British accent.


12. “Englishman In New York”
Artist: Sting
Year Released: 1989
Fincher presents us with a beautiful black and white montage of a snowy, late '80s New York City. WARNING: This song’s hook is the deadliest of earworms.


11. “Love Is Strong”
Artist: The Rolling Stones
Year Released: 1994
Instead of hiding the 50+ year-old musicians behind an unnecessary narrative, Fincher depicted The Stones as large as the band’s legend (and egos). Oh… and it’s in black and white.


10. “6th Avenue Heartache”
Artist: The Wallflowers
Year Released: 1996
Unfortunately for Jakob Dylan, his band The Wallflowers peaked with their cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” which was used in the ’98 Godzilla remake that we’ve spent years trying to forget. Two years prior to this, however, Bob Dylan’s kid teamed up with David Fincher to film the music for their Bringing Down the House hit single “6th Avenue Heartache.” In it, Fincher revisited the theme and style used in his work with Sting and we’re treated to a black and white time-lapse of a day spent in New York City.


9. “Roll With It”
Artist: Steve Winwood
Year Released: 1988
Sweaty and sepia country line dancing with a swarm of Fincher’s trademark close-ups.


8. “Home”
Artist: Iggy Pop
Year Released: 1990
Fincher met his match in the man who sold his body to rock ‘n’ roll, Iggy Pop. Though it’s far from being Iggy’s finest musical contribution, Fincher’s video emphasized the eccentric icon’s superhuman structure as he writhed beneath frenetic black and white flashes. Twenty-four years later, and Iggy looks the same, and still rarely wears a shirt. If sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll don’t kill you, they evidently make you indestructible.


7. “Freedom ‘90”
Artist: George Michael
Year Released: 1990
Beautiful people in dirty places — it’s the perfect marriage of Fincher’s high-fashion fetish and stained aesthetic. It doesn’t hurt that the song’s catchy as hell. Five years before a blue-faced Mel Gibson did so, a shadowy George Michael screamed, “FREEDOM!”


6. “Straight Up”
Artist: Paula Abdul
Year Released: 1989
Back when such an accolade actually meant something, Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” music video cleaned up at the ’89 MTV Video Music Awards by winning in four categories. The video features Paula showing off her self-choreographed moves as cameo appearances are made by Arsenio Hall and Djimon Hounsou (who also showed his face in videos for Janet Jackson and Madonna).


5. “Express Yourself”
Artist: Madonna
Year Released: 1989
In Fincher’s first project with Madonna, he placed the singer in a Gotham-esque industrial setting. It was the most expensive music video ever made in 1989 (today, it stands as the third-most). Fincher’s stylistic inspiration came from Metropolis (1927), the iconic film by German “Master of Darkness” Fritz Lang, whose impact as a film noir pioneer certainly influenced the director’s taste. We’re willing to bet that Madonna’s look in “Express Yourself” helped her land the role as Breathless Mahoney in Dick Tracy (although it probably helped that she was dating Warren Beatty at the time).


4. “Only”
Artist: Nine Inch Nails
Year Released: 2005
For Nine Inch Nails’ 2005 With Teeth single, Fincher mixed things up a bit by experimenting with CGI — an uncommon feature in both his film and music video work. Evidently the director hit it off with the group as frontman Trent Reznor and producer Atticus Ross have since worked by his side scoring The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and, most recently, Gone Girl. The earlier two nabbed the duo an Academy Award and Grammy, respectively.


3. “Janie’s Got a Gun”
Artist: Aerosmith
Year Released: 1989
In 1989 David Fincher began experimenting heavily in creating complex visual narratives for the songs he was dealt, and he found a doozy in Aerosmith’s Pump single “Janie’s Got a Gun”, which follows a storyline of incest and murder. Yeah, it’s pretty intense. The song itself won the group their first Grammy, and we have to assume that Fincher’s video had an enormous impact on its mainstream reception.


2. “Suit & Tie”
Artist: Justin Timberlake and Jay Z
Year Released: 2013
If you haven’t noticed thus far, Fincher has a habit of building longstanding working relationships with some pretty big-name artists. Three years after Justin Timberlake worked on Fincher’s film The Social Network, the director returned to music videos — after an eight-year hiatus — to direct JT and Jay Z’s chart-storming single “Suit & Tie.” In the video, Fincher reclaimed his '80s high-fashion sensibility with Gatsby-styled twist –a polish that Timberlake continued to utilize throughout the promotion of the entire album. And what about that slide-in entrance, though?


1. “Vogue”
Artist: Madonna
Year Released: 1990
“Suit & Tie” clearly borrowed a page from the Art-Deco theme of Madonna’s 1990 I’m Breathless single “Vogue”. And why not? It’s one of the most well known music videos ever produced, and the second-best all-time according to Rolling Stone, right behind Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” – so yeah, it’s in pretty good company. Aside from Madonna’s infamous “Like a Virgin” stage thrusts, the “Vogue” video is the most emblematic moment of the pop star’s career. And that’s pretty huge considering she’s like, the original “pop star”.

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