Innovative musicians have long used animation to unite sight and sound. Imaginations run wild when unhindered by reality and anything is possible in a cartoon. From the sixties to the Internet age, the following videos are just a small sampling of what happens when animators interpret rock music.
THE BEATLES – YELLOW SUBMARINE
The union of animation and rock music dates back to 1968 with a film inspired by The Beatles. Yellow Submarine starred cartoon versions of the Fab Four along with a soundtrack of fan favorites.
Yellow Submarine is set in the musical utopia of Pepperland. Fueled by a vicious hatred of music, foreign invaders shattered the idyllic paradise. Tyrannical “Blue Meanies” turn residents into statues and drain the countryside of color. Thankfully an aging sailor (comically named Young Fred) managed to escape in…you guessed it…a yellow submarine.
Young Fred sailed to Liverpool, gathered up The Beatles and brought them back to restore order. Naturally their biggest hits were prominently featured throughout the film. Classics like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and of course, “Yellow Submarine” provided endless inspiration for animators.
THE GRATEFUL DEAD MOVIE – US BLUES
The Grateful Dead were at a crossroads in 1974. Weary from years of incessant touring, the band decided to call it quits. Five nights were booked at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom and billed as farewell shows. These final appearances were filmed for what became The Grateful Dead Movie.
Part concert, part documentary, the audience was just as integral to the movie as the band. Memorable scenes with dancing, illicit drug use and even a menacing moment with the Hell’s Angels captured the vast deadhead universe on film. Yet, the most famous segment was a seven-minute stretch of psychedelically tinged animation.
Countless acid trips were enhanced to the tune of “Eep Hour.” After a brief interlude of psychedelic weirdness, a dancing skeleton got down to “U.S. Blues.” The soundtrack segued into other Grateful Dead classics but soon returned to “U.S. Blues” as animation faded into a live performance.
PINK FLOYD – THE TRIAL
Pink Floyd concluded the seventies with an iconic double album. Increasingly alienated from stadium audiences, Roger Waters channeled his isolation into an enduring concept record. In 1982, Waters completed his vision when The Wall was turned into a movie.
Dialogue was minimal, instead relying on music and visuals to drive the plot. Cartoonist Gerald Scarfe created several animation pieces to accompany live actors. His most stunning contribution was saved for the grand finale. “The Trial” came to life in a series of disturbing images that have become inexorably linked to The Wall.
TOM PETTY – RUNNIN’ DOWN A DREAM
MTV transformed the music industry in the eighties. Suddenly, an eye-catching video was a requirement. Aging rockers were forced to adapt or die. One seventies rocker that embraced the new medium was Tom Petty.
When Petty released his first solo album, he had already yielded video hits with The Heartbreakers. Full Moon Fever found even greater success with the MTV generation. Of the videos released under this cycle, “Runnin’ Down a Dream” proved to be the most memorable.
“Runnin’ Down a Dream” was based on the vintage comic strip, “Little Nemo in Slumberland.” Like the hero of that classic drama, an animated Petty was whisked into fantastical adventures while under the influence of slumber.
A-HA – TAKE ON ME
Getting the right mix of visuals was essential to success in the MTV era. No band learned this lesson more directly than Norwegian synth pop group, A-ha. Their enduring hit “Take on Me” was not an overnight success, but rather a slow burner up the charts. Part of the problem was an uninspired video of the band performing over a boring blue background.
A second version was soon released. Although the production was improved, “Take on Me” was exactly the same song. The real difference was a brand new video. The new promo mixed live action with pencil drawn animation. MTV promptly put the groundbreaking video into heavy rotation. A song that had been previously DOA now became a smash hit. The video was praised with multiple awards and “Take on Me” is fondly remembered as a trademark song that represents an era.
DINOSAUR JR – THE WAGON
The original Dinosaur Jr. lineup disintegrated after three records. Front man J Mascis carried on by recording the majority of instruments on Green Mind himself. Any doubts that J could make it on his own were obliterated once “The Wagon” was released as a single.
Claymation style animation made the promotional video a favorite on MTV’s 120 Minutes. Increased visibility no doubt fueled the single’s rise up Billboard’s “Modern Rock Tracks.” Dinosaur Jr. even performed “The Wagon” on David Letterman. Still, the song’s most enduring memory is the wacky animation that carried on a long tradition of fun-filled videos.
THE RAMONES – SPIDER-MAN
No band was better suited for an animated video than The Ramones. When RCA records released a tribute album to classic cartoons in 1995, the seminal punk band’s take on “Spider-Man” was promptly turned into a video. The Ramones were given full animation treatment as vintage Spidey footage showed the webbed one in action.
THE WHITE STRIPES – FELL IN LOVE WITH A GIRL
“Fell in Love With a Girl” brought The White Stripes to life through LEGO animation. The painstaking process involved LEGO blocks being rebuilt for each frame. Despite taking six weeks to complete, the final product was worth the effort. Acute attention to detail brought director Michel Gondry accolades while the video introduced The White Stripes to a mainstream audience.
PANTERA – PLANET CARAVAN
When Pantera covered Black Sabbath, most expected them to tackle the band’s heavier side. Instead, they chose the ultra-mellow “Planet Caravan.” Originally recorded for a tribute album, Pantera’s take on the Paranoid classic closed out 1994’s Far Beyond Driven. Staying true to Sabbath’s original vision of a song “to get stoned to,” Dimebag Darrell and his cohorts created a trippy video of cosmic visions.
METALLICA – HERE COMES REVENGE
MTV has long ceased playing music videos but the medium retains value in the Internet age. Shortly before the release of Hardwired…To Self Destruct, Metallica unveiled videos for every song on the album. The unprecedented marketing ploy paid off. Hardwired has sold over three million records since its release.
“Here Comes Revenge” stands out from the pack for its disturbing imagery. Essentially an animated horror film, a murderous wolf succumbs to insanity as victims haunt him from beyond the grave. Dark and twisted, “Here Comes Revenge” harnessed the power of animation to make Metallica frightening.