In the world of music videos, money flies. In 1995, Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson spent $7 million on the video for “Scream” which would have been over $10 million today. But sometimes, whether intentionally or not, a band pulls off a great music video with hardly any budget at all. Here are some of the coolest music videos that were made on pennies.
“We’re Going to Be Friends” by the White Stripes. For a song as sweet as “We’re Going to Be Friends,” this music video could not be more perfect. In a one-take shot that is wonderfully simple, we see Jack White sitting on a torn-up couch on a darkened lawn, singing to Meg White as she sleeps. The only light cast on them looks kind of like a flashlight beam and is clumsily bright in the nighttime setting. He gently serenades her with the innocent love song, which is from the perspective of a child making a new friend in school. At the very end of the lullaby, he taps her and wakes her up, but that is the only thing that actually happens in the video. The simplicity puts all the focus on his performance, and the whole scene is as plain and sweet his words.
“Praise You” by Fatboy Slim. Despite being filmed for only $800 (most of which went toward a replacement boombox and food for the cast and crew), the video for “Praise You” by Fatboy Slim was a huge critical success. It was shot guerilla-style outside of a California movie theatre where they did not have permission to film. Directed by Spike Jonze, he leads the fictional Torrance Community Dance Group as they perform a shaky but endearing dance routine to a live audience of confused onlookers. At one point in the video, a movie theatre employee actually comes and shuts off the music, although it doesn’t stop the team from dancing on. At the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards, the unpolished clip was nominated for Best Dance Video, and also won three major awards: Breakthrough Video, Best Choreography, and Best Direction (awarded to Torrance Community Dance Group).
“Lonely Boy” by the Black Keys. Perhaps one of the best happy accidents in music video history, “Lonely Boy” is a single take of a man dancing and lip-syncing to the song in a motel. The Black Keys originally had a full script and a cast of over 40 people for the video, but ended up scrapping it. The man who starred in the final cut is an actor and part-time security guard named Derrick T. Tuggle, who was only supposed to have a small dancing clip as an extra. When they were unhappy with the original shoot, they decided to use the clip of Tuggle as the entire music video, calling it “the most expensive single shot ever recorded.” “Lonely Boy” was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award for Best Rock Video, and Tuggle has since become an icon for his candid grooving.
“Here it Goes Again” by OK Go. In OK Go’s unforgettable treadmill video, which has raked in over 70 million views online, the band proves you don’t need expensive costumes or elaborate sets to make a song stand out. All you need is some fitness equipment (and a lot of coordination). The video for “Here it Goes Again” features the band in a complex choreographed dance across eight moving treadmills. It is mesmerizing to watch them hop back and forth, surfing across the machines in perfect synchronization. Time Magazine named it one of the 30 best music videos of all time, and it won a 2007 Grammy for Best Short Form Music Video.
“Subterranean Homesick Blues” by Bob Dylan. This 1965 “promotional film clip” from Bob Dylan was actually the forerunner for the modern music video. As far as spectacular low-budget music videos go, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is pretty legendary. Rolling Stone has even ranked this clip as number 7 on their “Top 100 Music Videos” list. For the video, Dylan came up with the idea to write a bunch of the lyrics on cue cards and flip through them as the song plays. As the quick-worded song flies by, Dylan stands on one side of the frame and haphazardly tosses the scribbled lyrics aside. The clip was shot in an alley behind the Savoy Hotel in London, and Allen Ginsberg and Bob Neuwirth can be seen chatting in the background. Watching the lyrics zip by is almost addictive, and the video is super stylish without even meaning to be.