There was a time when the success of a single depended on its music video. With an innovative and imaginative musical showreel, one song would almost guarantee major rotation on music television, and the rest, as they say, was history. What would have become of Queen’s I want to be free, for example, hadn’t it been for Freddie Mercury vacuuming a mini-skirt?
Over the years, the trend of making music videos has faded somewhat, but it seems your appetite for watching them hasn’t waned. With Guns N’ Roses twice breaking world records with their music videos and Slipknot breaking their own records with just about every video they release, the viewing figures on a host of the world’s biggest rock videos have more digits than your average phone number.
To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Vevo has put together a definitive list of the most-watched rock music videos in the world, and we’ve compiled them all for you below.
On how the data was compiled: The list below features the top 10 most viewed rock videos in the world. This means that the data is for the whole world, but only those songs count as “rock”. These views are taken from the artists’ YouTube Vevo channels. The source used here is Vevo’s internal analysis, US Viewing Metrics 2019, which they have kindly shared with us.
10. Europe – The Final Countdown (1986)
World Views: 695m
The final Countdown is one of the most famous series of notes in popular music – so ubiquitous that the Queen could quite possibly hum it on demand. It therefore follows that the total number of views of his video is approximately twice the total population of the United States. Not bad for a small Swedish group.
With a tenuous space-age concept – the band is watched from monitors in some sort of spaceship, heading for Venus as they were – it helped the band slip into intense spin and eventually made a big splash. them a household name.
9. The Police – Every Breath You Take (1983)
World Views: 701m
Directed by 10cc’s Kevin Godley and Lol Creme – arguably the biggest impact of which comes from the more than 50 videos they made in the MTV-dominated 80s – this video was based on Gjon Mili’s 1944 short Jammin’ The Blues.
Praised for its artistic aesthetic and abstract narrative, it became something of a focal point for ’80s music video cinematography. Jeff Ayeroff, commenting “With a good video, the ROI is phenomenal” due to its success.
8. Scorpions – Winds of Change (1991)
World Views: 721m
Scorpions’ Biggest Hit has been variously referenced as their stairway to Heaven, their Free Bird and their albatross. Inspired by the Scorpions’ performance at the Moscow Peace Festival in 1989, he did quite well to see German hard rockers through the oncoming explosion of grunge. The rousing video, which chronicles the construction and overthrow of the Berlin Wall, intercut with footage from German history (and obligatory moody group shots) did not detract from its success.
“Almost every act that came from where we were in the ’80s was killed off,” singer Klaus Meine told Classic Rock in 2016. “If this album had been a flop, it could easily have been the end of so are we. wind of change helped us survive.”
7. Bon Jovi – It’s My Life (2000)
World Views: 786m
From the album To crush, this track is almost a rejuvenation of Bon Jovi’s upbeat ’80s ethos. With writing assistance from Britney Spears collaborator Max Martin, Jovi references the characters Tommy and Gina from live on a prayer – whose video only managed to amass 625 million views, makes fans – while Richie Sambora brings back the talk box.
It all adds up to an unexpected burst of effervescent and compelling pop/rock, underpinned by dramatic, narrative video complimented by slick live footage – overall, showing a band continuing their heyday into the 21st century.
6. One Down System – Chop Suey! (2001)
World Views: 904m
A few days after the release of their 2001 album Toxicity, System Of A Down began to increase airplay of the track Chop Suey! However, almost as soon as it was picked up, it was dropped by radio stations who found its lyrical references to “self-righteous suicide” and dying angels too close to the knuckle in the aftermath of 9/11.
Not that it hurt the video. A loud, fan-filled affair that sees the band perform the track to an outdoor crowd, it became the MTV nu-metal era video definition.
5. The Cranberries – Zombie (1994)
World Views: 964m
Irish alternative rockers The Cranberries had found success with their smooth ballads, but this searing left turn, Zombie — an incendiary, furious track about the bombings in Northern Ireland — made them massive. This was helped in large part by the accompanying video, in which the late singer Dolores O’Riordan was painted gold and surrounded by cherubs painted silver. It was intercut with documentary footage of soldiers and children on the streets of Northern Ireland, filmed by director Samuel Bayer, who also made the Nirvana video. Smells like Teen Spirit — which is funny, considering what happens next in this list.
“I actually thought the director was very brave,” O’Riordan said at the time. “When he came back he was pretty excited – there was a lot of adrenaline going through him. He was telling me how tense it was and how blown away he was by it all. He got pictures of the kids jumping from building to building, and he got a lot of army footage. He was a really good director.”
4. Nirvana – Smells Like Teenage Spirit (1991)
World Views: 971 million
This infamous video is about as famous as the song it accompanies, which is saying something. Filmed at Culver City Studios in California on August 17, 1991, fans of the video were all from a gig the band had done two days prior at the Roxy in West Hollywood. They distributed flyers there, inviting everyone to come. But the climactic destruction in the video’s finale wasn’t choreographed – fans were angry and fed up at the end of filming, which lasted over 12 hours, and they were allowed to go crazy and destroy the plateau.
The video was inspired in part by the 1979 film On the edge, a Cobain favorite, and the cheerleaders were hired at a local strip club.
3. Guns N’ Roses – Sweet Child O’ Mine (1987)
World Views: 1 billion
This isn’t the first Guns N’ Roses video to hit a billion views – you can read more about it below – hit from 1987 Sweet Child O Mine broke records in its own right by becoming the first 80s video to top the big billing point. Understated in its nature – mixing black-and-white footage of live performances with candid behind-the-scenes shots – it showed slightly more thoughtful GN’R than we were used to. On the surface, at least.
At the time of writing, the video has 1,003,493,902 views, which translates to an average of almost 600,000 views per day. Savage.
2. Imagine Dragons – Believer (2017)
World Views: 1.2 billion
The fact that it was the only song and video released this decade speaks volumes about the huge appeal of American rockers Imagine Dragons around the world.
Many of Imagine Dragons best songs are built from the beat up. Here, a simple clapping beat acts as a launching pad for a stadium-sized anthem with a drop-and-release chorus that hits like an industrial hammer. The video is also quite artful, all displays of psychedelic light and lasers, mirroring their live stage show and highly curated visual aesthetic.
1. Guns N’ Roses – November Rain (1992)
World Views: 1.2 billion
It turns out that GN’R has some sort of monopoly in old music video issues. In 1992, Guns N’ Roses unveils its epic November Rain video. It was, at the time, the most expensive promo ever, costing the label $1.5 million. Geffen had to shell out $150,000 to build the White Chapel in the desert alone. Considering the budget to get a helicopter to film aerial shots, Axl Rose’s plush coat, and the costs of planning a lavish wedding with a fake rainstorm, it’s no surprise how a group could burn that much cheddar for a nine minute mini-movie.
It turns out it was a worthwhile investment, as nearly 30 years on the video broke records, becoming the first video from the 90s to hit a billion views. It’s still the most-watched rock music video of them all.