Ideas & Insights
Movie Theme Songs from the 1980s
Putting an 1980s Theme party or 80s themed corporate event together involves not only the decoration but also setting the soundtrack for the event, its easy to turn to TV theme songs and movie sound tracks as the base sound Track. Below are some great tracks to get you started….
“Ghostbusters” – Ray Parker Jr – “Ghostbusters”
Essentially inseparable from the film from which it came from, the theme tune to the fantasy comedy smash is undoubtedly one of the best known theme tunes in cinema history, even if it is a bit naff. It topped the Billboard charts for three weeks, and was nominated for an Oscar. It caused friction with another 80s soundtrack idol: Huey Lewis sued over similarities to his track “I Want A New Drug,” the matter eventually being settled out of court).
“Eye Of The Tiger” – Survivor” – “Rocky III” (1982)
Sylvester Stallone needed an inspirational theme for the third in his boxing franchise, and turned to relatively little-known rock band “Survivor”, whose first Top 40 hit “Poor Man’s Son” had caught the writer/director/star’s ear. The band delivered: their inspirational “Eye Of The Tiger” will forever be associated with the franchise, even if it’s the most memorable part of the third film.
“Call Me” – Blondie – “American Gigolo” (1980)
Debbie Harry and Blondie teamed up with Moroder: the result, “Call Me,” provided the perfect introduction to Schrader’s film, the Doctor Who bassline and growly Harry vocals helping bring viewers into a new 1980s of Jerry Bruckheimer-produced excess. The song also turned out to be the biggest seller of the year.
“Fight The Power” – Public Enemy – “Do The Right Thing” (1989)
Has there even been a more perfect match of movie and pop song than Spike Lee’s classic “Do The Right Thing” and Public Enemy’s furious anthem “Fight The Power”? All abrasive Elvis-dissing lyrics, thundering loops and unexpected sax solos, was an all-time classic, topping the Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop poll, and becoming an African-American anthem.
“Fame” – Irene Cara – “Fame” (1980)
Most movie musicals have a track that’s most associated with them, but not all have theme tunes as such. Alan Parker’s 1980 stage-school tuner is certainly the exception, with a title track that helped the film to… wait for it… live forever. Penned by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford for the film, it scores probably the film’s most iconic sequence, where Bruno’s proud dad plays it in the streets, inspiring much dancing on cabs. Performed by the film’s star Irene Cara, it hit number four in the Billboard charts, and won the Oscar and the Golden Globe that year.
“The Power Of Love” – Huey Lewis & The News – “Back To The Future” (1985)
Patrick Bateman favorites Huey Lewis & The News had their best known hit with wedding-disco staple “The Power Of Love,” penned for Robert Zemeckis’ mega-smash “Back To The Future,” but what’s less well known is that it was their second attempt at writing a song for the film: the track “Back In Time,” which actually refers to the film and its characters explicitly (“Get back, Marty!”), was the original plan, but rejected by Universal. They were much keener on “The Power Of Love,” which features in the film both in an original version and as a hard-rock cover rejected by Lewis himself in a cameo, and went on to crop up in both of the film’s sequels.
“Danger Zone” – Kenny Loggins – “Top Gun” (1986)
Through to the 1990s, when he inflicted the likes of Trisha Yearwood’s “How Do I Live” (from “Con Air”) and Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” (from “Armageddon”) on all of us, Jerry Bruckheimer was a pioneer of melding soft-rock soundtrack hits to his blockbusters, and the nine-times platinum soundtrack to “Top Gun” might have reached something like his peak. Along with Berlin’s ballad “Take My Breath Away,’ “Danger Zone” is probably the most enduring musical contribution from the movie. Co-written by Giorgio Moroder, it was turned down by Toto, Bryan Adams and REO Speedwagon before 80s soundtrack superstar Kenny Loggins stepped up.
“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” – Simple Minds – “The Breakfast Club” (1985)
It seems to be the curse of so many bands – despising the song that proved to be your biggest hit. And this was the case with Simple Minds. After Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff penned “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” for the soundtrack to John Hughes’ “The Breakfast Club,” Cy Curnin, Bryan Ferry and Billy Idol all turned down the chance to record it, as did the Jim Kerr-fronted band, only to eventually give in, recording the track to tape in just three hours. It become their only U.S. number one, they never grew to love it (leaving it off their album), but it become iconic nonetheless.
“Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” – David Bowie – “Cat People” (1982)
Performed by David Bowie. The thin white duke’s contribution is actually fairly minimal: the track was mostly composed by the 80s-soundtrack-omnipresent Giorgio Moroder, who wrote the score, with Bowie lending only lyrics. Nevertheless, it’s a moody treat that fits the film beautifully, even if it went on to be put to even more impressive use, albeit anachronistically in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.”
“Axel F” – Harold Faltermeyer – “Beverly Hills Cop” (1984)
The theme from German synth composer Harold Faltermeyer’s score to Martin Brest’s action-comedy smash hit “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Axel F” became an instantly recognizable, and when released as a single, became a worldwide hit, hitting number 3 on the Billboard charts, and number 2 in the U.K. More horrifically, it became a smash again two decades later thanks to Crazy Frog, a hideous ringtone creature that, due to unexplained insanity that swept through Europe, saw the track get to number one in many countries.
“Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)” – Phil Collins – “Against All Odds” (1984)
Hackford approached Collins while the film was still in the edit room and asked him to contribute a song, and Collins adapted an unused demo from the sessions from his first solo album, about the end of his first marriage. The track went to number one on the Billboard charts for three weeks, and won Collins a Grammy, along with Oscar and Golden Globe nominations.
“If You Leave” – OMD – “Pretty in Pink” (1986)
If there’s one thing that focus groups got definitively wrong (and obviously there are a lot more than that) it was rejecting the initial ending of John Hughes’ teen romance pic “Pretty in Pink” in which Andie ends up with Duckie as is clearly so obviously meant to happen the whole time, forcing Hughes to change it so she scores spineless rich asshole Blane instead. But if there’s anything good that came out of that change, it’s that Hughes also needed a new track, so OMD turned around this terrific slice of glossy pop in just 24 hours, as they were heading off on tour. A prime example then, of not overthinking your instincts and how delivering to deadline can sometimes work out well for everyone, the song went on to be one of the British New Wave band’s biggest hits.
“St Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion)” – John Parr – “St Elmo’s Fire” (1985)
Apparently written in honor of Canadian wheelchair athlete Rick Hansen, whose world tour was indeed called the “Man in Motion” tour, this David Foster-written track was actually first recorded, by British musician John Parr, for Joel Schumacher’s unbearable Brat Pack navel gazing orgy “St Elmo’s Fire.” So one wonders when the lyric regarding the titular weather phenomenon was included. Whatever the case, the song is now a prime cut of ’80s power rock, all irony-free Big Chords and constant key changes, and even if it’s not something we’re likely to listen to that often, we cannot deny its pretty much iconic status. The film it comes from, not so much, though the hairstyles continue to fascinate to this day.
A Kind Of Magic” – Queen – “Highlander” (1981)
Inspired by a line of dialogue from the film, and frequently referencing its plot in its lyrics (“no mortal man,” “one prize, one goal” “there can be only one”) Queen’s “A Kind of Magic” was directly written for the Russell Mulcahy cult film, but since no soundtrack album for “Highlander” was struck, it was Queen’s own 1986 album A Kind of Magic which served as the unofficial soundtrack: six out of the album’s nine tracks appear, albeit in slightly different arrangements, in the film. (The clip here is of the actual cut from the film, with added magicky effects at the beginning). It was also, sadly the last album that the full band would tour with as just the following year Freddie Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS, from which he died in 1991.
“Together in Electric Dreams” – The Human League – “Electric Dreams” (1984)
And again we feel the long shadow cast by 80s synth wizard Giorgio Moroder, as this classic track was written by the Italian maestro, who then asked Philip Oakey, himself a composer and a founding member of The Human League, to record it. The story goes that Moroder liked Oakey’s first take so much that it was only under pressure that he allowed him to lay down a second, with Oakey later remarking on how ironic it was that a song that took ten minutes to record would go on to become one of The Human League’s biggest ever hits (after “Don’t You Want Me”). The song is also pretty much the poster boy for a soundtrack eclipsing a movie—Virginia Madsen vehicle “Electric Dreams” is now largely forgotten (and reports of its similarities to Spike Jonze’s “Her” are rather overstated).
“For Your Eyes Only” – Sheena Easton – “For Your Eyes Only” (1981)
While nowhere near the torch song heights of the Bond franchise’s all-time-highs (of which “All Time High” is probably not one either), Easton’s contribution to the canon is as close as we get to the peerless genius of “Goldfinger” or (greatest song ever written) “Nobody Does it Better” in this decade. Mind you, there was vocal support for “A View to a Kill,” “License to Kill” and even the rather turgid “The Living Daylights” among the staff too. Easton’s track is a little screechier than we’d like, but it’s got the basics down, and she also has the distinction of being the only Bond song singer (pretty enough) to feature visually in the opening credits.
“(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” – Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes – “Dirty Dancing” (1987)
Embarrassing admission: as a thirty-something female, I have a total lack of critical objectivity when it comes to “Dirty Dancing” to the point that I’m late with this blurb because I had to watch this clip all the way through again. The biggest single off a wildly successful soundtrack, this song is one of several—along with “Hungry Eyes” and “She’s the Like the Wind”—that could have taken a spot. But the weirdly effective anachronism of how it’s used (an 80s song Baby and Johnny dance to in the 60s) and the climactic moment it soundtracks gives it the ribbon. A second Warnes cut could also have appeared (“Up Where We Belong” with Joe Cocker for “An Officer and A Gentleman”) but tough calls have to be made, and there’s really only one duet we’d carry a watermelon for.