Top Ten 80s Movie Soundtracks

February 28th, 2008 12:27pm EST

Purple Rain Starpulse recently ran a 'Top Ten 80s Albums' list, in which the inclusion of the Top Gun soundtrack inspired me to come up with a list of the "Top Ten 80s Movie Soundtracks." After doing a little 'freshening up,' both through my own personal collection, growing-up-80's memories and, oh, some website that has info about movies & music and the like, I've narrowed my list down to the top ten.
(And no, "Top Gun" didn't take my breath away and make it onto the list)

The main criteria used here is that only the film had to be released in the 80s, not the music contained on its soundtrack. I had a long, strong argument with myself to make it so that not only the film, but at least the majority of the music on the soundtrack, needed come out in the 80s, but scrapped that plan upon the realization that I couldn't make this list without a couple of soundtracks from classic 80's films for which the music was created in prior decades.

I excluded movie scores, as most were usually led by a fantastic theme song (Empire Strikes Back, Raiders Of The Lost Ark) followed by another hour or so of classical music that set the moods and tones of the film-- not something you'd play every day beginning-to-end (unless you're like me), or at a party; so we'll save that list for another day. Plus, if I had done that the list would mostly be made up of John Williams, John Barry and James Horner movie themes.

10. Beverly Hills Cop

During a time when Eagle Glenn Frey couldn't give away a solo album, he was able to pump out a few fantastic songs included on 1984 soundtracks (more on that later) In fact, it seems like when a member of a popular group embarked on a "solo project" in the 80s it always ended up with that artist getting a song on a movie soundtrack. Frey's standout "The Heat Is On" was sandwiched amidst a heavy R&B themed soundtrack that included the likes of Patti Labelle ("New Attitude," "Stir It Up"), Shalamar ("Don't Get Stopped In Beverly Hills") and The Pointer Sisters ("Neutron Dance"). But the real gem in the soundtrack to the classic Eddie Murphy comedy was none other than Harlold Faltermeyer's (who?) pop-synth theme, "Axel F." Not a day went by in '84 that you didn't hear this song on Top-40 radio.

9. Prince - Purple Rain

Prince's soundtrack to his 1984 film of the same name can be mentioned as one of the greatest albums to come out of the decade, much less one of the greatest movie soundtracks. You didn't even have to see the movie to have this album (in fact, I never did see it).

While "Darling Nikki" diddled herself in that hotel lobby and our parents freaked out over that controversy, we were all listening to this one beginning-to-end, over-and-over, and not even caring about what Nikki was doing because it was probably like the fourth or fifth best song on the album! "Let's Go Crazy." "When Doves Cry." "Take Me With U." "I Would Die 4 U." "Baby I'm A Star." "Purple Rain." 'Nuff Said.

8. The Big Chill

Perhaps the best selling of these soundtracks comes from this hugely successful drama / comedy. If you were growing up in the 80s, chances are you didn't see this film until the mid-90s, mainly because it wasn't really a film you'd want to watch as the subject matter is more for mature audiences-- the post-college crowd to be exact. But that hardly takes away from its soundtrack.

Filled with huge Motown hits like Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine," The Temptations' "My Girl" and "Ain't Too Proud To Beg," and The Rascals' "Good Lovin'"; this one proves how timeless these songs are. Three Dog Night's "Joy To The World," Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," and Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" masterfully set the moods throughout the film-- from drug-induced hangovers and somber tones of reuniting for the funeral of a friend, to living it up like you never skipped a beat since your college days.

A second album, "More Songs From The Original Soundtrack," was released on the heels of the success of the first. It wasn't as Motown oriented, but added the element of the popular rock songs from the movie. Songs from Creedence Clearwater Revival ("Bad Moon Rising"), The Beach Boys ("Wouldn't It Be Nice"), and The Spencer Davis Group ("Gimme Some Lovin'") were accompanied by a couple of Motown hits like Martha Reeves & The Vandellas' "Dancing In The Street" and Gaye's "What's Going On." The Band's "The Weight" is probably one of the most memorable songs in the film though, and it's questionable why it was left for the second volume.

7. Repo Man

Three words-- Punk rock soundtrack. Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton starred in this amusing cult classic about an out-of-work punk rocker named Otto who inadvertantly becomes the title character of this campy classic, but the soundtrack to the film outshines its counterpart. Iggy Pop kicks things off with "Repo Man"; which is followed by tracks from some of the most prolific punk bands of the era, like Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies and The Circle Jerks. The highlights, though, include Burning Sensations' "Pablo Picasso" ("Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole... not like you"); Fear's "Let's Have A War" ("Let's have a war, it could start in New Jersey"); and the acoustic recession-laden "When The Shit Hits The Fan" by the Circle Jerks ("Five pound blocks of cheese... bags of gro-cer-ies").

Three great songs from The Plugz (a group long considered to be the first Latino punk band); of which the under two-minute "Hombre Secreto" (the Spanish version of Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man") is best; round out the set.

6. Footloose

Of two dance films considered before narrowing things down, despite popularity and with quality in mind, Footloose narrowly beat out Dirty Dancing for the spot here. Sure, Dirty Dancing had the time of its life, but Footloose had Kenny Loggins!

Filled with lots of delicious 80s cheese, from Foreigner ("Waiting For A Girl Like You") to Quiet Riot ("Bang Your Head (Metal Health)"), and John Mellencamp ("Hurts So Good") to Bonnie Tyler ("Holding Out For A Hero"); the soundtrack to Footloose also included the high school dance-tastic love theme, "Almost Paradise," by Heart's Ann Wilson and Loverboy's Mike Reno (seriously, who can't picture two 15-year-olds dancing with elbows bent at 90-degree angles and their hands on the outside of each other's arms - with enough room between them for a bus to pass though?). And yeah, I just put Baby in a corner.

5. Stand By Me

The soundtrack to this classic coming-of-age tale of four boys-- all of whom actually make it out of this Stephen King film alive-- is filled with a trove of 50s pop classics. Buddy Holly ("Everyday"), The Del Vikings ("Come Go With Me"), The Coasters ("Yakety Yak") and Jerry Lee Lewis ("Great Balls Of Fire") made this journey fun. And Ben E. King's title track grounded us and brought on the serious tones of true friendship.

But the unforgettable "Lollipop" by The Chordettes proved the real camaraderie of BFF's Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton), Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman) and Vern Tessio (Jerry O'Connell). All of this helped suppress the seriousness of their quest's true goal: seeing a dead body.

From railroad tracks, junkyard dogs, "looneys" and tall tales, The Stand By Me soundtrack is filled with the feel-good music from the era in which the film takes place. And hey, Vern brought the comb.

4. The Lost Boys

Like many of the film soundtracks of the 80's, half of the music on this fantastic soundtrack is done by no-hit-wonders, but the songs themselves have qualities that allow them to stand together as another defining point of the 1980s. Perhaps the music on this best epitomizes the decade's motion picture soundtracks; something director John Hughes mastered (despite not landing a soundtrack on this list).

Hughes led the way in his films by pairing the music to the film's subject matter, and not just throwing a bunch of songs together for the sake of having music in the film. Following that mold, Joel Schumacher-- Hughes' contemporary and fellow 'Brat Pack' director (see: St. Elmo's Fire, Flatliners), directed a little film about vampires called "The Lost Boys". The film's soundtrack contained one or two big name artists and the rest were filler songs done by up-and-comers who wouldn't get further than having a song on a soundtrack (Gerard McMann, Mummy Calls, Eddie... anyone?); lead singers of well-known bands giving solo efforts (Lou Gramm, Roger Daltrey); and popular underground/cult bands (Echo and the Bunnymen); but it was done in the same vein as the soundtracks to Hughes' films (The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller - which never even had a soundtrack released because of such an eclectic mix of music), where the music was the mood and the lyrics seemed to directl pertain to the story.

Naturally, the big hit came from INXS, who collaborated with Jimmy Barnes on a cover of "Good Times" (original by the Easybeats). It's perhaps the most recognizable song Jimmy Barnes has ever done outside of his native Australia, where he had seven number one records (I saw him open for ZZ Top once and he was nothing short of awful).

The album is simply fantastic though. Daltrey toned down and synthesized a cover of Elton John's "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me", which shifts the tone from INXS' rocker and Lou Gramm's 80s cheese "Lost In The Shadows (The Lost Boys)", to more of a mix of subdued pop, synthesizers and pianos throughout. Highlights include McMann's "Cry Little Sister (Theme From "The Lost Boys")" and Echo's cover of The Doors' "People Are Strange." The album is rounded out by the haunting calliopes of composer Thomas Newman's instrumental "To The Shock Of Miss Louise," which instantly reminds one of the carnival scenes in the film.

3. Miami Vice

All right, a slight bend of the rules here goes to a TV show; but to back this up just about everyone who lived through the 80s had this (uh, cassette?) and was playing it on their "boom-box" at the beach all summer long in 1984. This soundtrack is probably the first television soundtrack ever, and is still easily the best.

Jan Hammer's classic theme song playing over the exotic sights of Miami during the opening credits of the show set the tone for Crockett (Don Johnson) & Tubbs' (Philip Michael Thomas) stylish crime-fighting, er, 'style,' in south Florida.

Two Glenn Frey songs, "Smuggler's Blues," which defined the series; and "You Belong To The City," a jazzy, saxed-up dirge that defined the show's main characters, move the soundtrack along before Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight" went deeper into the dark undertones of the Miami underworld. Things pick up with Tina Turner's "Better Be Good To Me" and Grandmaster Melle Mel's "Vice" before giving way to a trio of Hammer's synth-pop. And you thought the show was just all pastel shirts, white blazers and loafers.

A second volume was also released, featuring Gladys Knight & The Pips (in their 80s pop phase, not the classic Motown sound), more Phil Collins, Duran Duran's, Roxy Music and Jackson Browne (hey is that Andreas Vollenweider on that?).

2. Less Than Zero

Like Purple Rain, another of the most defining albums, let alone best movie soundtracks of the 80s, is the Less Than Zero soundtrack. With such a balanced mix of music that not only defined the verisimilitude of the drug fueled California underworld depicted in the film, it also serves as a colorful palette of genres muddled together in one of the most eclectic mixes ever. Seriously, you can't make this kind of mix on your iPod.

The days of one-album and one-hit-wonders were over and bands that, for the most part, are still with us today were included here; most performing a wide range of cover songs. Classic rock represented by Aerosmith doing Johnny Rivers' "Rocking Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu"; which not only got this album off to a rockin' start, but also cemented the Boston quintet's comeback that took root in their collaboration with Run DMC and in their Permanent Vacation album. Glam rock up-and-comers Poison clone of Kiss' "Rock And Roll All Night" foreshadowed their fast rise to superstardom. Roy Orbison, later in his career, on "Life Fades Away," shows he still had it. Rap, growing fast in popularity is repped by LL Cool J's classic "Going Back To Cali" and Public Enemy's "Bring The Noise" (the version without Anthrax). Even thrash metal is here, with a speedy and powerful rendition of Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" by the genre's defining band, Slayer. But it's The Bangles' amazing cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Hazy Shade Of Winter" that is not just the best in this collection, but also a shoo-in for a future Starpulse 'best of' list: The Top Ten Best Cover Songs Ever.

1. Good Morning Vietnam.

"Goooooooood Morning Vietnam! Hey, this is not a test, this is Rock 'n Roll!" Ten years removed from the end of the Vietnam War, the conflict became one of the most popular subjects of filmmakers during the 1980s. Films like Platoon (Academy Award - Best Picture, 1986), Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill, and Apocalypse Now all envisioned what was happening at the front lines of the war; but in Saigon and the other urban areas in the region it was still business as usual and life had to go on.

I was once told by a friend who was in Saigon during the war that Good Morning Vietnam was the most accurate depiction of life in Vietnam out of all the great Vietnam War flicks that came out during the decade; and music played an integral part in reminding Americans - both civilians and soldiers alike - of home. The lives the young soldiers led were filled with the images of war and death, and music was something that could take them away from reality for a while and help to keep morale up-- Rock and Roll music, that is. Armed Forces Radio is what they had, which not only gave our soldiers a bit of the latest news, but provided entertainment as well.

The film is the story of disc-jockey Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams), who is assigned to take over duties on AFR in Saigon. He immediately rubs radio station brass the wrong way by playing rock music and tossing in some improvisational humor in between songs; and later begins reporting the facts about the war instead of just the sugar-coated stories to keep morale high. Williams brings his usual hyperactive style to the character and the songs he plays have become timeless classics that translate into one of the greatest playlists ever. Everyone knows that some of America's best music was created from the mid-60s to the mid-70s and no soundtrack captured and encapsulated this better than "Good Morning Vietnam." Sure, the music isn't from the 80s, but it easily stands above and beyond anything else offered during the decade in the movie soundtrack genre.

There's lots of classics on this one, like the Beach Boys' "I Get Around," Martha & The Vandellas' "Nowhere To Run," and Godfather of Soul James Brown's classic "I Got You (I Feel Good)." This was American radio in Vietnam. Songs to get your mind off the war and make you think of home and what you're fighting for; like Them's "Baby Please Don't Go," and the irony of Louis Armstrong's standard "What A Wonderful World." Hilarious interludes from Williams' Cronauer are included and strewn throughout, adding the feel of listening to a radio broadcast from the era, albeit with Williams' over-the-top humor thrown into the mix. This soundtrack is as beautiful and intriguing as the "Dragon Lady at 3:00."

Notable mention:

The Blues Brothers, the classic soundtrack from Dan Aykroyd & John Belushi's 1980 film which featured music legends James Brown, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin; as well as the majority of songs by the brothers Blues, Jake (Belushi) & Elwood (Aykroyd) themselves. But honestly, it pales in comparison to the Brothers' "The Definitive Collection" (unfortunately it's currently out of print) on which the duo tears down the house. You wish you had some meat.

Heavy Metal

The music that accompanied the titillating animated masterpiece that is "Heavy Metal" is hardly that; but as the vehicle that moves this series of vignettes from one to the next (along with the 'sum of all evil' that is the Loc-Nar), this soundtrack is a bit of a 'lost classic' that never had a chance. Perhaps the film should have been called "Corporate Rock" or "Guitar Rock" instead, but in 1981 the "Heavy Metal" referenced in the title happens to be the name of a comic magazine, not the music genre.

Most of it's fluffy, but it still rocks and not only set all the tones and moods throughout the film, but is a great play from beginning to end. Songs from Sammy Hagar, Blue Oyster Cult, Journey and Stevie Nicks aren't exactly what you'd expect when thinking 'animated feature with lots of nudity and violence,' but then again John Candy, Harold Ramis and Eugene Levy aren't exactly the voice actors who come to mind either-- nor does director Ivan Reitman. Cheap Trick and Black Sabbath are featured also, but the slower jams from BOC, Journey, former Eagle Don Felder and Steely Dan's Donald Fagen add to the tones of this fantasy film.

There are some other notable gems that weren't included because they contained only one or two great or good classic movie songs. The first of which reigns supreme, as it contains one of the greatest movie montage songs ever: The Karate Kid soundtrack. Just watch as Daniel-san cruises through the tournament to Joe Esposito's "You're The Best."

Survivor's "Eye Of The Tiger" in Rocky III was about Rocky, not just some song that had been out for decades already that was chosen for the film.

And lastly, to give closure to this list (which is open to debate through your comments, below) I must also honor the great 80s movie song maestro-- Kenny Loggins. It was Loggins who gave us "Footloose," Caddyshack's "I'm Alright," and "Meet Me Half Way" from the cheese-tastic Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling movie (yes, the one that also starred that annoying kid from General Hospital), Over The Top. And yes, he also gave us "Danger Zone" from Top Gun.

Related: Beverly Hills Cop, Blues Brothers, Caddyshack, Dirty Dancing, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Full Metal Jacket, Good Morning Vietnam, Karate Kid, Kenny Loggins, Miami Vice, Platoon, Prince, Purple Rain, Sixteen Candles, Stand by Me, Starpulse Exclusives, Evergreen

© 2011

Photo Credits: AMG

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