While 1980s pop culture has had a massive resurgence across TV and music in recent years (here’s looking at you, Stranger Things, Lizzo and Muse), it all started three decades ago.
Now we look back, all doe-eyed, warm and fuzzy at an era gone by, when everything was innocent and the possibilities were endless. And because of that we’re still in love, and will be perpetually, with these outstanding movie music contributions from the decade.
Yes, yes, we know there are plenty that didn’t make the list, but there were just too many to name them all.
“Batdance” by Prince (Batman, 1989)
Batdance is to the Purple One’s playful soundtrack as the trailer is to the movie. In this three-part album closer, Prince dices and splices clips from the movie and bits of his own songs, whipping up a funky hybrid of house music and New Jack Swing – complete with a hair-raising, hair-metal solo. It’s dance-floor serious, but with all the color and “kapow” of a 1960s DC Comics panel. The opening third revisits “The Future,” a cut that 25 years later still sounds on the 22nd-century horizon. But it’s part two, the Vicki Vale section, that captures our hearts.
“Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” by David Bowie (Cat People, 1982)
Wisely, as he did with “Absolute Beginners,” Bowie ignores the plot of this neon-lit remake of a French thriller – an extended masculine metaphor in which women transform into felines. Instead, he wails about fire and gasoline. Decades later, Quentin Tarantino would apply the song more literally in Inglourious, when Mélanie Laurent burns down a Parisian cinema full of soldiers.
“The Touch” by Stan Bush (The Transformers: The Movie, 1986)
Many will forever associate this absurdly inspiring fist-pumper with Dirk Diggler’s tuneless pop-rock star turn in Boogie Nights. But the anthem originally soundtracked the Autobots and Decepticons’ interplanetary rumble in the Transformers’ animated big-screen debut. Though Florida singer-songwriter Stan Bush tempted fate with an ill-advised rap-tinged reboot in ’09, nothing can, well, touch the cheeseball heroism of the original.
“Into the Groove” by Madonna (Desparately Seeking Susan, 1985)
Could this be the mightiest meta dance anthem of all time? The 1985 film that spawned it now seems like a kitschy time capsule, but Madonna’s synth-spangled tune still destroys in just about any setting.
“Rhythm of the Night” by DeBarge (The Last Dragon, 1985)
One imagines Motown boss Berry Gordy, co-producer of The Last Dragon, had commerce in mind when he cobbled together the film’s soundtrack of in-house acts (Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder), but that fact doesn’t make it any less of a top-notch collection. Between glowing martial artists and Afro-and-football-pad-sporting villains, family band DeBarge got one of the biggest onscreen bumps, with an extended clip for “Rhythm of the Night” played on one of the character’s music-video shows. The calypso beat and Jheri curl may be reminiscent of Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long,” but the spectacular falsetto peak is all DeBarge.
“Let’s Hear It for the Boy” by Deniece Williams (Footloose, 1984)
Williams, a former backup singer for Stevie Wonder, comes off as a Disney cutie pie in this middle-school sock-hop staple (if you didn’t grow up in this era, trust us). It was produced by funk fusionist George Duke, the man who brought the keytar to jazz, like a whoopee cushion at a political symposium. The sleeper hit of the Footloose soundtrack, it took No. 1 on the US Billboard charts for two weeks, outperforming Ann Wilson and Mike Reno’s “Almost Paradise,” Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero”. Sure, she couldn’t quite match Loggins, but who could?
“Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” by Phil Collins (Against All Odds, 1984)
There’s a certain class of song within this list—those soundtrack tunes that far outperformed their movies. You don’t realize that this most powerful and ballady of power ballads is from a Jeff Bridges cheese-noir flick until you go searching for it on No Jacket Required. We have become so used to terrible romances lifting their titles from established songs, we forget that some songs became established via terrible romances. A leftover from his 1981 solo debut, “Against All Odds” gave the former Genesis man his first American No. 1 hit in 1984.