As an avid fan of film and music, not much makes me happier than a movie soundtrack. And as a Gen-Xer, I am particularly fond of 80s movie soundtracks. From pop-rock to synth-pop, ska to funk to power pop, the following songs were an integral part of my formative years. Not every song on this list was written directly for its corresponding film; if the song was featured prominently in the movie, it counts (my blog, my rules). Also, I’m only including jams, so look for ballads somewhere else! Without further ado, here is a selection of some of my favorite 80s soundtrack jams.
- “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton (9 to 5)
Dolly Parton, who made her film debut in 9 to 5, was the only choice to write and perform the title tune. This absolute stone-cold classic earned Parton an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song (it lost to “Fame”), two Grammy Awards, and a place on AFI’s “100 Years, 100 Songs”. The single also went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was the ninth most popular song of 1981.
- “Alex F” by Harold Faltermeyer (Beverly Hills Cop)
German film composer Harold Faltermeyer struck gold with his iconic, Grammy-winning score for the 1984 blockbuster Beverly Hills Cop. “Axel F” was a top-five hit in several countries, including the US and the UK, a rarity for an instrumental.
Honorable mentions: “Absolute Beginners” by David Bowie (Absolute Beginners), “All Over the World” by ELO (Xanadu), “Anotherloverholenyohead” by Prince and the Revolution (Parade: Music from the Motion Picture Under the Cherry Moon)
- “Back in Time” by Huey Lewis & The News (Back to the Future)
While “The Power of Love” is certainly the more popular Huey Lewis song featured in Back to the Future, “Back in Time” is without a doubt my favorite of the two. First of all, it actually references the film’s plot. Second, I love the wordplay used to convey the different meanings of “back in time”. Third, THOSE HORNS!! 🎷🎺
Honorable mentions: “Breakin’… There’s No Stopping Us” by Ollie & Jerry (Breakin’), “Batdance” by Prince (Batman), “Bring on the Dancing Horses” by Echo & the Bunnymen (Pretty in Pink), “Baby I’m a Star” by Prince (Purple Rain)
- “Cry Little Sister” by Gerard McMann (The Lost Boys)
Gerard McMann had not seen The Lost Boys when he wrote this hypnotic theme song; director Joel Schumaker was blown away by how well McMann captured the essence of the film, telling McMann, “I can’t believe you wrote this without seeing a frame of film!”
Honorable mentions: “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” by David Bowie (Cat People), “Call Me” by Blondie (American Gigolo), “Causing a Commotion” by Madonna (Who’s That Girl), “Computer Blue” by Prince (Purple Rain)
- “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds (The Breakfast Club)
Simple Minds initially turned down the offer to perform the iconic theme to The Breakfast Club; the song had been written for the film by Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff, and Simple Minds preferred to write their own music. A&M Records and Chrissie Hynde (who was then married to Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr) managed to persuade them to do it. Kerr made the song his own by adding the “la la la la la” vocal fills for the song’s outro. “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” was Simple Minds’ first and only US #1.
Fun fact: Before the tune was offered to Simple Minds, it was turned down by Bryan Ferry, Billy Idol, and The Fixx’s Cy Curnin.
Honorable mentions: “Down in the Park” by Gary Numan (Times Square), “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins (Top Gun), “Dragnet ’88” by The Art of Noise (Dragnet), “Dancing in Heaven (Orbital Be-Bop)” by Q-Feel (Girls Just Want to Have Fun), “Do Wot You Do” by INXS (Pretty in Pink), “Dancing in the Sheets” by Shalamar (Footloose), “Darling Nikki” by Prince (Purple Rain)
- “Everybody Want to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears (Real Genius)
This iconic tune, written for Tears for Fears’ brilliant 1985 album Songs from the Big Chair, plays over the closing credits of one of my all-time favorite movies, Real Genius.
Fun fact: The song’s title comes from a line in The Clash’s “Charlie Don’t Surf”. In a 1988 interview, Joe Strummer described bumping into TFF’s Roland Orzabal at a restaurant and telling him, “You owe me a fiver”; Orzabal reached into his pocket and handed Strummer a five-dollar bill.
Honorable mentions: “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor (Rocky III), “Erotic City” by Prince with Sheila E. (in her recording debut!) (Purple Rain), “Everywhere at Once” by The Plimsouls (Valley Girl)
- “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins/”Flashdance… What a Feeling” by Irene Cara/”Fame” by Irene Cara (Footloose/Flashdance/Fame)
There was no way to decide between these iconic “F” title tracks, all released between 1980 and 1984. So a three-way tie it is. All three songs were top-five hits. “Flashdance… What a Feeling” and “Fame” both took home the Academy Award for Best Original Song; “Footloose” lost to Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You”, but it should have lost to “Purple Rain”, which WASN’T EVEN NOMINATED (more on that later).
Honorable mentions: “The Fanatic” by Felony (Valley Girl), “Fire in the Twilight” by Wang Chung (The Breakfast Club), “Flash” by Queen (Flash Gordon), “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy (Do the Right Thing)
- “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough” by Cyndi Lauper (The Goonies)
The Goonies, another PBandJulie all-time fave, features a kick-ass score by Dave Grusin as well as pop songs by artists like REO Speedwagon and Philip Bailey. But by far the best-known song from The Goonies is Cyndi Lauper’s “Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough”. Lauper hated the song so much she refused to perform it live for twenty years (she eventually relented to fan demand and put it back on her setlist).
Fun fact #1: The song’s original title was simply “Good Enough” but Warner Bros. insisted the film’s title appear in the tune’s title.
Fun fact #2: Lauper recorded a parody version of the song titled “Taffy Butt” for an episode of Bob’s Burgers.
Honorable mentions: “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr. (Ghostbusters), “Good Times” by INXS and Jimmy Barnes (The Lost Boys)
- TIE: “Holiday Road” by Lindsey Buckingham (National Lampoon’s Vacation) and “Hazy Shade of Winter” by The Bangles (Less Than Zero)
I simply couldn’t decide, and then I realized I didn’t have to. My blog, my rules.
Honorable mentions: “The Heat Is On” by Glenn Frey (Beverly Hills Cop), “Hot Lunch Jam” by Irene Cara (Fame)
- “Into the Groove” by Madonna (Desperately Seeking Susan)
Fun fact: “Into the Groove” topped the charts in eleven countries but was ineligible for the US charts. The reason? Sire Records refused to release it as a single in the US because they didn’t want it to interfere with “Angel”, the third single off Madonna’s second studio album, Like a Virgin (though it did go to #1 on the US Dance Club chart).
Honorable mentions: “I’m Alive” by ELO (Xanadu), “I’m Alright” by Kenny Loggins (Caddyshack), “I’m Free (Heaven Helps the Man)” by Kenny Loggins (Footloose), “I Still Believe” by Tim Cappello (The Lost Boys), “Imagination” by Laura Branigan (Flashdance), “If You Leave” by OMD (Pretty in Pink), “I Melt with You” by Modern English (Valley Girl), “Invincible” by Pat Benatar (The Legend of Billie Jean), “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince (Purple Rain), “In the Name of Love” by Thompson Twins (Ghostbusters), “Iko Iko” by The Belle Stars (Rain Man)
- “Jungle Love” by The Time (Purple Rain)
The truth is, there aren’t many songs that start with “J”. Even so, “Jungle Love” is one of the jammiest jams on this list. It’s also the list’s first of two songs from Purple Rain (see also “L” for “DUH”).
- “Kiss” by Prince and the Revolution (Parade: Music from the Motion Picture Under the Cherry Moon)
The first of two consecutive Prince songs, “Kiss” went to #1 in the US and was a top-ten hit in eleven other countries. The British music magazine NME named “Kiss” the best single of 1986. “Act your age, mama, not your shoe size” is, quite simply, one of the greatest song lyrics of all time.
Fun fact: The backing vocals to “Kiss” were inspired by Brenda Lee’s “Sweet Nothin’s”.
Honorable mention: “A Kind of Magic” by Queen (Highlander), “Kajagoogoo” by Kajagoogoo (Sixteen Candles)
- “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince (Purple Rain)
What else could it be? Purple Rain is not only the greatest soundtrack album of the 1980s, it’s one of the best albums of any decade, period. Every song is an absolute banger. “Let’s Go Crazy”, the opening track, was Prince’s second chart-topper (after the album’s first single, “When Doves Cry”). I’m still not over the fact that not a single song from Purple Rain was nominated for Best Original Song at the 57th Academy Awards (to add insult to injury, the song that won that year was Stevie Wonder’s dreadful “I Just Called to Say I Love You”, from The Woman in Red).
Fun fact: After Prince’s death in 2016, “Let’s Go Crazy” re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 and made it to #25.
Honorable mentions: “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” by Deniece Williams (Footloose), “Laying Down the Law” by INXS and Jimmy Barnes (The Lost Boys)
- “March of the Swivel Heads” by The English Beat (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
“March of the Swivel Heads” was recorded for The English Beat’s 1982 album Special Beat Service (it’s actually an instrumental variation on the album’s track “Rotating Heads”). The song is the perfect soundtrack to Ferris’s race home toward the end of the iconic flick.
Honorable mentions: “Maniac” by Michael Sembello (Flashdance), “Mighty Wings” by Cheap Trick (Top Gun), “A Million Miles Away” by The Plimsouls (Valley Girl), “Modigliani (Lost in Your Eyes)” by Book of Love (Planes, Trains and Automobiles)
- “NeverEnding Story” by Limahl (The NeverEnding Story)
Limahl (Christopher Hamill) is best known as the lead singer of Kajagoogoo, which had its biggest hit in 1983 with “Too Shy”. He also had a US top-twenty hit with the theme song to the 1984 fantasy film The NeverEnding Story.
Fun fact: “NeverEnding Story” was featured prominently in the season finale of Stranger Things 3, to the delight of everyone.
Honorable mentions: “Neutron Dance” by The Pointer Sisters (Beverly Hills Cop), “New Attitude” by Patti Labelle (Beverly Hills Cop)
- “Oldest Story in the World” by The Plimsouls (Valley Girl)
At my husband’s suggestion, we watched Valley Girl two nights ago. I hadn’t seen it in many years, but the killer soundtrack is never far from my mind. In the film, 80s power pop darlings The Plimsouls appear as themselves, performing “A Million Miles Away”, “Everywhere at Once”, and “Oldest Story in the World”.
Honorable mentions: “One Vision” by Queen (Highlander), “Oh Yeah” by Yello (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), “On the Dark Side” by John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band (Eddie and the Cruisers), “Only the Young” by Journey (Vision Quest)
- “Pretty in Pink” by Psychedelic Furs (Pretty in Pink)
I honestly prefer the 1981 original (which inspired the film’s title) to the more polished version the Furs recorded for the iconic 1986 teen romance, but that’s just me splitting hairs.
Honorable mentions: “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis & The News (Back to the Future), “Playing with the Boys” by Kenny Loggins (Top Gun)
- “Romancing the Stone” by Eddy Grant (Romancing the Stone)
Reggae artist Eddy Grant, fresh off his worldwide smash “Electric Avenue”, wrote the theme song for one of my favorite films of 1984. Unfortunately, the song was cut from the finished film, but it still managed to crack the top 30 in the US.
Honorable mention: “Rhythm of the Night” by DeBarge (The Last Dragon), “Ring Me Up” by Divinyls (Sixteen Candles), “Real Wild Child” by Iggy Pop (Adventures in Babysitting)
- “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion”) by John Parr (St. Elmo’s Fire)
It’s hard to overstate my love for St. Elmo’s Fire, Joel Schumaker’s ode to Brat Pack romance. John Parr, who became a household name the year before with “Naughty Naughty”, initially struggled to find inspiration for the tune until producer David Foster showed Parr a clip of Paralympian Rick Hansen. At the time, Hansen had embarked upon his worldwide “Man in Motion” tour; Parr was so moved that he wrote lyrics that vaguely touched on the film’s plot, but directly referenced Hansen’s story. “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” went to #1 in the US and Canada and was a top-ten hit in ten other countries.
Fun fact: Members of 80s rock titans TOTO, REO Speedwagon, and Mr. Mister performed on the track.
Honorable mentions: “Stir It Up” by Patti Labelle (Beverly Hills Cop), “Shakedown” by Bob Seger (Beverly Hills Cop II), “She Talks in Stereo” by Gary Myrick & The Figures (Valley Girl), “Shake Down” by Billy Squier (St. Elmo’s Fire), “Speeding” by The Go-Go’s (Fast Times at Ridgemont High)
- “Twist of Fate” by Olivia Newton-John (Two of a Kind)
The late, great ONJ also appears on this list twice. First up is the theme to the absolutely terrible Two of a Kind, her much-hyped film reunion with John Travolta. “Twist of Fate”, Newton-John’s final US top-ten, was by far the best thing about the movie.
Honorable mentions: “Taste the Pain” by Red Hot Chili Peppers (Say Anything…), “Together in Electric Dreams” by Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder (Electric Dreams), “Take Me with U” by Prince (Purple Rain)
- “Under the Sea” by Samuel E. Wright (The Little Mermaid)
“Under the Sea”, the calypso-inspired song from Disney’s triumphant return to form, The Little Mermaid, earned songwriters Alan Menken and Howard Ashman their first Oscar for Best Original Song.
- “A View to a Kill” by Duran Duran (A View to a Kill)
For the theme song to 1985’s Bond entry, A View to a Kill, the producers chose my beloved Duran Duran, and the results were sublime. “A View to a Kill” is the only Bond theme to reach the top spot on the US charts. Inexplicably, the tune wasn’t nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar, but it did receive a Golden Globe nod.
- “Weird Science” by Oingo Boingo (Weird Science)
Danny Elfman is better known these days as a film and television composer, but he had his biggest hit with the now-defunct Oingo Boingo in 1985 with the title song from John Hughes’ Weird Science.
Honorable mentions: “When Doves Cry” by Prince (Purple Rain), “We Got the Beat” by The Go-Go’s (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), “We Are Not Alone” by Karla Devito (The Breakfast Club), “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” by Billy Ocean (The Jewel of the Nile), “Who’s That Girl” by Madonna (Who’s That Girl), “Waffle Stomp” by Joe Walsh (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), “Wild Sex (in the Working Class)” by Oingo Boingo (Sixteen Candles)
- “Xanadu” by ONJ & ELO (Xanadu)
Trust me when I tell you, even if I had thought of another X song (which I didn’t), “Xanadu” would still have been the pick. I’ve talked about my utter devotion to ONJ and Xanadu before (here: https://peanut-butter-and-julie.com/2021/04/14/guiltless-pleasures/ and here: https://peanut-butter-and-julie.com/2022/08/17/onj-forever/), so I won’t dwell on it today, but seriously, this song – written by ELO’s Jeff Lynne – fucking rules.
- “You Can Leave Your Hat On” by Joe Cocker (9 1/2 Weeks)
“You Can Leave Your Hat On” was written by Randy Newman for his 1972 album Sail Away. The 1986 cover by Joe Cocker, which made it to #35 on the Billboard Hot 100, played over the striptease scene in Adrian Lyne’s 9 1/2 Weeks; it remains a striptease anthem to this day.
Listen to all of these songs and more here: