The 1980s was a decade that saw many movies explode at the box office while their soundtracks had an indelible impact on the popular music singles charts. Certain hit records became inextricably linked with particular movies and vice versa.
Pop and rock artists, such as Ray Parker Jr. and Kenny Loggins, and groups, like Simple Minds and Huey Lewis and the News, benefited from invaluable exposure on the silver screen, as the films were advantaged through their association with catchy tracks. The best of these musical hits cleverly complemented the movie they were presented, as was the case with Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes’ “I’ve Had (The Time Of My Life)” in Dirty Dancing. However, such a trait was not always necessary for success, as seen in “The Power of Love” in Back to the Future.
10 “The Heat Is On” by Glenn Frey
The late Glenn Frey was a central member of the US super-group, The Eagles, and was not unfamiliar with chart success. Frey was a prolific solo artist, and during his hiatus from his band, he contributed The Heat Is On to the soundtrack of the smash-hit Eddie Murphy vehicle Beverly Hills Cop in 1984.
This upbeat number, featuring a signature saxophone riff, features in the opening credits of Beverly Hills Cop. The song’s tempo wonderfully sets up the introduction of the motor-mouthed law enforcer, Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy), who the viewer first comes across in a sting gone wrong. The Heat Is On reached Number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the USA in March 1985.
9 “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds
Scottish band Simple Minds formed in the late 1970s, but its breakout international hit, “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” entered the public consciousness in 1985. In an interview with Janice Long on BBC Radio 2 in 2018, lead singer Jim Kerr explained the song was offered to the group by producer Keith Forsey for inclusion in the John Hughes comedy, The Breakfast Club; Kerr was reluctant to take on someone else’s material but relented. The rest is film and music history.
Reaching Number 1 in the USA and staying in the UK charts from 1985 until 1987, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” remains a revered 1980s pop song. The song’s messages about identity, relationships, and triumph make it a natural fit for the teenage story of five disparate souls serving a Saturday morning school detention who overcome their differences and form strong bonds.
8 “Ghostbusters” — Ray Parker Jr.
Ghostbusters was a roaring summer blockbuster in 1984, an action-comedy starring renowned stars, incorporating a massive merchandise campaign, and including a highly popular soundtrack. Central to the soundtrack’s chart climb was Ray Parker Jr’s “Ghostbusters.” In a 2020 interview with Professor of Rock, Parker revealed he wrote the song in mere days, inspired by a late-night television advertisement he viewed.
In the film, viewers are first treated to the song in the film’s opening. A specter terrorizes a middle-aged librarian before the famous Ghostbusters symbol hits the screen simultaneously with the track’s early drum beat and Parker’s vocals. The tune triumphantly hits again at the film’s end once the heroes have defeated the villains, Gozer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Ghostbusters spent three weeks at Number One on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, and extraordinarily, it re-entered the UK chart in both 2008 and 2021. It has been estimated the single contributed $20 million to the original film’s gross.
7 “Flashdance… What a Feeling” by Giorgio Moroder, Keith Forsey, and Irene Cara
With music composed by Giorgio Moroder and lyrics written by Keith Forsey and Irene Cara, “Flashdance… What a Feeling” was released in March 1983 to promote the upcoming Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer production, Flashdance. Cara, who had previously experienced soundtrack success with the title track for Fame in 1980, also performed the vocals on “Flashdance… What a Feeling.”
Like Cara’s 1980 release, “Flashdance… What a Feeling” provided fitting energy in helping tell the story of Alex Owens, played by Jennifer Beals, a Pittsburgh steel mill worker with aspirations to become a ballerina. The single bookended the film, playing during the opening credits, showing Owens’ tough working-class life and during the final scene when she is auditioning for the Pittsburgh Conservatory of Dance and Repertory. Owens manages to win over the conservative assessors, captivating them with her choreography. The late Cara’s powerful pop song spent 14 weeks in Billboard’s Top Ten, including six weeks at Number One.
6 “Together in Electric Dreams” by Giorgio Moroder and Phil Oakey
Although Giorgio Moroder is far from a household name, he played a big part in several 1980s soundtrack hit singles, not the least of which was “Together in Electric Dreams,” the title track of the film, Electric Dreams. The song, co-created by Phil Oakey of Human League fame, was initially released to promote the film but took on a life of its own.
The 1984 film, although critically panned, contributed a classic to Western airwaves, the appealing tune reaching Number Three in the UK and Number Five in Australia. In the movie, architect Miles Harding’s (Lenny Von Dohlen) personal computer develops sentience, and a complex love triangle between Harding, his neighbor, Madeline Robistat (Virginia Madsen), and the machine develops. While initially vengeful, the computer recognizes the love between Harding and Robistat and, ultimately, self-destructs. The film closes with radios worldwide being taken over with “Together in Electric Dreams” emanating from them.
5 “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor
Few bands are as synonymous with films as Survivor is with the Rocky series. In a 2012 interview with Guitar World, guitarist Jim Peterik spoke of how Rocky star Sylvester Stallone had been a fan of the group’s first big hit, “Poor Man’s Son,” and approached it to come up with a powerful number for the third entry in his boxing saga. The band accepted the challenge and produced “Eye of the Tiger.”
“Eye of the Tiger” opens Rocky III. After a flashback to the previous film’s conclusion, involving Rocky Balboa’s inspirational victory over archrival Apollo Creed, with the trademark Bill Conti orchestral accompaniment in the background, Survivor’s seminal single comes to the fore. As it plays, the viewer witnesses a montage highlighting Rocky’s new position of sporting and popular cultural prominence while also hinting at an emerging threat of Mr. T’s Clubber Lang. The perennial favorite of sports fans spent six weeks at Number One in the USA.
A film does not have to be a critical darling to be a box-office smash and to hold a fond place in the hearts of many. Footloose, starring a young Kevin Bacon, is a case in point. The film’s plot, involving Bacon’s Ren McCormack moving to a small town from Chicago and subsequently attempting to overthrow the archaic ban on dancing, is hardly Oscar material. However, the soundtrack, led by Kenny Loggins’ Footloose, was embraced by teenagers of the time.
Loggins’ toe-tapping theme was one of two huge 1980s soundtrack singles for him, this 1984 track followed by “Danger Zone” from Top Gun. McCormack fulfills his aspiration of liberating the old town’s youth through dance, and at the high school prom, the youngsters joyfully celebrate with Footloose, playing loudly and proudly. The single spent three weeks at Number One on the US Billboard chart; it was ranked 96th in the American Film Institute’s AFI’s “100 Years… 100 Songs.” It was also nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.
3 “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News
In a 2019 interview with Rolling Stone, singer Huey Lewis told of how Hollywood heavyweights Steven Spielberg, Bob Gale, and Robert Zemeckis approached him to pen the title track for their pending time-travel movie, Back to the Future. Lewis accepted when he was given license to contribute to his band’s next production, regardless of its immediate relevance to the film about a 1980s teenager going back in time, with an eccentric scientist, in a souped-up DeLorean, to the 1950s.
The optimistic song, The Power of Love, kicks in when Michael J. Fox’sMarty McFly realizes he is late for school. Jumping on his skateboard, McFly makes his way through the streets of Hill Valley as Lewis’ characteristic vocals fill the scene. The tune is further incorporated into the film when McFly’s band, the Pinheads, audition for his school’s battle of the bands. Lewis himself, playing a music teacher, rejects the band for being “too darn loud.” “The Power of Love” was Huey Lewis and the News’ first Number One hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.
2 “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” by Billy Ocean
1985 was a banner year for hit singles coming from film soundtracks, and British pop star Billy Ocean’s “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” is further illustrative of this. The song was the theme for The Jewel of the Nile, the sequel to the adventure-comedy Romancing the Stone.
While The Jewel of the Nile did not receive the type of critical plaudits its predecessor received, “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” was a major hit for Ocean and had previously reached the top of the US chart with “Caribbean Queen.”Ascending to Number One on the UK singles chart and Number Two on the USA’s Billboard Top 100, many believe three notable guest stars aided the single in the music video. The Jewel of the Nile’s Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, and Danny DeVito took on the role of backing vocalists, with the latter even engaging in an enthusiastic saxophone solo.
1 “I’ve Had (The Time of My Life)” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes
Possibly the most acclaimed soundtrack single of the 1980s, “I’ve Had (The Time Of My Life),” from Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey‘s Dirty Dancing, was performed by Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers and Jennifer Warnes. In an interview with Greg Prato, Medley suggested he needed considerable prompting to take on the task. Hindsight suggests the right decision was made.
“I’ve Had (The Time Of My Life)” swept various ceremonies, taking anAcademy Award, a Golden Globe, and a Grammy Award. As with many other singles mentioned on this list, the film ends with the single playing in the climactic sequence, sending audiences away on the highest of notes. Grey’s Baby and Swayze’s Johnny, having engaged in forbidden love, perform a dance they have long practiced, finishing with a yet-to-be-achieved lift much to the thrill of all and sundry. Johnny has gained a sense of self-worth, and ‘Baby’ has been emancipated from her controlling father.