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The Top Ten Film Soundtracks of the 1980's

Updated on October 9, 2014

Don't You (Forget About These...)

A good soundtrack can make an ordinary movie seem a whole lot better, and a bad soundtrack can make a good movie seem a whole lot worse. This is why soundtracks are so important. The 1980's, that high point of commercialization, was the era that saw not only more effort put into 'themed' soundtracks, but also the realization that you could licence a few decent tracks, stick some filler in there, plaster the film title on the album and sell a whole lot of units. Giving the fans what they want, or just a way to make more cash from the suckers..er...consumers. You decide

Whatever the reason, I love 1980's music, and I love a good soundtrack album; for me, the soundtrack album came of age in the 80's, and was its high point. Narrowing this list down to just ten was tough, and I have tried to go for a range of soundtracks. Some of the best songs are missing just because they came from a soundtrack where the rest of it was poor (Karate Kid, I'm looking at you..) The 80's was possibly more versatile than you remember, lets go and take a look...

All images used are for the purpose of discussion and review, and as such come under the 'fair use' policy. They remain the property of their respective copyright holders.

10. St Elmo's Fire (1985)

For me, St Elmo's Fire is one of the handful of films that perfectly capture the essence of the 1980's; written and directed by Joel Schumacher, it is a shallow, yet hugely entertaining, look at what happens to a group of friends who leave the easy life of college to strike out into the real world. Some succeed, some struggle, some break down. It is all things 80's - over the top, indulgent, hammy performances, visually attractive, and just generally excessive. It's one of my favorite films!

The Soundtrack is an excellent addition to the film, with a nice mix of upbeat and slower songs. The score was written/ produced by composer David Foster, who also wrote and/or produced the more 'poppy' songs.

The highlights of the soundtrack are the title song, 'St Elmo's Fire', a U.S Billboard no.1 in 1985, and the Love Theme, a gorgeous instrumental that reached no.15. A few of the songs are standard mid-80's fare, but Foster's involvement in the whole album gives it a feel of consistency and a nice level of quality.

For full track listings click on my Amazon links below (and read some other opinions!)

Man in Motion,Theme from St Elmo's Fire - (love.that.hair)

Buy some St Elmo's Fire....

St. Elmo's Fire [Blu-ray]
St. Elmo's Fire [Blu-ray]

you need to watch it too, of course!

 

Did You Know...

The famous theme song 'St Elmo's Fire' by David Foster was never written for the film at all. Foster wrote it as 'Man in Motion', to celebrate the achievements of a disabled Canadian who travelled around the world in his wheelchair. He amended the song to fit the film.

9. Flashdance (1983)

Probably one of the defining films of the early 1980's, Flashdance is all MTV visuals, pumping soundtrack, glossy, and fashionable (for the time) to the nth degree. It was the first Bruckheimer/ Simpson film, and at its core is a story about the triumph of the little guy (girl), told in a series of set pieces. Its an 80's fairy tale about a dancer who gets her dream, and has dated quite a lot. The soundtrack, however, remains a strong collection of songs.

In its first two weeks of release, the soundtrack shifted over 700,000 units (due in no small part to MTV promotion),ultimately selling 6 million albums; the single 'Flashdance' was No.1 on the U.S Billboard chart for 6 weeks, going platinum. The song 'Flashdance' also won a Grammy, a Golden Globe, and an Oscar (it was wriiten by Irene Cara, Giorgio Moroder, and Keith Forsey). The other big selling single was 'Maniac', also a No.1, originally written for a horror film. Funnily enough, two of the strongest tracks in the film don't appear on the soundtrack at all, 'Gloria' by Laura Brannigan, and 'I Love Rock and Roll' by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. No matter,it was, and is, an essential 80's album, with Kim Carnes, Laura Branigan and Donna Summer all contributing songs.

Have a listen, it'll take you back...

For full track listings click on my Amazon links below (and read some other opinions!)

Flashdance (What A Feeling), Theme from Flashdance - (I've an urge to buy legwarmers)

Did You Know...

Irene Cara had to fight a long legal battle to get any royalties from the title song 'Flashdance, What A Feeling'. Despite co-writing and singing the song, which went platinum, the record company tried to avoid paying out. Irene Cara eventually won her case.

8. Streets Of Fire (1984)

In many ways Streets of Fire defies categorization, though it called itself a 'rock 'n' roll fable' and that is as good a description as any. A curious mash-up of retro 50's and 80's styles, it is visually outstanding, with an amazing soundtrack, but fails with a very weak script. The story sees a singer kidnapped by a street gang, and her ex-boyfriend called back to rescue her..which is pretty much it. It is a great excuse to use 50's diners, classic cars and bikes, lots of neon in the rain, gang fights and so on. Its a wish fulfillment film, but its a bit of a gem in my eyes.

Although the film was a financial disaster at the box office, the soundtrack has elevated it to cult status. Originally supposed to have several Springsteen songs, he withdrew permission after hearing they would be covered by other artists, as well as distributor opposition. The soundtrack has an excellent pedigree with songs written by Jim Steinman ('Nowhere Fast' and the outstanding 'Tonight is what it means to be Young'), and Stevie Nicks ('Sorcerer') among others, and performances by Ry Cooder, Dan Hartman, Marilyn Martin and Maria McKee.

The most successful song was the Top Ten 'I Can Dream About You' by Dan Hartman, buy I love the two Jim Steinman songs the most. If there is a better anthem for the weekend when you are young and getting ready to go out than 'Tonight is what it means to be Young' I have yet to hear it. It is, like the film, a strange at first mash up of styles and sounds, but it all works for me. Unique music for a unique film.

For full track listings click on my Amazon links below (and read some other opinions!)

Buy some Streets of Fire!

Streets of Fire
Streets of Fire

such an underrated 80's film

 

Tonight is What it Means To Be Young, from Streets Of Fire. - Get up and dance!

Did You Know...

Streets of Fire is named after the Bruce Springsteen song of the same name. The film was originally supposed to feature several Springsteen songs on the soundtrack, but this was stopped when the film would have clashed with the released at the same time 'Born in the USA'.

7. The Blues Brothers (1980)

Just under the wire, released in 1980, was this masterpiece, still one of the best films ever made in my humble opinion. At heart, it is one of the oldest genres in storytelling, the Quest, but the way it is done elevates this to genius. To save their old orphanage Jake and Elwood Blues must reform their old band and play a benefit gig to raise some money; to do this, they have to tarvel across the country finding each band member; along the way they annoy just about everyone, and end up with a huge chasing group on their tail as well. It is great fun. The cameo's are great too, everyone from Cab Calloway to Carrie Fisher to Aretha Franklin.

Probably as close to a perfect synthesis of music and film as you can get, the Soundtrack album sold reasonably well, and Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi went on a real live tour as The Blues Brothers to promote it. What is remembered now is the amazing amount of legendary stars they got to record with - James Brown, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Cab Calloway; funnily enough, Landis had to fight to get these stars on the soundtrack and in the film, as the studio wanted newer disco acts like Rose Royce! It remains not only a classic soundtrack, but a classic album.

For full track listings click on my Amazon links below (and read some other opinions!)

Everybody Needs Somebody, from The Blues Brothers - I've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, its dark, and we"re wearing sunglasses

Buy you some Blues Brothers....

The Blues Brothers [Blu-ray]
The Blues Brothers [Blu-ray]

Great film, true classic!

 
The Blues Brothers: Original Soundtrack Recording
The Blues Brothers: Original Soundtrack Recording

Great soundtrack, some soul classics..

 

Did You Know....

In the elevator scene, with Jake and Elwood, the elevator music playing is 'The Girl from Ipanema', which is a song that director John Landis regularly sneaked into his films

6. Cocktail (1988)

Mine's a margarita....

Cocktail was THE feel good film of the summer of 1988, and its soundtrack was the party album for that summer. The plot is as flimsy as a pair of 80's flip-flops; young bartender Cruise gets carried away with the high life, ditches his true love for a rich older woman, realises his error and returns to his true love...who we find out is rich as well! Oh, and we get to shuttle between the glitzy nightlife of 80's Manhattan, and Jamaica's beaches. It is essentially a male fairytale, but is done well. Cruise has never been funnier and likeable, the locations are gorgeous, and it takes you back to those endless 80's summers of fun...

In line with the upbeat tempo of the film, the soundtrack is a lively one, with a nice mix of newer and classic material. The soundtrack reached No.2 in the U.S Billboard charts, and most people had this on the go at some point that year. My two favorite tracks are Bobby McFerrin's 'Don't Worry', and 'Kokomo' by The Beach Boys, great Summer tracks. Also you'll notice some tracks have a nominal connection to bartending - 'Hippy Hippy SHAKE', 'All SHOOK Up', get it!

great feel good film and album.

For full track listings click on my Amazon links below (and read some other opinions!)

Kokomo, from the Cocktail Soundtrack - its just like Margaritaville...

Buy some Cocktail(s)!

Cocktail Original Soundtrack
Cocktail Original Soundtrack

great, upbeat soundtrack download now!

 
Cocktail [Blu-ray]
Cocktail [Blu-ray]

Bet you remember this...

 

Did You Know...

The song 'Kokomo', by the Beach Boys is actually about a real place. It is a bar at a resort in the Florida Keys.

5. The Big Chill (1983)

This was a bit different, taking some of the teen genre plots and ploys and applying them to an older group of people; the result was a fantastic film. A group of old university friends who have drifted apart are brought back together to attend the funeral of Alex, the most popular of them all. We get to see the reality of life vs their dreams and aspirations. Some have succeeded, some have failed, some are happy, some not so. It is a fantastic ensemble cast as well, with the likes of William Hurt, Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, Jeff Goldblum, JoBeth Williams, Meg Tilly, Tom Berenger. Great stuff.

there have been many incarnations of the soundtrack album down the years, but this is the original 10 track one, there is a 14 track extended soundtrack, and a 38 track deluxe edition! The soundtrack has never been out of print, and at last count was 6 x platinum, and has been a perennial seller. It's no wonder, with such a classic mix of artists and songs. The Big Chill made the adults of the 80's nostalgic for the 60's, in the same way my generation are nostalgic for the 80's. It is a great soundtrack for a great film.

For full track listings click on my Amazon links below (and read some other opinions!)

Tell Him, The Big Chill Soundtrack - (and my wife did)

Buy some Chill!

Did You Know...

The success of the Big Chill Soundtrack, chock full of pop/ soul classics, was a big part in making 60's music marketable, and started the 1980's fad for putting classic songs in commercials

4.The Lost Boys (1987)

Way before Twilight and the vampire boom of the last few years, the first film to make vampires cool was The Lost Boys; 'Sleep all day, party all night. Never grow old, never die'. Featuring a hot cast of pretty young things, this was a smart, sassy and just plain fun film. There is humor, real horror, romance, some great effects, and such smart writing many of the 'laws' used in this film (most made up for the film) have been carried on by other horror movies. Kiefer Sutherland as the corrupting leader of the vampire gang is particularly good.

This is certainly the least mainstream soundtrack on the list, but a fine one nonetheless, and a great one for the film. There is a nice mix of artists and songs, and as you can see from the titles the songs were carefully chosen to reflect the mood and tone of the film. My personal favorite is 'People Are Strange', a great cover of The Doors classic by Echo and the Bunnymen. The soundtrack sold moderately well, but has become something of a cult classic.

For full track listings click on my Amazon links below (and read some other opinions!)

People Are Strange, The Lost Boys Soundtrack - ain't they just...

Buy some Lost Boys!

Did You Know...

The excellent track 'People Are Strange' by Echo and The Bunneymen was recorded for the film, and is a cover of a Doors song from 1967

3. Footloose (1984)

Who hasn't heard of Footloose? in the early/mid 80's there were a whole slew of low budget dance films, but Footloose was the best of the bunch. Yes it was cheesy, but it had some good performances, some great music, a plot that some thought had actually gone into and some fine dancing. It is almost a perfect 80's period piece, so 80's it hurts, and that is a compliment. Kevin Bacon never fails to make you smile when you watch . Great stuff.

The soundtrack album is possibly even more 80's-licious than the film itself! Two songs on the soundtrack were both nominated for Oscars and Golden Globes, 'Footloose' and 'Let's Hear It For the Boy'. 6 singles were released from the album, it spent 10 weeks at No.1 on the U.S Billboard album chart and went 9 x Platinum. When you look at the acts involved, it is no wonder. It was one of THE sounds of the summer of 1984. Still sounds great today.

For full track listings click on my Amazon links below (and read some other opinions!)

Footloose, Theme from the Footloose Soundtrack - (I'm now back loose)

Buy Some Footloose...

Did You Know...

Paramount made Footloose one of the first ever films to use MTV to promote the film, by releasing music videos of some of the songs weeks before the films release.

2. Pretty in Pink (1986)

Pretty in Pink was the high watermark of teen cinema, when John Hughes was at the height of his powers. It's the typical mix of high schools, teen romance, alienation, and wish fulfillment, but done to perfection. Molly Ringwald plays the object of the affections of both Andrew McCarthy and Jon Cryer, and James Spader makes a fine nemesis. It is technically a brat pack film, but there is such a lot going on here, including social commentary, that that label almost devalues it. I think its fair to say that, like most 80's films, the audience got their wish fulfillment.

The film was actually named after the song 'Pretty in Pink', which was specially re-recorded in a more radio-friendly cut by the Psychedelic Furs. John Hughes was a big fan of new wave,/ British pop music and personally selected all the tracks on here, and it is like a who's who' of 80's pop royalty - OMD, The Smiths, New Order, Echo and the Bunneymen, a Nik Kershaw song. Six singles were released from a 10 track album. This soundtrack remains a cult classic, and its status is well deserved. Hughes knew how to put angst on the screen, and how to give angst its sound. Classic stuff.

For full track listings click on my Amazon links below (and read some other opinions!)

Pretty in Pink, Theme from Pretty in Pink Soundtrack - (I'm handsome in blue)

Buy some Pretty in Pink...

Pretty in Pink (Everything's Duckie Edition)
Pretty in Pink (Everything's Duckie Edition)

best version of the film out there

 

Did You Know....

Orchestral Manuevers in the Dark (OMD) originally recorded 'Goddess of Love' for Pretty in Pinks ending. However, the script was changed, so they recorded the more appropriate 'If You Leave' instead

1. Purple Rain (1984)

Purple Rain the film made Prince a star, but Purple Rain the soundtrack album made Prince an international superstar. The film is a kind of fictionalised biography of the young Prince, here called 'The Kid', and was filmed in his home town of Minneapolis. Apparently Warner Bros hated it, and had to be persuaded to even release it! It's fair to say Prince is a better musician than actor, but playing a version of himself here he does a decent job, and the story of coming up the hard way fits him to a tee. You cannot, though, divorce the film from its music.

This soundtrack was a monster, and is not only one of the best soundtracks ever, never mind the 80's, its one of the best albums ever! 5 singles were released from the album, it won an Oscar, 2 Grammy's, and spent 24 weeks at No.1 in the Billboard charts, selling 1.5 million copies in the first week! To date, it has sold over 20 millions copies worldwide, a staggering amount. For me, the best soundtrack of the eighties.....

For full track listings click on my Amazon links below (and read some other opinions!)

Purple Rain, Theme from Purple Rain Soundtrack - (tsk, global warming)

Buy some Purple Rain!

Purple Rain [Blu-ray]
Purple Rain [Blu-ray]

best way to see this....

 

Did You Know....

Purple Rain won the 1984 Oscar for 'Best Song Score', which was awarded to Prince by Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas.

Definitive 80's Soundtrack list..or should I speak to the hand?

See results

Near Misses....

It was tough, whittling down the choices to just ten. Although I am happy with my final selection, there were a few that came close:-

Dirty Dancing - was my no.11! still sounds great today.

The Breakfast Club - has a couple of great tracks, but a weaker album overall than Pretty in Pink

Fame - again, on the fringes of inclusion, another 80's classic.

Good Morning Vietnam - too much like The Big Chill soundtrack but still great.

Top Gun - pumping mid 80's rock and pop, pure 80's

You get the picture! Whatever your choice, enjoy!!

Agree? Disagree? Let me have it....!

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    • profile image

      ConvenientCalendar 4 years ago

      TopGun?

    • StaceyWrites profile image

      StaceyWrites 4 years ago

      Great lens! I also would have put Purple Rain at number 1.

      The soundtrack to Valley Girl had a lot of good stuff on it, too.