The 50 best songs from ’80s movies

Bust out your leg warmers and warm up your Roger Rabbit—it’s time to hit the ’80s disco of your dreams

If there’s one word that captures the feel of the 1980s in pop culture, it’s joy. Sure, there have been classier, deeper, artier, weirder eras—in fact, probably any other decade you care to name in the past century is cooler than the ’80s—but that’s precisely why ’80s parties are the most fun.

In the grand and ridiculous prom that was the ’80s, music and movies were king and queen, coming together for a perfect, soft-focus tumble. Who can imagine John Hughes’s canon of ’80s movies without their glorious new wave soundtracks? Or the late, great Harold Ramis’s masterpiece, Ghostbusters, without its ectoplasmically wonderful anthem? Bustin’ makes everybody feel good!

So in this spirit of joy, we’ve put together a list of the all-time greatest ’80s movie songs for your delectation and delight. A note on our selections: We’ve featured only songs made in the ’80s, so while old soul classics like “Stand by Me” and “Do You Love Me?” loomed large in some ’80s movies, we’re sticking with the acid-washed denim ’80s hits. Fans of Madonna, Prince, Starship and—hell yes—Kenny Loggins, get ready. Let’s do this!

Written by Michael Chen, Brent DiCrescenzo, Andrew Frisicano, Sophie Harris, Oliver Keens, James Manning, Tristan Parker, Amy Plitt, Joshua Rothkopf, Hank Shteamer, Steve Smith, Sarah Theeboom and Kate Wertheimer.

50–41

“Batdance” by Prince (<em>Batman,</em> 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 wank solo. It’s dance-floor serious, but with all the camp, color and pow! whomp! 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 and booties, as the little sex elf admits, “Oo yeah, oo yeah, I wanna bus’ that body.”—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

“Krush Groovin’” by Krush Groove All-Stars (<em>Krush Groove,</em> 1985)

White kids in the suburbs were beat-boxing and laying cardboard boxes in their driveways for break dancing before Licensed to Ill came along. Breakin’ and Beat Street took budding New York hip-hop culture to middle America in 1984. A year later, Krush Groove prematurely mythologized the rise of Def Jam Records—a year before the Beastie Boys even released a record. This jam was better than anything on those other two soundtracks, bringing together rap icons Run-D.M.C., Kurtis Blow, Fat Boys and, uh, Sheila E., introducing so many youth to rhyming and scratching. Parents’ turntables would be permanently damaged soon thereafter.—Brent DiCrescenzo

“Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” by David Bowie (<em>Cat People,</em> 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 sexual women transform into predatory felines. Instead, he wails about fire and gasoline. Decades later, Quentin Tarantino would apply the song more literally in Inglourious Basterds, when Mélanie Laurent burns down a Parisian cinema full of Nazis. It was a cinematic rescue mission, saving this fantastic, Moroder-produced track (him again) from its origin.—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

“The Heat Is On” by Glenn Frey (<em>Beverly Hills Cop,</em> 1984)

What do the Eagles and krautrock have in common? Not much, admittedly, though those two worlds copulate to make what sounds like a baby Pointer Sister blowing a yakety sax in “The Heat Is On.” The classically trained Harold Faltermeyer, who composed Beverly Hills’ “Axel F” (not to mention the “Top Gun Anthem”), started out as Giorgio Moroder’s keyboardist before going on to totally corner the market in buddy-cop-movie scoring. Frey, eternally in Don Henley’s shadow, tried to make his name solo in soundtrack work, but ended up lifting ideas from either Loggins (this song) or Collins (Miami Vice’s “You Belong to the City”). Maybe that’s what he meant by “Smuggler’s Blues.”—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

“The Touch” by Stan Bush (<em>The Transformers: The Movie,</em> 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.—Hank Shteamer

 Download on Amazon

“Hazy Shade of Winter” by the Bangles (<em>Less than Zero,</em> 1987)

The Bangles blew up with the help of Prince and studio-pop novelties like “Walk Like an Egyptian.” But a Simon & Garfunkel cover was hardly out of left field for the L.A. girl group. The band grew out of the Paisley Underground, where Susanna Hoffs cut her teeth singing folky knee-weakeners like “Flying on the Ground Is Wrong,” originally a Buffalo Springfield tune. However, this Rick Rubin–produced remake is tense arena rock, glittering like Poison rubbed in suntan oil. Still, there’s a darkness lurking underneath the four-part harmonies. Perfect for a movie of pretty college-age preppies with junk, gigoloing and emptiness swimming behind their pearly teeth.—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

“Into the Groove” by Madonna (<em>Desparately Seeking Susan,</em> 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 of Koch-era NYC, but Madonna’s synth-spangled come-on still destroys in just about any setting. “When I was writing it, I was sitting in a fourth-floor walk-up on Avenue B,” Madonna told Time, “and there was this gorgeous Puerto Rican boy sitting across me that I wanted to go out on a date with.” To the stud in question, if you’re reading this: You’re our hero.—Hank Shteamer

 Download on Amazon

“Rhythm of the Night” by DeBarge (<em>The Last Dragon,</em> 1985)

One imagines Motown boss Berry Gordy, coproducer 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.—Andrew Frisicano

 Download on Amazon

“Let’s Hear It for the Boy” by Deniece Williams (<em>Footloose,</em> 1984)

Williams, a former backup singer for Stevie Wonder from Gary, Indiana, 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 Billboard charts for two weeks, outperforming Ann Wilson and Mike Reno’s “Almost Paradise,” Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” and, er, Shalamar’s “Dancing in the Sheets.” Sure, she couldn’t quite match Loggins, but who could?—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

“I Can Dream About You” by Dan Hartman (<em>Streets of Fire,</em> 1984)

You wouldn't expect a gritty Willem Dafoe–Diane Lane action musical to spawn a soft-rock warhorse, but hey, this is the ’80s we're talking about. Blues-steeped Pennsylvania songsmith Hartman offered the tune to Hall & Oates—which accounts for the silky soul-pop sheen of the finished product—but the Philly hit makers, then at the tail end of their commercial peak, turned him down. All the better for the author—and for the Sorels, the hot-stepping neo-Motown combo that performed the song onscreen.—Hank Shteamer

 Download on Amazon

40–31

“We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” by Tina Turner (<em>Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,</em> 1985)

Could there be anyone more perfect to sing the opening lines of this song than Tina Turner? “Out from the ruins,” she rasps. “Out from the wreckage… Can’t make the same mistakes this time.” Of course, in the context of postapocalyptic desert fantasy Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Turner is singing as Aunty Entity, ruler of outlaw outpost Bartertown. But Turner’s real-life story as a true soul survivor imbues the song and her performance in the movie with something truly extraordinary. Hail, warrior queen!—Sophie Harris

 Download on Amazon

“Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” by Phil Collins (<em>Against All Odds,</em> 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.—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

“Crazy for You” by Madonna (<em>Vision Quest,</em> 1985)

Does anyone, other than amateur wrestlers, remember Vision Quest, in which Matthew Modine played a high-school wrestler romantically pinned by an older woman (Linda Fiorentino)? Most likely the only thing most people recall about the flick is the onscreen debut of Madonna, who performs the most indelibly winsome ballad of her career (“Can’t you feel the weight of my stare?”) in the role of a local bar singer. So potent was the song that the film was renamed Crazy for You in the U.K. and Australia.—Steve Smith

 Download on Amazon

“Hungry Eyes” by Eric Carmen (<em>Dirty Dancing,</em> 1987)

Sure, the rhymes are suspect (“Hungry eyes/I feel the magic between you and I”). And the grammar is downright deplorable (same line: “between you and I”). But this isn’t about rules. Rules are what brought us to this sticky predicament in the Catskills, summer 1963. No, this is about unleashing the carnal, forbidden passion that rebellious hip-shaker Patrick Swayze and good-girl-going-bad Jennifer Grey feel, locked in a gaze as they tighten their frame on the dance floor. All by himself, underrated hit-maker Eric Carmen delivers the magic and then some.—Michael Chen

 Download on Amazon

“Together in Electric Dreams” by Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder (<em>Electric Dreams,</em> 1984)

Soundtracking the mood of a film that depicts a lighthearted love triangle among a man, a woman and a computer isn’t easy, but the Human League’s Phil Oakey and Giorgio Moroder nailed it here. The upbeat, sunny synth chords, bouncy computer rhythms and Oakey’s soaring vocals will force a smile even if you’ve just been dumped by both your human partner and your laptop.—Tristan Parker

 Download on Amazon

“The NeverEnding Story” by Limahl (<em>The NeverEnding Story,</em> 1984)

The aural equivalent of soaring through clouds on Falkor’s back, this never-ending theme song glides from fade-in to fade-out with almost no buildup in between. But who needs structure when you have that divine descending vocal run floating over impressionist washes of synth? That Midas of pop music, Giorgio Moroder, had his golden fingers all over this track, so it should surprise no one that its English and French versions topped the charts all over Europe that year. At the start of the video clip, U.K. singer Limahl mugs into the camera with a smoldering seriousness that would be laughable if he didn’t also have the mullet to pull it off.—Sarah Theeboom

 Download on Amazon

“Let the River Run” by Carly Simon (<em>Working Girl,</em> 1988)

Melanie Griffith is your average outer-boroughs girl dreaming of making it in the world of teased hair, cinch-waisted trench coats and capes that is 1980s Wall Street. She commutes by boat to Manhattan, as Carly Simon sings of silver cities rising in the fog with enough pomp to make the Staten Island Ferry seem like a golden steamship full of salt-of-the-earth immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. Simon’s semispiritual mumbo jumbo is all “We Are the World” chorus, all the time, set to a pseudo-African rhythm in slo-mo. It’s a chorus as wide and high as Sigourney Weaver’s shoulder pads, with that epic octave jump. There’s no way Simon could have intended the lump in the throat that arrives when seeing the World Trade Center in the video, but it’s there all the same.—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

“The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough” by Cyndi Lauper (<em>The Goonies,</em> 1985)

Arrr, mateys, no treasure hunt be complete without this spunky Cyndi Lauper hit accompanying the swashbuckling exploits. A perfect musical representation of the plucky “Goonies never say die!” spirit, “Good Enough” also gave us a two-part gem of a video that stars a treasure trove of ’80s notables—Mikey, Chunk, Data and the rest of the Goonies gang; Lauper’s adopted WWF wrestling family (the Fabulous Moolah, the Iron Sheik, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper); Goonies creator and producer Steven Spielberg; and Lauper’s friends, a then-unknown all-girl band called the Bangles. When adventure’s afoot, put on your “slick shoes,” fire up this track, do the “Truffle Shuffle” and, no matter what, don’t go up Troy’s bucket!—Michael Chen

 Download on Amazon

“Put a Little Love in Your Heart” by Annie Lennox & Al Green (<em>Scrooged,</em> 1988)

Originally a sweet and cooing hit for Jackie DeShannon in 1968, this gooey, soulful number was given a full-on ’80s power remake for the movie Scrooged, performed by a twosome that only a movie studio could dream up: Annie Lennox and Al Green. The clap-along gospel rhythm and showboating vocal coda even managed to put a smile on Bill Murray’s miserly face in the movie.—Oliver Keens

 Download on Amazon

“Absolute Beginners” by David Bowie (<em>Absolute Beginners,</em> 1986)

Directors, beware. When you commission Bowie to pen your cinematic theme, he is more likely to follow his own muse. “Absolute Beginners” is the Thin White Duke at a midlife crisis, reflecting on his own past. It is a sad and fatalistic song, about starting over while knowing that you cannot. Bowie gave his session players vague commands, like “Think green” and “Sound Brazilian.” The result was a melancholic recasting of the jazz-club rock & roll of Aladdin Sane. Bowie, then 39, casually leans up against the stiff groove as if it were a streetlight. The verses languidly hold on for 40 bars—Bowie never wants it to end, but knows that it must. This would be his last commercial chart hit, almost willfully. God knows what it has to do with Julian Temple’s too bright and bowdlerized musical film of 1950s mores. The movie bombed, partly because it could hardly live up to the expectations set forth by its brilliant theme.—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

30–21

“When Doves Cry” by Prince (<em>Purple Rain,</em> 1984)

Twenty-six years old and at the peak of his purple pomp and power, Prince Rogers Nelson not only managed to write this stone-cold classic track in a single night, he also recorded and produced the whole thing single-handedly. A radical sound (baroque synths, slamming drum machine and a gaping void where the bassline should be) and ultravivid lyrics based on the stupendously vain Purple Rain plot made it the biggest-selling single of 1984. Even covers by Ginuwine and Damien Rice haven’t killed its strange allure.—James Manning

 Download on Amazon

“A View to a Kill” by Duran Duran (<em>A View to a Kill,</em> 1985)

The James Bond franchise has always had a knack for memorable songs, and you could argue that Duran Duran’s theme for A View to a Kill—the 14th film in the series, and the last to feature Roger Moore—was the best thing about an adventure flick otherwise afflicted by a superannuated leading man, Christopher Walken’s looney scenery-munching, and two of the dimmest Bond girls ever in Tanya Roberts and Grace Jones. Despite all that, hearing John Taylor’s basslines pop in surround sound was worth the cost of admission.—Steve Smith

 Download on Amazon

“Maniac” by Michael Sembello (<em>Flashdance,</em> 1983)

Okay, Flashdance checklist time: Jennifer Beals in spandex? Present and correct. Montage of vigorous dance training (and butt shaking) ready to go? Affirmative. All we need now is the ultimate fast-paced, smooth disco song to set it all off. Step forward, Mr. Michael Sembello, with this cowbell-tickling beauty. Sembello actually has a great pedigree as a musician—he played with Stevie Wonder as a teen, then later with Donna Summer, the Temptations, Michael Jackson and more. The world, however, will only remember him as the guy that soundtracked the ass gymnastics of Jennifer Beals. I’m sure he’s okay with that.—Oliver Keens

 Download on Amazon

“Pretty in Pink” by the Psychedelic Furs (<em>Pretty in Pink,</em> 1986)

If you’re going to make a movie in which your protagonist works at an oh-so-hip indie record store, you better make sure the soundtrack is equally cool. The accompanying album for this Molly Ringwald vehicle was filled with tunes by cult Brit faves like New Order and the Smiths. Though OMD’s “If You Leave” is the more enduring hit, the Psychedelic Furs’ tune (for which the movie was named) is the better song if you, like Ringwald’s Andie, ever felt like a weirdo and an outcast. (Let’s just forget that Andie hooks up with Andrew McCarthy’s cool guy and pretend that she stayed weird and kept working at Trax forever, okay? Okay.)—Amy Plitt

 Download on Amazon

“People Are Strange” by Echo & the Bunnymen (<em>The Lost Boys,</em> 1987)

Gloomy Brit rockers Echo & the Bunnymen were, in retrospect, a perfect choice for this cover: The band’s faithful-but-sorta-gothy rendition of the Doors’ 1967 hit set the right tone for The Lost Boys’ opening credits, which show the freaks and hippies and punks—and, ominously, missing children—that occupy the fictional town of Santa Carla, California. The tune was produced by original Doors member Ray Manzarek, which is the only explanation for the extended (and, ahem, unnecessary) keyboard jam in the middle of the song.—Amy Plitt

 Download on Amazon

“Up Where We Belong” by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes (<em>An Officer and a Gentleman,</em> 1982)

Pairing beautiful actors Richard Gere and Debra Winger in a smoldering romantic drama amounts to a no-brainer, so it's no surprise that An Officer and a Gentleman amounted to big box office. But there's no denying that a big part of the film's impact came from the unlikely "Beauty and the Beast"–style teaming of boozy English howler Joe Cocker (best known in 1982 from John Belushi's mimickry) and gently yodeling American cult-favorite singer Jennifer Warnes, in a sentimental ballad by all-star tunesmiths Jack Nitzsche, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Will Jennings. "The song is no good. It isn't a hit," film producer Don Simpson said, but history begged to differ. —Steve Smith

 Download on Amazon

“She’s Like the Wind” by Patrick Swayze (<em>Dirty Dancing,</em> 1987)

Young minds will accept a lot of incomprehensible nonsense in the name of a good pop song, but was there a single teen who heard the first line of this song and didn’t do a double take: “She’s like the wind…through my tree.” What? Really? Huh. I mean, I guess… Dirty Dancing star Patrick Swayze contributed this song to the movie that soundtracked a billion prepubescent girls’ fantasies of what romance could be. Did it matter that the sheeny ’80s arrangement of the song was totally anachronistic to the film’s 1960s setting? Of course not. All that mattered was that Johnny was driving away while Baby cried. On YouTube, this is titled “Dirty Dancing sad scene.” Were truer words ever spoken?—Sophie Harris

 Download on Amazon

“Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears (<em>Real Genius,</em> 1985)

Tears for Fears’ career peak, this spent two weeks at No. 1 in America in the first summer of Reagan’s second term, two months before the movie hit. The riff is the theme—chiming beach guitars that lead into two doomy keyboard chords. It lent an air of Cold War dread to a lighthearted college comedy that ends by condemning the military industrial complex’s exploitation of science. Thanks to Val Kilmer, indoor waterslides, laser-cooked popcorn, secret subdormitory lairs and this song, the movie showed that nerds can be cool and puckish.—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

“I Melt With You” by Modern English (<em>Valley Girl,</em> 1983)

Ah, back to the days when Nic Cage was a (believable) hunky male lead and “falling in love” montages were, like, totally a thing. British new-wavers Modern English released this one-hit wonder in 1982, and a year later—after reaching No. 7 on Billboard’s Top Tracks and getting decent airplay on MTV—it became Valley Girl’s romantic ballad, helping us believe in love between a pastel-pink Val gal and a punk-rock city slicker. The lyrics describe a couple making love as nuclear bombs fall, which we think Randy would have been pretty into. Fer sure.—Kate Wertheimer

 Download on Amazon

“Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins (<em>Top Gun,</em> 1986)

Loggins continued his soundtrack streak, which included hits from Caddyshack and Footloose, with this fist-pumper from Top Gun. Used in the film’s opening scene, “Danger Zone” sets the tone for what’s to follow: lots of aerodynamic stunts, confrontations between hotheaded dudes and a whole lot of jingoistic fervor. Reportedly, the film’s success led to a bump in Navy recruitment—no big surprise, since it looks like one big commercial for the armed forces.—Amy Plitt

 Download on Amazon

20–11

“Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor (<em>Rocky III,</em> 1982)

We’ll wager that it’s physically impossible to hear the fiery opening riff of this song and not want to punch the living daylights out of Mr. T in a boxing ring. Or Sylvester Stallone, depending on which fighter you rooted for in Rocky III, the film that “Eye of the Tiger” was written for (apparently at Stallone’s personal request, after the rights for Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” couldn’t be secured). Either way, it’s a heavyweight knockout of an ’80s air-guitar classic.—Tristan Parker

 Download on Amazon

“Oh Yeah” by Yello (<em>Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,</em> 1986)

Does anyone hear these synth drums and vari-speed vocals without picturing Cameron’s dad’s ill-fated Ferrari? This electronic oddity from Swiss band Yello is now synonymous with covetousness of all kinds—playing behind fast cars, women walking out of pools and even ice-cold bottles of beer. But John Hughes did it first, using the 1985 single to illustrate the pure lust with which two teenage boys drink in a bright red, 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder. Oh yeah.—Kate Wertheimer

 Download on Amazon

“Holiday Road” by Lindsey Buckingham (<em>National Lampoon’s Vacation,</em> 1983)

Buckingham was perhaps the first bedroom musician working in the multiplatinum mainstream. The songs of the Fleetwood Mac guitarist always exuded a youthful, homespun charm, as he stacked his clean, busy guitar picking and boyish vocals into giddy, nostalgic shuffles. “Holiday Road” used only 23 words, turning orgasm harmonies and synthetic hand claps and dog barks—the cheap effects that came with your Casio keyboard—into a pop masterpiece. The video is surprisingly dark, depicting office work as dystopian slavery. “It’s a long way down the holiday road” becomes more Orwellian than John Hughesian.—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

“Kokomo” by The Beach Boys (<em>Cocktail,</em> 1988)

How powerful was “Kokomo”? Along with “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” this sunny taste of tropical bliss made the soundtrack for an otherwise unremarkable Tom Cruise film one of 1988’s biggest albums. The song also resuscitated the flagging fortunes of the Beach Boys, earning them a record for the longest span between No. 1 chart hits (from 1966’s “Good Vibrations” to this one). Still, one demographic had ample cause to resent “Kokomo”: travel agents besieged by morons trying to book trips to the fictitious paradise.—Steve Smith

 Download on Amazon

“Glory of Love” by Peter Cetera (<em>The Karate Kid, Part II,</em> 1986)

The golden age of Cetera reached a glorious apex with this slow-dance classic from the second installment of the iconic ’80s martial arts trilogy (sorry, Hilary Swank, we’re electing to forget The Next Karate Kid was ever made). The Karate Kid, Part II revisits plotlines set forth by its predecessor—underdog hero Daniel LaRusso is still shooting for girls way out of his league (in this case the radiant Tamlyn Tomita) while trying to avoid becoming a bully’s punching bag—but the sequel ups the ante by shifting the scene to Japan and introducing themes of familial honor and communal duty. Like a knight in an oversize cable-knit sweater, former Chicago frontman and black-belt balladeer Cetera swooped in to score a knockout hit that fittingly oozes both glory and love.—Michael Chen

 Download on Amazon

“Axel F” by Harold Faltermeyer (<em>Beverly Hills Cop,</em> 1984)

This insanely catchy synth-pop earworm is the only conceivable reason why you would know the name Harold Faltermeyer—unless you’re a deeply devoted student of ’80s pop, in which case you know the German keyboardist, composer and producer regularly punched keys and twiddled knobs for Donna Summer, Patti LaBelle, Glenn Frey and (gasp) La Toya Jackson, among others. Harold F. burnished his fame with another Grammy-winning theme, 1987’s “Top Gun Anthem,” but we prefer the tune that reminds us of Eddie Murphy’s horsey laugh.—Steve Smith

 Download on Amazon

“When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” by Billy Ocean (<em>The Jewel of the Nile,</em> 1985)

An upbeat slice of squeaky-clean neoprene soul from the tidy English R&B star behind “Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run),” this bubbly hit might have been the best thing about The Jewel of the Nile, sequel to the 1984 smash adventure-comedy Romancing the Stone. Paradoxically, the best thing about the official video—Jewel stars Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito as dancing, lip-synching backing vocalists—got the clip banned by the BBC, since the celebs weren’t union members.—Steve Smith

 Download on Amazon

“Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Starship (<em>Mannequin,</em> 1987)

Blame—or thank, depending on your perspective—perpetual hit-maker Diane Warren for this glorious bit of cheese. The tune itself is your standard ’80s synth-driven ballad, performed by the third coming of Jefferson Airplane (yes, the same group responsible for “We Built This City”). Though it hews close to the plot of Mannequin—a man and his magical department-store dummy against the world!—the song’s theme of love conquering all was universal enough to make it a worldwide smash. Cowritten by Albert Hammond Sr., the song was one of Warren’s earliest hits, leading to her first Oscar and Grammy nominations.—Amy Plitt

 Download on Amazon

“Cry Little Sister” by Gerard McMann (<em>The Lost Boys,</em> 1987)

Before Twilight or The Vampire Diaries, there was this teen vampire horror flick, starring the two Coreys (Haim, RIP, and Feldman) in their first role together, and a baby-faced Kiefer Sutherland. The coterie of bloodsuckers at the film’s center were dressed up in goth garb (it was the mid-’80s, when that kind of thing was still considered weird); the movie’s theme song, by British songwriter Gerard McMann, is similarly goth-lite, sounding like what would result if a Hollywood exec listened to a Sisters of Mercy album and asked for a blockbuster-friendly copycat.—Amy Plitt

 Download on Amazon

“Flashdance… What a Feeling” by Irene Cara (<em>Flashdance,</em> 1983)

Who knew that welding could be so damn sexy? The producers of Flashdance obviously did, and so did ’80s disco don Giorgio Moroder, who cowrote this HiNRG pop workout to soundtrack the film. Jennifer Beals’s exotic-dancer–welder protagonist also seems to dig the track as she writhes around a gym to it, watched creepily by her dog.—Tristan Parker

 Download on Amazon

The top 10

1/10

“If You Leave” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (Pretty in Pink, 1986)

It’s a classic prom-DJ rookie mistake: playing the same song over and over again on a seemingly endless loop. But if the formal faux pas must be made, as it is during the climactic scenes of the 1986 John Hughes–written Cinderella story, Pretty in Pink, let the song be the yearning, melancholic, yet totally danceable “If You Leave,” by British new-wavers OMD. After all, whether your date is a Blane or a Duckie, there is no better setting than the prom to make this impassioned plea: “Promise me just one more night, then we’ll go our separate ways.” Score!—Michael Chen

 Download on Amazon

2/10

“St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” by John Parr (St. Elmo’s Fire, 1985)

Watch the Brat Packers ache beautifully: Rob Lowe, adorned with a sax strap but no instrument, can’t put his horndogging ways behind him. Demi Moore is too coked-up to avoid sleeping with married men. And Judd Nelson has to somehow become okay with being Judd Nelson. How dazzling, then, that given these specific psychological issues, a perfect theme song was found in an anthem written months earlier, for wheelchair-bound Canadian athlete Rick Hansen, the original “man in motion.” Two-hit wonder John Parr moaned the lyrics, but the schmaltz should be properly credited to composer David Foster, who never kicked a cheesy synth-trumpet sound out of bed for eating crackers.—Joshua Rothkopf

 Download on Amazon

3/10

“Take My Breath Away” by Berlin (Top Gun, 1986)

Tom Cruise, having already bonked Rebecca De Mornay on a Chicago El train to the strains of Phil Collins in Risky Business, mounts Kelly McGillis in soft blue light to the erotic keyboard riff of Berlin’s Oscar winner. The L.A. band finally earned its name, working with a titan of the German discotheque scene. Giorgio Moroder—the genius behind cinematic classics like Blondie’s “Call Me,” “The NeverEnding Story,” “Chase” and more—slow-jams it down to the point where the synth-bass line twangs like a Japanese shamisen. It’s hard to believe this is the man who made “I Feel Love.” Much like it’s hard to believe Top Gun director Tony Scott shot this jingoist flick after The Hunger, which spun MTV and advertising editing techniques into abstract gothic art. Not only can pioneering artists make sex-glossed pop for the masses, they do it better than the rest.—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

4/10

“Purple Rain” by Prince (Purple Rain, 1984)

The album that accompanied His Purpleness’s 1984 flick isn’t merely a good soundtrack; it’s one of the most innovative records of the past few decades—maybe even of all time. Miraculously, the Academy Awards recognized that too—the album earned the Best Original Song Score Oscar in 1985. (To accept the award, Prince wore a sparkly purple cape, and brought Lisa and Wendy with him to the stage. Of course.) The title ballad provides the film’s climactic moment, when Prince’s character, the Kid, realizes his potential (with the help of Lisa and Wendy, who, in the film’s lore, provided the song’s inspiration), and becomes a star.—Amy Plitt

 Download on Amazon

5/10

“In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel (Say Anything…, 1989)

If there exists a more indelible image of a pining lover trying to get through to a former flame than the sight of John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler, boom box hoisted overhead to reach Ione Skye’s Diane Court, then we have yet to see it. Instrumental in transforming Peter Gabriel from art-rock loon to adult-rock sophisticate, “In Your Eyes” got an added touch of swoonworthy oomph from Youssou N’Dour’s soaring support vocals.—Steve Smith

 Download on Amazon

6/10

“(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes (Dirty Dancing, 1987)

Before the sex scene that launched a thousand suburban pottery studios, Patrick Swayze made our hearts throb as misunderstood dance instructor Johnny Castle in this young-love story. The duet soundtracks the movie’s finale, its lyrics standing in for dialogue while Johnny and Baby say it all with their eyes and their hips. At the first chorus, even the dancing stops for a moment—all action is suspended as Medley and Warnes’s voices take center stage. The sweetest moment hits just after the five minute mark, when Swayze actually mouths the words to the song, just like your actual boyfriend would.—Sarah Theeboom

 Download on Amazon

7/10

“Footloose” by Kenny Loggins (Footloose, 1984)

The Mount Rushmore of 1980s movie songwriters looks like this: Kenny Loggins, Kenneth Loggins, Ken “The Log” Loggins, Kenny freakin’ Loggins. After dumping ’70s yacht-folk songwriting partner Jim Messina, this son of the American West Coast trimmed his beard, teased his mullet and went mainstream pop. “I’m Alright” in Caddyshack. “Playing with the Boys,” from the homoerotic volleyball scene in Top Gun. And his apex, “Footloose.” A jumped-up, plastic rockabilly lick powers this gleefully dumb shuffle, which soundtracked Kevin Bacon’s grudge-dancing in an empty barn, a classic cheeseball musical montage of choreographed frustration that would later be applied to detention (The Breakfast Club), skateboarding (Gleaming the Cube) and groin stretching (Bloodsport).—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

8/10

“The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News (Back to the Future, 1985)

Who cares that no one can remember which Back to the Future scene this smash single appears in? (Okay, nerds, it’s right at the beginning, when Marty’s skateboarding to school, and later, when he kisses Jennifer.) The song’s pulverizing power renders all nit-picking irrelevant. Listen to “The Power of Love” now—go on, hit play!—and you’ll get that same rush of excitement you felt the first time you saw the DeLorean open its gull-wing doors in the movie. Great Scott!—Sophie Harris

 Download on Amazon

9/10

“Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr. (Ghostbusters, 1984)

Who you gonna call? Ghostmashers!!! Right? No? Believe it or not, Ghostmashers was Dan Aykroyd’s original vision for Ghostbusters, a movie that changed the way kids would think about ghosts (and marshmallows) forever. Let us rejoice that good sense prevailed, and Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song was given wings to become one of cinema’s greatest and silliest anthems. Watch the delightful video, crank up the volume and wonder why anyone bothered making pop music or movies at all after this gigantic cultural peak.—Sophie Harris

 Download on Amazon

10/10

“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds (The Breakfast Club, 1985)

There are some truly great songs on this list, but none that strike at your emotional jugular quite the way “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” does—right from the get-go. Can you honestly say you’ve never air-guitar-ed along to those opening two chords? Or yelped along to Jim Kerr’s outrageous “Hey! Hey! Hey! Heeeey!” chant that immediately follows? Yet part of the song’s tremendous power is the way it keeps pulling away just as its excitement peaks: “Will you walk away?” murmurs Kerr as the song faux-fades, before its final climax.

“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” was the perfect match for John Hughes’s gorgeous teen study The Breakfast Club. We watched the kids transform before our eyes, but we simply didn’t know if any of these newfound identities would stick for longer than a weekend. In the context of the movie, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” plays as a lover’s forget-me-not—but equally as plea to those newly discovered selves. (The teens’ note to the assistant principal reads, “What we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.”) And with Judd Nelson’s righteous fist pump at the movie’s end, how could we ever forget?—Sophie Harris

 Download on Amazon

Listen to Time Out’s 50 best songs from ’80s movies playlist on Spotify

Comments

0 comments