The Phantom Memory
How is one nostalgic for a time period one never really lived through?
I don’t know. It’s perplexing. I didn’t really participate in the ’80s.
I spend most of the decade with my head in a Dungeons & Dragons manual, listening to heavy metal or trying to memorize overly complicated Pee-Wee football plays.
Pop music? I don’t think even I had a radio until I was ten.
Movies? Maybe I saw two dozen in the theater before I graduated high school.
HBO, you say? Nah. Aside from Robotech and Magnum PI during summers at my grandparents, there was no television, either.
But somehow, the ’80s are so baked into the American culture that’s it’s like the background radiation from the Big Bang. The ’80s continuously surround us, always observable, influencing us, forming and changing our present reality.
According to my mental Cliff Notes, the ’80s are supposed to be about greed and excess. Except, when I really go back and look at the time period what hits me is individualism, cults of self-improvement and a glaring “look at me” style.
All of which can be blamed on my favorite thing — cocaine. Bigly.
So how did I come to these choices?
When it comes to the music, at least the music we’re asked to remember, it’s power ballads, synth boards and no small amount of saxophone — All of which is fucking awesome, by the way.
Since I haven’t seen some of these movies in a long time or even at all in some cases, I can’t really judge these songs on how well they fit into the movie.
I guess the best criteria I could come up with is:
- Was the song specifically created, written or performed for the movie?
- I tried to avoid the obvious teen romance songs like that The Breakfast Club one. A lot of that stuff is so played out that it seems superfluous.
- Only one song per franchise
- Only one song per movie
- No TV Shows
- Does the song rock and do I like it?
It’s going to be a very personal list and it’s probably going to conflict with a lot of your favorites, so take your disagreements to the comments.
With that said, let’s get started:
“Eye of The Tiger”, Stranger — Rocky III (1985)
What’s a list of ’80s movie themes without this song? This is probably the best song from an ’80s movie but, like those teen romance songs, it’s played out for me.
I don’t want to hear it anymore.
Also, this seems to be is the personal motivational soundtrack for every Oxy-addicted chick who just went into recovery and is just now starting to work out for the first time.
You can’t blame them. It’s probably one of the most catchy songs on the list. You really do want to do push-ups to exhaustion when you hear it.
Pro PUA Tip: NA and AA meetings are where you can find a lot of vulnerable young women (and not-so-young women) that you can talk into doing filthy stuff. Even without drugs. Thank me later.
“Nothing’s Going To Stop Us Now”, Starship — Mannequin (1987)
In the 1980s they had movies where people switched bodies, adults became kids and mannequins came to life. For real.
And those mannequins were played by 29-year-old Kim Cattralls who the producers decide should look like 40-year-old, box-wine aunts.
Do you know what’s more inexplicable than a mannequin coming to life? Why they didn’t get a teenager to play the damn mannequin!
I mean, this is make-believe, right? Make us believe, guys!
I will say one thing about the girls from the ’80s: there were no ham-planet actresses or female celebrities. Everyone was thin or rightly wanted to be thin because they knew thin is beauty and beauty is power.
Look at those pretzel-stick arms!
“Self Control”, Laura Ann Brannigan — Miami Vice (1984)
Let’s be serious here: if I allowed in TV shows, this whole list could have been songs that appeared on Miami Vice.
Miami Vice was that good. It is the 80s that we’re all programmed to remember.
And the song is pretty awesome, too: hey, she lives among the creatures of the night. That seemed to be a big theme in the ’80s — rolling dirty after dark.
How about this one, which is also from Miami Vice?
Same exact theme. It’s night. It’s a city. You’re low-down and greasy, doing scandalous, R-rated stuff. It’s all classic ’80s drug and sex material.
Damn, I could do Miami Vice songs until the bag runs out and I’m already running low, so let’s instead get into the official list:
15. “Glory of Love”, Peter Cedera — Karate Kid II (1986)
Most of these songs are positive and upbeat because that is the 80s as we want to remember them. And that’s what “Glory of Love” is: a simple song about why a simple Italian-American boy from Los Angeles would fight for the love and honor of a simple foreign maiden in a simple foreign land.
Which brings me to a simple question: why did he sell out the blonde, beautiful Ali?
Well, according to the song he did it all for love.
The ’80s, despite all the cocaine and fashion, seem a lot more wholesome than the ’90s, where things were done only for the nookie. Fucking kill me.
Still, I’ve got more questions:
- Why wasn’t Elisabeth Shue in the second movie?
- Why did they move the second movie to Japan?
- Whatever happened to Yukio or whomever that Japanese actress is? She was exceedingly lovely and had a lot of spirit.
Another good question is: who was the absolute genius that came up with the idea of showing the entire movie in the music video?
We’re going to see a lot of this on this list and, frankly, I’m grateful to this unsung hero as it’s going to save me time in watching any of these movies.
Lunch Detention Trivia
The story for Karate Kid III was going to have Daniel and Mr. Miyagi traveling back in time to 16th century Japan to witness the very creation of karate itself!
That’s right, Back To The Dojo.
No, no, it’s true! Think of it!
14. “Blaze of Glory”, Bon Jovi – Young Guns II (1990)
Two songs, two glories. Remember, the ’80s is about style and style is about symmetry.
OK, so it’s not the 1980s. Sue me in The Hague.
It’s still pure ’80s. Listen to those faux hillbilly guitar licks.
I would have picked “Dead or Alive” because it’s a better song, but I wasn’t sure if it was performed exclusively for the soundtrack or not.
In fact, after doing some research, it turns out Estevez asked Jon Bon Jovi to use “Dead or Alive” on the Young Guns II soundtrack, but for some reason, Jovi wasn’t having it and decided to do a whole concept album instead.
Blaze of Glory, which contained tracks exclusively from the Young Guns II soundtrack, was Bon Jovi’s debut solo studio album.
In the UK the album was released as Young Guns II: Blaze Of Glory in order to tie it directly to the film. I guess the Brits need the extra help.
Debut means “first”, for all of you in England.
Feel old yet, ’80s kid?
Again, this is a music video that shows you the entire movie in five minutes.
I don’t remember much about the film except that it was bookended by a 100-year-old Billy The Kid telling his story to some cub reporter.
Lame concept. A period piece should be a period piece.
After School Detention Trivia
Did you see Aragorn in there? Yep, that was him as lawman John Poe.
13. “A View To A Kill”, Duran Duran — A View To A Kill (1985)
13. “For Your Eyes Only”, Sheena Easton — For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Neither of these is a very rocking song. In fact, they are both pretty much filled with ennui and longing. But they are still good and they are still very ’80s.
Which one of us doesn’t remember that day in the early ’80s when we first became a man? Remember, the day we first understood that the pathway to putaka would forever dominate our destiny?
The day we saw this poster:
A View To A Kill was easily the better movie and the better song.
Grace Jones and Christopher Walken were another interracial couple from the supposedly backward and regressive 80s. Grace was the sexy bodyguard to Walken’s remarkably subdued evil industrialist, Zorin.
And Duran Duran was probably the purest ’80s band of ’80s bands. For the entire decade they were huge on radio play, huge in concert, huge on MTV, and then at 12:01 Jan 1, 1990, they were replaced by REM.
12. “On Our Own”, Bobby Brown — Ghostbusters (1985)
Was rap music allowed in movies in the 1980s? At least allowed in movies that weren’t explicit about rap music or breakdancing or some similar street shit?
This is the only one I remember and it’s a good one.
A brief aside
What could easily have been dismissed as the immature prattling of an pop artist given his first chance at the big time, is instead, on further analysis, revealed to be a deeply reflective ode about ethnic domination in the music industry.
It’s about more than just a personal struggle, it’s about the struggle of an entire people to control not just themselves or the financial profits of their artistic output, but to control their very destiny in America.
At the same time, the song is a powerful message to all of us with our own dreams. It’s telling us that it’s up to us in the end, that we are, in fact, on our own.
We’ll take the wheel from here, Bobby.
11. “No Easy Way Out”, Robert Tepper — Rocky IV (1985)
“No Easy Way Out” is another Rocky song with a great chorus that demands you start to take your life seriously, quit your job and become a whitewater guide on the Colorado.
Like a YouTube commenter says:
“If you grew up listening to this stuff and watching Rocky you are a 1000x stronger than everyone today.”
Prove it and oar up, pussy. That river ain’t gonna tame itself.
10. “She’s On Fire”, Amy Holland — Scarface (1983)
In my thirties, Scarface was in tight competition with Collateral for the soundtrack to almost every Friday night. I could have picked any song from this album.
Either Debbie Harry’s “Rush, Rush” or Marie Conchita Alonso’s “Vamos a Bailar” would feel right on a top 15 soundtrack mix from the 1980s.
Oh, you didn’t know MCA was also a pop singer?
It’s the ’80s, and again it’s the skeleton arms:
9. “What A Feeling”, Irena Cara — Flashdance (1983)
9. “Maniac”, Michael Sembello — Flashdance (1983)
OK, so I broke my rules again.
But it’s the ’80s and that’s what rules were for back then.
Still, these songs are so similar that they just count as one entry.
Enough Billy Joel Already
When I hear the opening lyrics of “Maniac” – Just a steel-town girl on a Saturday night – I always laugh to myself and start unconsciously shaking my head.
Here we go again with Hollywood trying to sell us the delusion of blue-collar heroism and getting out. Getting anywhere. Getting all the way to the F-A-M-E.
Except… the movie might be based on the real-life story of construction welder-turned-dancer Maureen Marder, who, along with another Toronto exotic dancer, sold her story to Paramount for $2300.
Yeah, you read that right: the movie is about a welder-chick who goes on to become a classical dancer on Broadway or some shit.
And as fantastically as the story is, it must have worked because Flashdance went on to make $201 million on a budget of $7 million.
Even without seeing the movie, it’s easy to understand why it succeeded, the formula is in the songs. Take the Poor Boy Done Good and flipped it to Poor Girl Done Good, complete with the molten Jennifer Beals getting the guy in the end.
We like this woman, we understand her fears, we believe in her dreams, we want her to succeed.
And after decades of movies where a male hero needs to be validated by women, it’s great to see a movie where the girl needs a man for her life to be complete.
This is what equality looks like.
In-School Suspension Trivia
According to Hollywood legend, then-carpenter Kevin Costner read with Jennifer Beals during her audition. Costner even got to lay in bed with Jennifer Beals while doing a scene. For which he was paid $200. Reminds us of another then-carpenter who stood in to read on a small film, doesn’t it?
8. “You Could Be Mine” — Guns N Roses, Terminator 2 (1991)
Oops. I cheated again. There are no rules, maaaaaaaaaaaaan!
This is kind of a personal pick for me because in my memory this was a time when GNR had basically disappeared for 3 years after 1988’s Lies EP.
You remember that one, don’t you? Of course, you do, it’s one of your favorites. It’s the one where Axl drops both of the baddest of the bad words in one song.
Of course, I’m talking about “immigrants” and “police”.
To me, GNR were right below Metallica and Iron Maiden in the pantheon of “real and not-that-faggy-hair-metal shit” music, so to have them MIA at that time in my life was highly distressing.
We would talk about Axl, Slash and Duff like they were our buddies! We felt like we knew these guys. And they just vanished!
But suddenly, after being gone for years, there they were back and sizing up the Terminator in a video for the soundtrack of what is widely considered to be the greatest action movie of all time.
What a moment to be alive.
7. “I Still Believe”, Tim Cappello — The Lost Boys (1985)
Sure, “Cry Sister” is the bigger song but this one is absolutely more hitting.
That sax is just badass. And the lyrics “people like us, in places like this” was kind of the unofficial motto of this website back when this website was something.
Remember the buff vampire rocking out with his sax in the movie?
That was for real Tim Capello and he is still rocking out today:
6. “We Don’t Need Another Hero”, Tina Turner — Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
I’d like to think that Mel smashed. I’m sure he did. After all, he was a peaking 29 and Tina Turner would have been a well-past-prime 49 years old.
It would have been charity at that point. And Mel is quite charitable.
This song also has a sax plus the much-beloved addition of Asian flutes. It’s a good combination of thoughtfulness and rocking beat.
Was “We Don’t Need Another Hero” the anthem of ’80s kids?
How the fuck should I know?
I didn’t hear this song until the mid-90s.
5. “In The Air Tonight”, Phil Collins — Miami Vice (1984)
I know I said “No TV Shows” but I can’t leave this song, this scene, off the list.
Imagine watching a network TV show thirty years ago and suddenly this song is playing over close-ups of the city skyline reflecting off the hood of a Ferrari 308?
That’s pure art for art’s sake. On regular TV. Almost four decades ago.
Michael Mann is truly one of the genius filmmakers of all time and he shows why in this scene. It’s pure masculine validation.
You’ve got the loss of control and quick escalation to justifiable physical violence — justified because of the deep betrayal that Crockett experienced.
You’ve got Crockett and Tubbs rolling heavy to do some real dirt — serious and silent. Doesn’t every guy want a friend who looks at him like Tubbs looks at Crockett?
You’ve got the call to the ex — who’s now out of the game and playing house — and even she validates Crockett that “you bet it was” real!
If that isn’t the trifecta of what being a man is all about I don’t know what is.
I never saw the episode, so I have no idea what happens after this video. I’m sure they punch, kick and shoot a bunch of bad guys.
Michael Mann really needs to be allowed to make more movies.
4. “Live To Tell”, Madonna — At Close Range (1986)
Unlike a lot of songs on this list, “Live To Tell” is here directly because of the quality of the movie associated with it. I like the song well enough, it’s filled with regret and warning, and a bit of hopefulness at the end. Kind of like At Close Range itself.
For those who haven’t seen the film, At Close Range has Christopher Walken playing a small-time hood and crime family scion. Sean Penn and Chris Penn play Walken’s sons. They do crime shit. Someone is a rat. Their hair looks amazing.
Yeah, pretty familiar territory but it’s the intensity of the scenes, especially the acting, that sets it apart from a lot of the movies on this list. At Close Range feels real, not only in that it could happen, but that it is happening and you’re just in the room with these psychos.
I guess that’s what they mean by the title.
Well worth a watch.
3. “Dream Warriors”, Dokken — A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
This was a late edit to the list. I bumped “Nothing’s Going To Stop Us” for this one. No idea on how I forgot this song. A couple of years ago, when this site was at the height of its popularity, “Dream Warriors” was my writing soundtrack. I even included it in one of my 2019 columns.
This song rocks harder than Hunter Biden and a box of baking soda. Plus, based on the video, Don Dokken — doing his best Richard Ramirez Night Stalker — seems very, very into it. Speaking of the video, was there anything more peach than a teenage Patricia Arquette looking all scared and vulnerable?
I’m not even going to show you a photo of her today. Put it this way: Patty Pretzel-Arms is a long ago distant memory.
What the heck happened to Dokken anyway?
These guys were opening for all the big metal acts back in the ’80s — Priest, Maiden, AC/DC, you name it. They always seems like a second-tier band but a lot of tier-2 “metal” bands have broken through into the mainstream (Def Leppard and Poison to name a couple) so it’s kind of inexplicable why Dokken didn’t go bigger.
I’d put their lack of huge success down to the lack of a really catchy tune with a solid chorus. Listen to their follow-up album for yourself. “Dream Warriors” is the the only song of theirs that I at all remember and I forgot it for this list!
“Who were those guys?”
2. “Burning Heart”, Survivor — Rocky IV (1988)
I’ve already broken my own rules so many times, so what’s one more.
For me, this is not just one of the greatest ’80s movie songs but one of the greatest videos I’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s the official Survivor video, maybe it isn’t, but it’s powerful as hell.
It creates the perfect three-act structure of montages culled from a movie that is essentially a movie of montages.
This song and video make me love America, love Sylvester Stallone and really respect the hell out of Dolph Lundren for throwing away his career as a leading man/action star by cementing himself in the global consciousness as such a perfect shitheel villain.
And Sly was confirmed to have smashed.
1. “Push It To The Limit”, Paul Engemann — Scarface (1983)
Tony Montana is one of the most likable villainero in film history. Yeah, I just made that up and yeah, it’s dumb as hell, but what else are you going to call him?
Antihero? Hell, no! He’s not the Punisher, he’s a scumbag druglord!
But he’s the little man, the small man, that challenges and tried to control forces beyond his comprehension, forces that eventually tire of annoying Tony and squash him like an ant, with very little effort.
“Push It To The Limit” is his theme song and the theme song of the 1980s, at least of the ’80s that’s in my mind’s eye. This is what it was all about in hindsight:
What a song!
Not only are you pushing it to the limit, you’re being welcomed to the limit, a limit that you also opened up. The limit is totally mutable!
God damn, I get so hyped up to just do shit when I hear that song and it doesn’t even matter what shit is. I once tried to carve an ice sculpture with my teeth after listening to this track!
OK, The Bag Is Empty
But this is by no means the last word of ’80s movie songs.
As I said in the opening, this is a very personalized list based on songs I know and not even necessarily from movies that I’ve seen.
If you have other ’80s movie songs, whether they were purposely written and composed for the movie soundtrack or not, drop them in the comments below.
If we get enough songs and soundtracks maybe we will do a follow-up article that just focuses on Film Goblin favorites.