15 Best Songs From '80s Movies (Besides “The Power of Love”)

Huey Lewis and the News hit the Hard Rock in Hollywood this Friday, bringing their chronically out-of-fashion but irresistibly straightforward rock with them. Expect hit after hit – “Hip to Be Square,” “Happy to Be Stuck With You,” and “The Heart of Rock n’ Roll” to churned out with glorious aplomb, by a band that was one of the hardest-working of the ’80s.

However, it is their smash “The Power of Love” for which they are most fondly remembered by folk of a certain age. Of course we all know that the 1985 hit accompanied the unadulterated classic Back to the Future — perhaps the most perfect movie of the decade. The euphoric bombast of the song worked wonderfully with the movie: upbeat, optimistic, and completely devoid of any realism (I mean, some kind of monetary exchange is usually required to ride a train). It’s as infectious as dysentery on Oregon Trail. There’s also a great scene in the film where Marty (Michael J. Fox at his absolute best) plays an instrumental version of the song for a school talent show. It is Huey Lewis who plays the teacher who rules them out of contention, citing that Marty and his band, The Pinheads, played the song “too loud.”

Anyway, here’s a list of other ’80s songs from movies, in no apparent order. For some reason, it's something — like action figures, lunch boxes, and mullets – that the ’80s excelled at.

Tim Capello – “I Still Believe,” The Lost Boys (1987)
Perhaps the scariest thing about the 1987 vampire flick is not Kiefer Sutherland’s bared fangs or Corey Haim’s fantastically ’80s wardrobe; it is the sight of musclebound, oiled-up Tim Capello’s spandex-clad gyrating posterior playing this soundtrack highlight. Partway through the horror classic, Capello graces the stage like a sax-wielding Greek god — Pan on steroids, blowing into his instrument with scene-stealing gusto. “I Still Believe” sounds so ’80s, but in all the best ways.

Joe Esposito – “The Best Around,” The Karate Kid (1984)
The climax of The Karate Kid is one of the best endings to any movie of the decade, and Joe Esposito’s “You’re the Best Around” is the perfect accompaniment. Play this first thing in the morning and you will accomplish anything you want. Try it.

David Bowie – “Underground,” Labyrinth (1986)
If you’re 35 or under, you probably first came across David Bowie in the movie Labyrinth (don’t pretend you were listening to his minimalist Berlin trilogy when you were 7). Bowie stars as the malevolent Jareth, king of a bunch of Jim Henson-created goblins, who kidnaps the baby brother of wonderfully whiny teenager Jennifer Connolly. The movie ranks with The Dark Crystal and Return to Oz as one of the ’80s kids’ movies whose dark overtones stay with you into adulthood. Bowie’s bizarre appearance of particular note, a Super Cut’s version of Tina Turner in her ’80s pomp, and a pair of trousers that reveal every contour of his nether regions (and now has a Facebook page devoted to it). Besides that, the soundtrack is one of the highlights of Bowie’s patchy ’80s catalog – Dance Magic Dance is a delight, and this tune “Underground” is a gospel-powered romp that (almost) ranks alongside some of his more deified classics from the ’70s.

Simple Minds "Don't You (Forget About Me)," The Breakfast Club (1985)
Before this, Simple Minds had been an art rock electronic group whose back catalog is only now getting the praise it deserved (get yourself copies of Reel to Real Cacophony, Empires and Dance, Sons & Fascination/Sisters Feelings Calling). However, with this tune from 1985’s pitch-perfect high school flick The Breakfast Club, the Minds dropped the eyeliner and the six-minute synth-pop instrumentals and briefly became conquerors of U.S. radio. Also, the decade’s tendency to close movies on a freeze frame reached its zenith here, as Judd Nelson punches the air to the song’s opening bars as the end credits roll.

Prince doesn't like YouTube.
Prince doesn't like YouTube.

Prince - “When Doves Cry,” Purple Rain (1984)
Pint-sized purple pixie Prince was at the apex of his powers in 1984, simultaneously having the number-one single, album, and movie in the U.S.A. The song’s alchemy of Freudian drama and relationship woes gels perfectly with shots of the star riding his motorcycle all moodily, thinking really hard. Looking like a cross between James Dean and Marie Antoinette, Prince exuded ’80s cool like no other.

Cyndi Lauper - “The Goonies R Good Enough," The Goonies (1985)
Cyndi Lauper is at her thrift-store-banshee prime belting out this number from the mid-’80s children’s classic. Like the movie itself or a post-Apocalypse Twinkie, “Goonies R Good Enough” never ages. Lauper could probably have been a Goonie herself, her kooky persona fitting nicely with Mikey, Mouth, Data, and Chunk (Madonna, on the other hand, would be happy hanging with idiot jock Troy Perkins).

Psychedelic Furs – “Pretty in Pink,” Pretty in Pink (1986)
The late, great John Hughes was not only the king of ’80s teen movies but also a master at using songs in his films by artists who otherwise wouldn’t have had the exposure. England’s Psychedelic Furs are a prime example. Their 1986 hit “Pretty in Pink” from the movie of the same name introduced their new-wave energy to American audiences – an intense, driving, eloquent sound that seems as fresh today as it did almost 30 years ago. Note: The entire soundtrack is worth hunting out with numbers from the Smiths, New Order, and of course, in the climatic scene, O.M.D.

Kenny Loggins – “Footloose,” Footloose (1984)
Kenny Loggins is to ’80s soundtracks what mustaches were to ’80s dads. For a while, it seemed as though no ’80s blockbuster was complete without a Loggins’ number, and to be honest, it was this or “Danger Zone” from Top Gun. However, this titular tune from the dance-themed Kevin Bacon teen flick takes it. “Let’s dance!”

Public Enemy “Fight the Power,” Do the Right Thing (1989)
The sight of Rosie Perez box-bopping to the hip-hop juggernaut that is Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” is the perfect opening to Spike Lee’s sweltering urban opera. Chuck D’s pounding diatribe, backed by the pulsating beats of the Bomb Squad, introduces the audience (most of whom were likely experiencing their first Lee film) to the brooding racial restlessness of the city that never sleeps. The song flits in and out of the film through the character Radio Raheem, who plays it on a continuous loop from his boombox. “Fight the Power” articulates this quiet man’s rage and defiance, and his death at the hands of the police at the film’s conclusion make the song and film as vital today as they were more than a quarter of a century ago.

Grace Jones - "I've Seen That Face Before (Libertango)," Frantic (1988)
A left-field one for you. Grace Jones, who carved out an acting career of her own in the ’80s (see vampire flick Vamp; avoid A View to a Kill and the Conan sequel) sings this electro tango tune that appears in the criminally underrated Hitchcockian thriller Frantic. The clip is worth it alone, purely for the joy of seeing Harrison Ford dancing, terrified, in a Parisian discotheque.

Tina Turner “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
The third Mad Max movie is most notable for introducing the term “Thunderdome” into the modern lexicon. However, Tina Turner, riding high on her post-Private Dancer renaissance, delivered a pretty good power ballad to what is generally regarded as the worst film in the dystopian franchise. Only the former Anna Mae Bullock could bring the sounds of the post-Apocalyptic wasteland so convincingly into supermarkets everywhere.

Survivor – “Eye of the Tiger,” Rocky III (1982)
There were plenty of testosterone-fueled hair metal soundtracks to ’80s action movies. The difficult road ahead, following one’s heart, overcoming the odds littered movie montages — epitomizing that ’80s “It’s Morning in America Again” optimism. However, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” leads the pack — essentially because of its thumping riff and memorable images of Rocky and Mr. T duking it out in the ring. This tune would even have made Stallone’s arm-wrestling epic Over the Top a great movie.

Annie Lennox & Al Green – “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” Scrooged (1988)
A slice of ’80s cheese from the Bill Murray Yuletide horror-comedy Scrooged. This Annie Lennox/Al Green duet pulls two great voices together and yanks at the heartstrings. It’s such saccharine slush that it’s plausible that it was this, not Glasnost, S.D.I., or Perestroika that ended the cold war.

Yello — “Oh Yeah,” Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
This odd electronic number by the Swiss duo has appeared in countless movies, TV shows, and commercials since. However, to most of us, it first appeared as the end credits rolled in John Hughes’ Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Memories of a smirking Mathew Broderick or a hapless Jeffery Jones wandering down the aisle of the school bus still persist.

Ray Parker Jr. – “Ghostbusters,” Ghostbusters (1984)
Huey Lewis might have issues with this inclusion. On hearing this, Huey knew who to call — his attorney. Ray Parker Jr’s Oscar-nominated accompaniment to the horror-comedy smash apparently bared too close a resemblance to Lewis’ tune “I Want a New Drug,” and the pair settled out of court. Still, the title song is inseparable from the movie and remains one of the most iconic movie themes of the decade. Stevie Wonder won the Oscar that year for “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” an Oscar decision that ranks with How Green Was My Valley swooping the Best Picture Award from Citizen Kane in 1941.

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