The 1980s were an interesting time. You had shoulder pads, Ronald Reagan, big hair, neon everywhere you looked and Don Johnson. We also saw a trend at the local cinema that has never really been replicated in any other decade. We had actual 'theme' songs that accompanied some of our biggest hits throughout this ten-year span of time. In listening to these strange, sometimes beautiful, sometimes awful, sometimes just pure 80s cheese pieces of ear gold, we have to keep in mind that these songs were written by adults. And some became big hits...But most did not. Some are beyond juvenile, and likely written on a napkin during an 80s power lunch as an after thought. These are songs that, had there not been a movie to accompany them, most likely never would have existed. And lets be honest...Some of them shouldn't exist. At all. However, these movies and the theme songs that accompany them have become embedded in our pop conciousness, whether you like it or not. That is why they must be celebrated, no matter how much we choose to either love them with all of our heart, or hate them to the core of our being. Here are 7 80s movie theme songs we can't believe exist (and two bonus videos)!
1Ghostbusters - Ghostbusters Theme by Ray Parker Jr. (and Huey Lewis)
In 1984, you simply could not escape this song. Turn on any radio station, and it was there. It was one of the biggest hits of that decade, and as fun as it is, it's just a pretty dumb song. Huey Lewis (of Huey Lewis and the News) allegedly had the tune pilfered by Ray Parker Jr., though neither will ever speak about the lawsuit until its time to greet the Reaper. As legend has it, "I Want A New Drug" was actually the temp song used during the editing of Ghostbusters. Ray Parker Jr. kept the melody, changed a few words, and wah-la, instant hit, just like a hot cup of noodles. Allegedly. We honestly can't think of another song that trivializes seeing a paranormal entity as much as the Ghostbusters theme does. There was a tone of seriousness deeply embedded in the movie, and while its a stretch to believe a group of scientists could ever capture ghosts in this way, the theme song certainly wasn't helping matters. So what? The 80s were a party, and the song captured the magic of the era. The song's catchphrase, "Who you gonna call?" is still in use nearly 30 years later! Long live the Ghostbusters theme song, no matter how much money Ray Parker Jr. had to pay Huey Lewis...Or vice versa? Also, keep an eye out for some truly weird cameos peppered throughout the accompanying music video, like Little House on the Prairie's Melissa Gilbert, Danny DeVito and Jeffrey Tambor, none of whom had anything to do with the movie.
Prince's work has certainly held up over the years. Songs such as "When Doves Cry," "Kiss" and even "Purple Rain" (one of the few great 80s movie theme songs) are still popular in 2013. And we're just skimming the surface of his almighty catalogue. However, as ahead of his time as he is, not even he could make the "Batdance" a song to worship and remember. With an arrangement that doesn't appear to start, begin or go anywhere, one shouldn't bother trying to find meaning in the lyrical content. You might argue with me. You might say "Batdance" deserves to be up there with some of the all time greatest movie theme songs in history. My response? "Have you listened to it?" Really. Have you? You might retort with the fact that this little ditty was the number one song for one week in 1989. My response? "That was a long time ago. And it was 1989." One listen to this audio stomach ache will make that last point painfully clear. And the video does little to help the matter. Just take a look. Our favorite part is when Prince sings, "Keep Busting!" As though he's forgotten which movie theme song he has immersed himself in. Ghostbusters 2 had come out that same summer.
This is what an 80s Marvel movie looks like. Kids back then had it rough. While this film had been filed away in George Lucas' "What was he thinking?" bin way before Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace came out, one should never doubt the ability of producers in the 80s to make a song out of just about anything. Because here is living proof. Aside from turning the music video for this audio gem into a 6-minute opus that does nothing but talk about how great Howard the Duck is (not the movie but the actual duck), Lea Thompson and Holly Robinson Peete also lend their vocal abilities to this gyrating earworm. Backed by a classic Reagan era dance beat, this 50s-style bit of semi-nostolga for the greaser era pulsates all the way through, shoveling shiddy lyrics and a heavy 80s vibe deep down your throat. With poetic gems like: "Call him...Howard...THE DUCK...He gets bumped, he don't feel it...And he shot an arrow straight to my heart...He's a cupcake of Drake that stole my heart." One has wonder if this whole ordeal was an exercise in seeing just how much the public would take? Not much, it turned out. As Howard the Duck remains one of the most notorious bombs of the 80s and can barley be called a cult hit, cause the cult of people who actually, not ironically, love it is pretty miniscule. Just look at this hot garbage. It is one of the rarest of 80s movie music videos, and you're forgiven if you had no idea this existed, even if you're the biggest Howard the Duck on the planet.
Something about Dokken doing this song gives it an air of legitimacy. In a film that many consider to be one of the best in a bloated series, this theme has everything one loves and wants in a heavy metal number. Pounding drums, riffs aplenty, big hair and an androgynous sounding front man. Everything about this song works! So much so, one wonders if there wasn't a movie to write it for, would Don Dokken and the boys have written this tune anyway? Maybe. Horror movies and heavy metal seem perfect for one another don't they? They're both ominous, they're both meant to assault you on some level, and they usually feature high-pitched screams that would make Janet Leigh proud. Yes, Dokken 's "Dream Warriors" is classically 80s, but it also goes out of it's way to be something independent of the movie that inspired it. Here's where art and commerce sometimes butt heads, and its one of the better things to happen to poor old Freddy Kreuger during his 80s run for horror gold.
5Dragnet - City of Crime: Dragnet '87 with Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks
Holy Hanks! This has to be the greatest worst thing to happen to Rap and Hip-Hop in the history of the genre. It seems the powers that be wanted to reboot a classic television show from 1967 in every way imaginable. And when I say every way, I mean every way. The result? A mash-up of a theme song that predates all the current mash-ups that are so popular on YouTube. And it includes two of our greatest working actors of all time battle rapping against a Pagan in sheep skin pants. Like we just said, greatest worst thing to happen in soul music during the 80s. It was a defining moment, and the turning point that dragged us screaming into the 90s. Kids in the 80s didn't want button down or strait laced. They wanted surfer cool or Kid 'N Play. So rather than present a song which would've been better utilized in the end credits, they started off the movie all but guaranteeing audiences would wonder why they just spent $5 to get in. And yes, they probably did spend $5 at that time! Maybe even $2.50. Which now seems like a bargain for this type of mulch entertainment (don't take that the wrong way, we love the actual movie as it stands, it's a classic of the decade!) Watching this music video for the first time in nearly thirty years, we're of sound mind that this is the greatest thing Tom Hanks has ever done in his entire career.
6Popeye - Popeye (I Yam What I Yam) by Harry Nilsson with Robin Williams
If you listen closely to this song, it might sound like one of The Beatles b-sides. Though, if you go back and watch Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him?), you'll see plenty of testimony that Harry Nilsson was often pilfered by The Beatles, not the other way around. And, if you watch that documentary, you'll hear a lot about the creation of the Popeye soundtrack, and how it was forged on top of a mountain of drugs in Anchor Bay, Malta, a paradise of a location. It's a wonder this even exists at all. This track, in particular, is just so damn catchy. The song is neither classically 80s nor really of the milieu in which it takes place. Basically, in the story, we have a Popeye (Robin Williams) character who is fed up. He is tired of all the talk, he is tired of the way he is being treated, so he busts out in this rousing refrain. One wonders how Harry Nilsson might have sounded had he sung it and not Robin Williams? There is a gentleness to this song that makes it almost seem vulgar when Popeye screams, "WHAT AM I?!?!" As mentioned above, these songs are written by adults. "I Yam What I Yam" might be the one instance on this list of a songwriter being too adult for the movie he was being asked to write for. Though, at the time, it was definitely a treat for most kids of an age between 3 and 10, respectively.
As much as it pains me to say it, there is not a lot to really hate about this song. Once again, the beats behind it are classically 80s. Performed by The Coup De Villes (led by the film's director John Carpenter) this song sounds like Johnny Cash fell into a blender with an 1980s dance machine. There is talk of "rolling fires" and "mystic nights" (none of which ever really appear in the movie), but that doesn't stop this song from staying with you. Why? Because anybody who has seen this movie knows that there really was Big Trouble in Little China. Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) finds himself up against it in the form of the evil Lo Pan (James Hong). This leads to Burton having to squash a battle that was started centuries ago. What might sound like a film destined to have Ryûichi Sakamoto making the music clearly goes against the grain. Instead, we have a theme song that is every bit as fun as the film that it accompanies. The thing to love about the music video is that director John Carpenter seems troubled by the fact that he has to finish editing the movie in time for its release date, when he'd clearly much rather be rocking out with his good time buddies. Its very weird.
7Footloose - Footloose by Kenny Loggins
While the U.S. waged a Cold War against Russia, what we Americans really wanted to do was dance! We didn't want to dance any old way or style. We wanted to get Footloose! And that is precisely what that movie and this song allowed us to do. It opens with a steady beat and twangy guitar that is underscored by multiple feet dancing across the screen. While the movie itself would never really use the term "Footloose" (except when the song played in the beginning and at the end) it didn't have to. The idea of this song is so big, so all over the place, that it almost seems to burst out of the 4 minutes that contain it. With lyrics that appear to be talking to the film's main character Ren (Kevin Bacon) and the audience, it's easy to see how people got caught up in the hype that was this movie. With a box office tally of $80 million dollars (that's 1980s dollars, people!) one can only wonder how much money they made off the soundtrack itself. It held the number one spot on the Billboard 200 Pop Album chart from April 21 to June 30 in 1984. The soundtrack was then re-released in 1998. By comparison, the remake of Footloose grossed only $63 million dollars in 2011 (that's Teens dollars, people!) If this doesn't show that at our core the U.S. is a nation that strives to be Footloose and fancy free, I don't know what will! And while you might think it doesn't deserve to be included here, you're wrong. This is one goofy pop song that is as catchy as it is eventually irritating.
We hope you've enjoyed this trip back in time, when 80s theme songs were all the rage for any movie. And now we leave you with these last two jams that might make you quit the decade and lose your appetite for nostalgia all together.
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