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The 20 Greatest Movie Theme Songs Of The 1980s

by The Playlist Staff
June 4, 2014 2:35 PM
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The 20 Greatest Movie Theme Songs Of The 1980s

This Sunday marks the 30th anniversary of the classic supernatural action-comedy "Ghostbusters," which hit theaters on Friday June 8th, 1984. One of the most beloved films of its generation, the Ivan Reitman-directed movie is remembered for its sharp, funny, tight script (co-written by the late Harold Ramis), still-superb visual effects, great performances from the likes of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson and Ramis, and being a rare example of the successful blend of blockbuster fantasy and comedy.

It's also, for better or worse, remembered for Ray Parker Jr's iconic theme tune, a smash-hit at the time, which earned an Oscar nomination. We're in an era where the movie theme song is something of a dead art (though the recent success of "Skyfall" and "Let It Go" from "Frozen" might see that change), but in the 1980s, it was in its prime, and many of the decade's biggest sellers were directly connected to some of its biggest movies.

So, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of "Ghostbusters" and Parker Jr's song, we've trawled through the archives to select 20 of the best, or at least most memorably iconic, theme songs from 1980s movies, because we ain't afraid of no ghosts. The only rule: they had to be songs written specifically for the film, and not released prior to the movie, ruling out cover versions and the like. Watch, listen, and disagree below, and for more on "Ghostbusters," check out our retrospective piece from a few years back.

“Ghostbusters” - Ray Parker Jr - “Ghostbusters”
Essentially inseparable from the film from which it came (try and look at the logo or DVD cover without hearing a snippet from the song), the theme tune to the fantasy comedy smash is undoubtedly one of the best known theme tunes in cinema history, even if it is (whisper it), a bit naff. Penned and performed by erstwhile Raydio frontman Ray Parker Jr, it topped the Billboard charts for three weeks, and was nominated for an Oscar (though lost to Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called To Say I Love You” from "The Woman In Red"). It caused friction with another 80s soundtrack idol: Huey Lewis sued over similarities to his track I Want A New Drug,” the matter eventually being settled out of court).

“Eye Of The Tiger” - Survivor” - “Rocky III” (1982)
When his request to use “Another One Bites The Dust” was turned down by Queen, Sylvester Stallone needed an inspirational theme for the third in his boxing franchise, and turned to relatively little-known rock band Survivor, whose first Top 40 hit “Poor Man’s Son” had caught the writer/director/star’s ear. The band delivered: their inspirational “Eye Of The Tiger” will forever be associated with the franchise, even if it’s the most memorable part of the third film (the one that features Mr. T as the adversary). The song was a monster hit, the second biggest selling of that year, and even went on to inspire its own film, 1986’s Gary Busey vehicle of the same name.

“Call Me” - Blondie - “American Gigolo” (1980)
As with so many of the songs on this list, “Call Me” might not even exist had someone else not turned down work: electronic legend Giorgio Moroder, who was composing the score for Paul Schrader’s “American Gigolo,” initially approached Stevie Nicks to write a song for the soundtrack, but contractual issues prevented the Fleetwood Mac star from coming through. Instead, Debbie Harry and Blondie teamed up with Moroder: the result, “Call Me,” provided the perfect introduction to Schrader’s film, the Doctor Who bassline and growly Harry vocals helping bring viewers into a new 1980s of Jerry Bruckheimer-produced excess. The song also turned out to be the biggest seller of the year.

“Fight The Power” - Public Enemy - “Do The Right Thing” (1989)
Has there even been a more perfect match of movie and pop song than Spike Lee’s classic “Do The Right Thing” and Public Enemy’s furious fuck-you anthem “Fight The Power”? The director wanted a song that would recur throughout the film, most notably when played on the boombox of crucial character Radio Raheem (Bill Duke), saying that he “wanted it to be defiant, I wanted it to be angry, I wanted it to be very rhythmic. I thought right away of Public Enemy,” then coming off their classic second record, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. The resulting track, all abrasive Elvis-dissing lyrics, thundering loops and unexpected sax solos, was an all-time classic, topping the Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop poll, and becoming an African-American anthem.

“Fame” - Irene Cara - “Fame” (1980)
Most movie musicals have a track that’s most associated with them, but not all have theme tunes as such. Alan Parker’s 1980 stage-school tuner is certainly the exception, with a title track that helped the film to... wait for it... live forever. Penned by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford for the film (though within the story, written by Lee Curreri’s shy composer Bruno), it scores probably the film’s most iconic sequence, where Bruno’s proud dad plays it in the streets, inspiring much dancing on cabs. Performed by the film’s star Irene Cara, it hit number four in the Billboard charts, and won the Oscar and the Golden Globe that year.

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More: Features, Feature, Ghostbusters, Soundtrack

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  • claude | August 4, 2014 7:22 AMReply

    my opinion is Miami Vice is the ultimate in 80's tunes for my mp3 miami sound machine and phil collins and of course you gotta love the Jan hammer.i love listening to it especially in the summer,really puts me in the mood for summer and just brings me back to an awesome decade in my life.

  • Eric | July 16, 2014 1:25 PMReply

    ''The Neverending Story'' By Limahl in 1984. Probably not as iconic but still a magical tune as well as the movie!

  • Dhurgan | July 5, 2014 5:09 AMReply

    Heh, I feel old now, I have seen all of them :D

  • Majork Kalas | June 28, 2014 6:50 PMReply

    "This Is Not America" by David Bowie, from Falcon and the Snowman. Maybe not iconic, though...

  • DJCJ | June 26, 2014 8:51 AMReply

    - 'Oh Yeah' by Yello for Ferris Buellers Day Off - another John Hughes effort. Song not written for the film, but was re-released as a single on the back of the movie.

    - 'Holiday Road' from National Lampoons Vacation.

    PS. A Kind of Magic/Highlander was 1986 wasn't it? Not '81.

  • MA | June 25, 2014 6:13 PMReply

    Journey, "Only the Young" (Vision Quest)

  • William | June 21, 2014 1:17 PMReply

    What about "Invincible" by Pat Benatar from "The Legend Of Billy Jean"

  • BlueFox94 | June 11, 2014 9:39 PMReply

    No "Somewhere Out There" from AN AMERICAN TAIL!? That song went to #2 and won the Grammys for Song of the Year and Best Song from a Visual Media Source. The message is too wholesome and tender for it to be omitted from any '80s Theme Songs list.

  • FLASH GORDON JR. | June 11, 2014 8:58 PMReply

    Bom, bom, bom, bom, bom, bom, bom...
    Saviour of the universe.

    Bom, bom, bom, bom, bom, bom, bom...
    He'll save every one of us.

  • Robin the Boy Wonder | June 11, 2014 8:39 PMReply

    Two personal favourites:

    YOU'RE THE BEST by Joe Esposito (The Karate Kid.)
    I WANT TO BE SOMEBODY by Jack Mack and the Heart Attack (Police Academy)

  • Jon | June 11, 2014 2:56 PMReply

    One highly underrated theme song was Elton John's "Measure of a Man" for Rocky V. Yes, I know the movie stunk, but at least the song was pretty good.

  • me | June 11, 2014 12:53 PMReply

    twist of fate from Olivia & travoltas two of a kind

  • Jerry The Bookie | June 11, 2014 12:46 PMReply

    We're in the finals today, of Songs that remind us of Movies (I'm on Facebook at Jerry's Lists, fyi) and it's In Your Eyes, Say Anything vs. Eye Of The Tiger, Rocky III. I'm guessing that Peter Gabriel needs to be on your list somewhere.

  • John The Great | June 11, 2014 11:08 AMReply

    “When Doves Cry” - Prince - “Purple Rain” ....came out in 1984, NOT 1986.

  • Rick | June 11, 2014 10:23 AMReply

    Pretty good choices overall, but I think the "Chariots of Fire" theme song should've easily made the first list, IMHO.

  • Thomas Ward | June 10, 2014 12:08 PMReply

    You're the Best - Joe Esposito from Karate Kid; Who's Johnny - El Debarge from Short Circuit; Bit by Bit - Stephanie Mills from Fletch; Everybody Wants to Rule the World - Tears for Fears from Real Genuis; Get Outta My Dreams (Get Into My Car) - Billy Ocean from License to Drive; Who's That Girl - Madonna from Who's That Girl; Take Control - Bobby Brown from Ghostbusters II

  • marcelo deugarte | June 9, 2014 10:49 AMReply

    Overall a pretty good list, but some of my favorites that didn't receive a mention of any kind...
    On the Dark Side--I forget what movie this was from and I think the band was John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band
    I'm Alright--Kenny Loggins from Caddyshack
    Xanadu--Olivia Newton John & ELO
    Say You Say Me--Lionel Richie from White Nights

  • Mike Young | June 25, 2014 5:26 PM

    It was Eddie and the Cruisers.

  • Kenny Ritchie | June 6, 2014 4:21 AMReply

    No reference to any of the entries from the 'The Lost Boys' OST? Echo and the Bunny men, INXS, Lou Gramm, Tim Capello, etc.

  • DJCJ | June 26, 2014 8:46 AM

    Yeah - good one. 'Lost in the Shadows' by Loy Gramm. Think its used in the nighttime motorcycle race along the beach. Great groove to it with the quintessential 80's huge gated reverb snare sound - think the lyrics are directly related to the movie and 'Lost Boys' is whispered throughout.

  • Johnny | June 6, 2014 2:42 AMReply

    I have to say "Love On A Real Train" for Risky Business is one that stands out and holds up to this day.

  • Bobby | June 6, 2014 12:46 AMReply

    Who's Johnny. From Short Circuit and that song from The Last Dragon.

  • Rodo | June 5, 2014 1:37 PMReply

    1) Up Where Be Long from An Officer and a Gentleman
    2) Surrender to Me from Tequila Sunrise
    3) The Final Countdown from Rocky 4

  • Bash | June 4, 2014 9:38 PMReply

    The omission of the following is bordering on the criminal:

    1) 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton from 9 to 5 (1980)

    2) Sweet Freedom by Michael McDonald from Running Scared (1986)

    3) Winner Takes It All by Sammy Hagar from Over The Top (1987)

    Also, Meet Me Half Way by Kenny Loggins from Over The Top (1987)

  • Emperor Zerg Rush | June 4, 2014 5:58 PMReply

    You guys included Axel F yet neglected Elfman's Batman theme (in terms of oversaturation into pop culture, I'd put the two neck and neck, even if "The Batman Theme" didn't top the charts)? Hell, as many times as Prince pops up in this list, I'm stunned not to find any of his Batman tracks in there (Partyman, Trust, Batdance, etc.)

  • ger heard ken L E | June 11, 2014 5:54 PM

    there is an incredibly romantic one from prince


    1989 batman

  • JK1193 | June 4, 2014 5:52 PMReply

    I know you mentioned this one, but Mannequin was on television a couple of weeks ago and I was surprised to hear "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" at the end. Had no idea it originally came from that film.

  • JK1193 | June 4, 2014 5:44 PMReply

    Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band's "Shakedown" from Beverly Hills Cop II. The only #1 hit in the legendary rocker's career.

  • Sean | June 4, 2014 5:16 PMReply

    Glaring omission: "Love Will Turn You Around" - Kenny Rogers - "Six Pack" (1982).

  • @fernandoqntro | June 4, 2014 5:13 PMReply

    Excuse me!!!

    David Bowie in Labyrinth (Within You)

  • bohmer | June 4, 2014 4:05 PMReply

    Great post guys! My favorite is still that only track I know from Simple Mind. Such a great song still. Don't know why they would hate it except maybe for the lalalas...

  • Nathan Duke | June 4, 2014 3:10 PMReply

    Some other good ones: Pet Semetary (Ramones) from "Pet Sematery", Mysteries of Love (Julee Cruise) from "Blue Velvet," Goodbye Horses (Q. Lazzarus) from "Married to the Mob" and In Your Eyes (Peter Gabriel) from "Say Anything," though that wasn't written for the movie. And "Live to Tell," which you mentioned, is an underrated one.

  • Nathan Duke | June 4, 2014 3:01 PMReply

    Good list, but that's Bill Nunn - not Bill Duke - as Radio Raheem.

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