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Top Ten 80s Movie Soundtracks

February 28th, 2008 12:27pm EST

Stand By Me5. Stand By Me
The soundtrack to this classic coming-of-age tale of four boys-- all of whom actually make it out of this Stephen King film alive-- is filled with a trove of 50s pop classics. Buddy Holly ("Everyday"), The Del Vikings ("Come Go With Me"), The Coasters ("Yakety Yak") and Jerry Lee Lewis ("Great Balls Of Fire") made this journey fun. And Ben E. King's title track grounded us and brought on the serious tones of true friendship.

But the unforgettable "Lollipop" by The Chordettes proved the real camaraderie of BFF's Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton), Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman) and Vern Tessio (Jerry O'Connell). All of this helped suppress the seriousness of their quest's true goal: seeing a dead body.

From railroad tracks, junkyard dogs, "looneys" and tall tales, The Stand By Me soundtrack is filled with the feel-good music from the era in which the film takes place. And hey, Vern brought the comb.

The Lost Boys4. The Lost Boys
Like many of the film soundtracks of the 80's, half of the music on this fantastic soundtrack is done by no-hit-wonders, but the songs themselves have qualities that allow them to stand together as another defining point of the 1980s. Perhaps the music on this best epitomizes the decade's motion picture soundtracks; something director John Hughes mastered (despite not landing a soundtrack on this list).

Hughes led the way in his films by pairing the music to the film's subject matter, and not just throwing a bunch of songs together for the sake of having music in the film. Following that mold, Joel Schumacher-- Hughes' contemporary and fellow 'Brat Pack' director (see: St. Elmo's Fire, Flatliners), directed a little film about vampires called "The Lost Boys". The film's soundtrack contained one or two big name artists and the rest were filler songs done by up-and-comers who wouldn't get further than having a song on a soundtrack (Gerard McMann, Mummy Calls, Eddie... anyone?); lead singers of well-known bands giving solo efforts (Lou Gramm, Roger Daltrey); and popular underground/cult bands (Echo and the Bunnymen); but it was done in the same vein as the soundtracks to Hughes' films (The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller - which never even had a soundtrack released because of such an eclectic mix of music), where the music was the mood and the lyrics seemed to directl pertain to the story.

Naturally, the big hit came from INXS, who collaborated with Jimmy Barnes on a cover of "Good Times" (original by the Easybeats). It's perhaps the most recognizable song Jimmy Barnes has ever done outside of his native Australia, where he had seven number one records (I saw him open for ZZ Top once and he was nothing short of awful).

The album is simply fantastic though. Daltrey toned down and synthesized a cover of Elton John's "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me", which shifts the tone from INXS' rocker and Lou Gramm's 80s cheese "Lost In The Shadows (The Lost Boys)", to more of a mix of subdued pop, synthesizers and pianos throughout. Highlights include McMann's "Cry Little Sister (Theme From "The Lost Boys")" and Echo's cover of The Doors' "People Are Strange." The album is rounded out by the haunting calliopes of composer Thomas Newman's instrumental "To The Shock Of Miss Louise," which instantly reminds one of the carnival scenes in the film.

Miami Vice3. Miami Vice
All right, a slight bend of the rules here goes to a TV show; but to back this up just about everyone who lived through the 80s had this (uh, cassette?) and was playing it on their "boom-box" at the beach all summer long in 1984. This soundtrack is probably the first television soundtrack ever, and is still easily the best.

Jan Hammer's classic theme song playing over the exotic sights of Miami during the opening credits of the show set the tone for Crockett (Don Johnson) & Tubbs' (Philip Michael Thomas) stylish crime-fighting, er, 'style,' in south Florida.

Two Glenn Frey songs, "Smuggler's Blues," which defined the series; and "You Belong To The City," a jazzy, saxed-up dirge that defined the show's main characters, move the soundtrack along before Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight" went deeper into the dark undertones of the Miami underworld. Things pick up with Tina Turner's "Better Be Good To Me" and Grandmaster Melle Mel's "Vice" before giving way to a trio of Hammer's synth-pop. And you thought the show was just all pastel shirts, white blazers and loafers.

A second volume was also released, featuring Gladys Knight & The Pips (in their 80s pop phase, not the classic Motown sound), more Phil Collins, Duran Duran's, Roxy Music and Jackson Browne (hey is that Andreas Vollenweider on that?).

Less Than Zero2. Less Than Zero
Like Purple Rain, another of the most defining albums, let alone best movie soundtracks of the 80s, is the Less Than Zero soundtrack. With such a balanced mix of music that not only defined the verisimilitude of the drug fueled California underworld depicted in the film, it also serves as a colorful palette of genres muddled together in one of the most eclectic mixes ever. Seriously, you can't make this kind of mix on your iPod.

The days of one-album and one-hit-wonders were over and bands that, for the most part, are still with us today were included here; most performing a wide range of cover songs. Classic rock represented by Aerosmith doing Johnny Rivers' "Rocking Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu"; which not only got this album off to a rockin' start, but also cemented the Boston quintet's comeback that took root in their collaboration with Run DMC and in their Permanent Vacation album. Glam rock up-and-comers Poison clone of Kiss' "Rock And Roll All Night" foreshadowed their fast rise to superstardom. Roy Orbison, later in his career, on "Life Fades Away," shows he still had it. Rap, growing fast in popularity is repped by LL Cool J's classic "Going Back To Cali" and Public Enemy's "Bring The Noise" (the version without Anthrax). Even thrash metal is here, with a speedy and powerful rendition of Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" by the genre's defining band, Slayer. But it's The Bangles' amazing cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Hazy Shade Of Winter" that is not just the best in this collection, but also a shoo-in for a future Starpulse 'best of' list: The Top Ten Best Cover Songs Ever.

Good Morning Vietnam1. Good Morning Vietnam.
"Goooooooood Morning Vietnam! Hey, this is not a test, this is Rock 'n Roll!" Ten years removed from the end of the Vietnam War, the conflict became one of the most popular subjects of filmmakers during the 1980s. Films like Platoon (Academy Award - Best Picture, 1986), Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill, and Apocalypse Now all envisioned what was happening at the front lines of the war; but in Saigon and the other urban areas in the region it was still business as usual and life had to go on.

I was once told by a friend who was in Saigon during the war that Good Morning Vietnam was the most accurate depiction of life in Vietnam out of all the great Vietnam War flicks that came out during the decade; and music played an integral part in reminding Americans - both civilians and soldiers alike - of home. The lives the young soldiers led were filled with the images of war and death, and music was something that could take them away from reality for a while and help to keep morale up-- Rock and Roll music, that is. Armed Forces Radio is what they had, which not only gave our soldiers a bit of the latest news, but provided entertainment as well.

The film is the story of disc-jockey Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams), who is assigned to take over duties on AFR in Saigon. He immediately rubs radio station brass the wrong way by playing rock music and tossing in some improvisational humor in between songs; and later begins reporting the facts about the war instead of just the sugar-coated stories to keep morale high. Williams brings his usual hyperactive style to the character and the songs he plays have become timeless classics that translate into one of the greatest playlists ever. Everyone knows that some of America's best music was created from the mid-60s to the mid-70s and no soundtrack captured and encapsulated this better than "Good Morning Vietnam." Sure, the music isn't from the 80s, but it easily stands above and beyond anything else offered during the decade in the movie soundtrack genre.

There's lots of classics on this one, like the Beach Boys' "I Get Around," Martha & The Vandellas' "Nowhere To Run," and Godfather of Soul James Brown's classic "I Got You (I Feel Good)." This was American radio in Vietnam. Songs to get your mind off the war and make you think of home and what you're fighting for; like Them's "Baby Please Don't Go," and the irony of Louis Armstrong's standard "What A Wonderful World." Hilarious interludes from Williams' Cronauer are included and strewn throughout, adding the feel of listening to a radio broadcast from the era, albeit with Williams' over-the-top humor thrown into the mix. This soundtrack is as beautiful and intriguing as the "Dragon Lady at 3:00."

The Blues BrothersNotable mention:
The Blues Brothers, the classic soundtrack from Dan Aykroyd & John Belushi's 1980 film which featured music legends James Brown, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin; as well as the majority of songs by the brothers Blues, Jake (Belushi) & Elwood (Aykroyd) themselves. But honestly, it pales in comparison to the Brothers' "The Definitive Collection" (unfortunately it's currently out of print) on which the duo tears down the house. You wish you had some meat.

Heavy Metal
The music that accompanied the titillating animated masterpiece that is "Heavy Metal" is hardly that; but as the vehicle that moves this series of vignettes from one to the next (along with the 'sum of all evil' that is the Loc-Nar), this soundtrack is a bit of a 'lost classic' that never had a chance. Heavy MetalPerhaps the film should have been called "Corporate Rock" or "Guitar Rock" instead, but in 1981 the "Heavy Metal" referenced in the title happens to be the name of a comic magazine, not the music genre.

Most of it's fluffy, but it still rocks and not only set all the tones and moods throughout the film, but is a great play from beginning to end. Songs from Sammy Hagar, Blue Oyster Cult, Journey and Stevie Nicks aren't exactly what you'd expect when thinking 'animated feature with lots of nudity and violence,' but then again John Candy, Harold Ramis and Eugene Levy aren't exactly the voice actors who come to mind either-- nor does director Ivan Reitman. Cheap Trick and Black Sabbath are featured also, but the slower jams from BOC, Journey, former Eagle Don Felder and Steely Dan's Donald Fagen add to the tones of this fantasy film.

The Karate KidThere are some other notable gems that weren't included because they contained only one or two great or good classic movie songs. The first of which reigns supreme, as it contains one of the greatest movie montage songs ever: The Karate Kid soundtrack. Just watch as Daniel-san cruises through the tournament to Joe Esposito's "You're The Best."

Survivor's "Eye Of The Tiger" in Rocky III was about Rocky, not just some song that had been out for decades already that was chosen for the film.

And lastly, to give closure to this list (which is open to debate through your comments, below) I must also honor the great 80s movie song maestro-- Kenny Loggins. It was Loggins who gave us "Footloose," Caddyshack's "I'm Alright," and "Meet Me Half Way" from the cheese-tastic Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling movie (yes, the one that also starred that annoying kid from General Hospital), Over The Top. And yes, he also gave us "Danger Zone" from Top Gun.

© 2011
Photo Credits: AMG

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