Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Soundtracks Of The 80's

Soundtracks are big business, and movie studios know this. Even the worst of films can be saved by a stellar soundtrack, taking it from financial flop to blockbuster. They're synonymous with highly popular one hit wonders you can't find anywhere else, drawing in big names in the music industry who either contribute or write full albums, and of course the masters of their craft - I'm talking about the many composers out there who write and conduct entire symphony's for film.

As many of you know, or found out in a recent post I wrote about a bunch of CD's I recently purchased, I love soundtracks. As I said above (and in the aforementioned post), they're a treasure trove for one hit wonders you just can't find anywhere else. Not only that, but they're so much fun to display with their mini movie posters for covers. I probably own as many soundtracks as I do studio albums from bands, and I dare say they may supersede said studio albums in volume in the very near future.

Today I've pulled a collection of some of my favorite soundtracks from the 80's to share.For me, this is the definitive era for music in films. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the 80's essentially defined who I was as a person being the time frame I grew up. The music was fantastic, and it has remained an important part of my life to this day.

Do bear with me though. When I say "I pulled some", I really mean I grabbed pretty much everything which wasn't nailed down. Selecting a favorite soundtrack is like asking a parent which one is their favorite child. So, the heck with it. We'll just take a trip down memory lane with a bunch of them. I assume if you're still reading you have no problem with this.

Let's begin!

Kenny Loggins is essentially the face of 80's soundtracks. In fact, if I didn't know any better I'd say there was some form of written law which stated all film studios had to first check with him to see if he was willing and available for their soundtrack before they moved on to the next person. Kidding of course, but seriously, this guy had a ton of popular hits on a ton of popular film soundtracks. In many cases he was the only reason to even consider buying it.

Caddyshack is Loggin's first debut on a soundtrack, and from there only showed his staying power with hits on Footloose, Over the Top and Top Gun. Of course these aren't the only contributions he made in the 80's.

However, it wouldn't be fair to give Kenny all the credit for the above albums. While his music definitely stands out, there are other great tracks to be found from numerous artists; Deniece Williams, Mike Reno, Ann Wilson, Bonnie Tyler, Sammy Hagar, Asia, Berlin, Cheap Trick and more!

Harold Faltermeyer (who also wrote the anthem for Top Gun) showed the world you could reach number one on numerous charts without singing a single note when he provided Axel F for the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack. This straight synthpop sounding dance track also made it clear that synthesizers were an instrument which could be utilized to create fully developed and high quality songs from start to finish.

The album also benefits from having hits from several big name artists of the era; The Heat is On (Glenn Frey), New Attitude (Patti LaBelle), Neutron Dance (The Pointer Sisters), and though it wasn't a hit, one of my personal favorites was Gratitude by Danny Elfman.

I don't know about anyone else, but for me, Fame and Flashdance kind of go hand and hand. I never really think of one of them without thinking of the other. This is probably contributed to Irene Cara who sang both of the biggest hits off of both albums, Fame (from Fame) and (Flashdance) What a Feeling (from Flashdance). Both tracks just make you feel good. They're peppy, upbeat, and make you want to get up and dance. Flashdance also had two other great tracks, Romeo from Donna Summer and Manica by Michael Sembello - A song originally written as a joke, but tweaked lyrically to fit in the film.

There's no denying Survivor's Eye of the Tiger was the only reason to buy the soundtrack for Rocky III - Which is why I'll give it an honorable mention here. However, it's inclusion on Rocky IV's soundtrack in addition to the many other great tracks made the fourth installment far more tantalizing for me.

The album is notable for so many hits; Burning Heart (Survivor), Heart's On Fire (John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band), Eye of the Tiger (Survivor), Living in America (James Brown), No Easy Way Out (Robert Tepper) and the Training Montage (Vince DiCola). This is a soundtrack I would say if you don't have, you need to get it.

Madonna was big, big, big in the 80's, and everyone wanted her for some form of project - Photo shoots, soundtracks, staring in films, or a little bit of all of the above. She not only stared in the two films, Desperately Seeking Susan and Who's That Girl, but also contributed tracks which quickly shot up the charts - Into the Groove and Who's That Girl, respectively.

There are a handful of albums which immediately come to mind when I think of iconic 80's films. I can't even visualize scenes from movies such as Back to the Future, Ghostbusters and Dirty Dancing without their respective tunes humming in the back of my head. These three are definitely soundtracks I would say are equally as important as the films they're from. You simply can't have one without the other. Well...You could. It would just be a terrible world to live in.

Prince may not have been able to act, but there's no denying he broke barriers between races with his soundtrack to Purple Rain. I'm not going to lie - The film stinks. However, I'd be lying if I didn't say for me Purple Rain is the definitive 80's soundtrack. There's just not one bad tune on it. Since then, Prince has stared in a handful of other (not so good) films, and of course written the soundtracks for them.

Enter the soundtrack for Tim Burton's Batman. I'm not really sure how Prince got attached to the project, but I do believe I recall hearing rumor that it all came about because he owed Warner Brothers a soundtrack under his contract. Regardless, this is one solid album. Not only that, but it's also a transitional phase for Prince musically. He steps away from his 80's pop style music, and leans more towards a funk bass and drum style with a hint of industrial in it. It works fantastically together.

Then there's the mass of one hit wonder as well as big name bands / singers who provided songs they never released on their studio albums for soundtracks which sprinkled about the 1980's, and charted the top of Rick Dee's Weekly Top 40 frequently. Initially I was going to list them all out here, but decided against it when it essentially became a wall of text. Suffice to say there are a ton of great songs on these albums;

 Valley Girls*The Goonies*Pretty in Pink
Say Anything*Cocktail*The Breakfast Club

 Vision Quest*Electric Dreams*The Jewel of the Nile
The Karate Kid Part II*National Lampoon's Vacation*St. Elmo's Fire

Here's a little soundtrack trivia for you to blow your friend's minds with - You can't actually find The Karate Kid Part II on CD. It was only released on cassette and vinyl. The album was the only one released in 1986 by United Artists, and was in an effort to revive the companies movie and record label. It failed, resulting in minimal pressings / copies of the album in general despite having the number one hit Glory of Love by Peter Cetera. The company went defunct, and the entire catalog (including their soundtracks) sold to Capitol Records. To date Capitol has not released the soundtrack on CD either.

 Mannequin*Weird Science*Beaches
Risky Business*Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome*Against All Odds

 An Officer and A Gentleman*Real Genius*Scrooged
Streets of Fire*Ruthless People*Working Girl

Children's movies were no exception to the necessity of a great soundtrack. In fact, there are some films I loved as a kid which simply haven't aged well enough to watch again, but the soundtrack on the other hand has one or more classic tracks on it which make their rotation into my iPod regularly.

 Transformers The Movie*Labyrinth*The Neverending Story
An American Tail*Annie

There were also the cartoons which weren't so kid friendly. Ralph Bakshi was my first introduction into more adult themed animated films, and may very well be credited with showing me breasts (among other things) for the first time. Let's just say as a very young teenager I liked his films for many reasons. Fortunately one of those is on topic for this discussion - The soundtracks.

As a child of the 80's I didn't really listen to a lot of music from the 60's (and 70's for that matter). Bakshi's American Pop was my first real foray into the hay days of rock with artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Big Brother and Holding Company and The Doors. In fact, the only 80's artist on the soundtrack is Pat Benatar.

If you think about it, the soundtrack for Less Than Zero was rather groundbreaking. Rap was quickly making its way to the forefront of the music scene, and in essence was helping to bring many people together under one unified interest - The love of music.

The soundtrack for the film melded all the great sounds of the decade together with hits from the likes of LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Poison, The Bangles and Aerosmith (to name a few). This was definitely a different kind of album for me because typically you had a soundtrack which focused on one particular style of music. There was never really a combination of the various "genres".

James Bond films had been synonymous with hit theme songs since the early 1960's, and the 80's were no exception. Sheena Easton provided the title track for the film For Your Eyes Only, Duran Duran for A View To A Kill, and A-Ha for The Living Daylights - All of which quickly became popular mainstay tracks on FM radio.

To this day Bond films make it a point to come out of the gate swinging with a theme song by the most current hottest acts of the day. It's probably a safe bet to say this will continue as long as bond films are made...Which may not be much longer if I had to honestly speculate.

Sadly not all soundtracks for great films can be equally as good. With movies being produced every day alongside the music which goes into them you're bound to have some duds. Such is the case with soundtracks such as The Lost Boys, Revenge of the Nerds, This is Spinal Tap and Spaceballs. Great films...Not so great soundtracks.

Granted there are some descent tracks on these albums such as Cry Little Sister and People Are Strange on The Lost Boys, and Spaceballs on the Spaceballs soundtrack. For the most part though, these don't tend to find a rotation in my catalogue of music. In fact I'll even throw out there how disappointing it was to find that the best song from Revenge of the Nerds (the rap at the end) isn't even on the soundtrack! LAME!

As I mentioned above, soundtracks have a way of drawing in big names in the music industry. I already talked about Prince and Madonna, but there have been others. The Bee Gees were big into providing music for soundtracks in the 70's, but sadly got pushed to the background as the 80's rolled around. While their Staying Alive soundtrack has a fair amount of hits on it, disco was quickly being deemed uncool to listen to - Let alone perform.

Then there is my all time favorite band, Queen, with their not so great Flash Gordon soundtrack. Don't get me wrong, I like a fair amount of the tracks on this record, but you're not going to find anything which made the airways in the 80's. Additionally, this album was also the start of the band incorporating synthesizers into their music - Something which greatly disappointed a lot of their fans.

Olivia Newton John was also big money during this era having been majorly successful in the film Grease. She was often times brought in to star in the films she provided soundtracks for. Xanadu not only features her magnificent singing voice, but the music of Electric Light Orchestra. The combination is really something special.

Not all soundtracks have to be driven by tunes which made their way to FM radios across the world. It would be an absolute crime to not mention the symphonic master of soundtracks, Mr. John Williams. If it was a conducted soundtrack, chances were high he was behind it. It's a fair bet that in his several decade long career that you know and like something he's created.

If you've truly been living under a rock, he's the man behind such classic scores as Star Wars, E.T., Indiana Jones, Jaws, Harry Potter and so many more it would take all day to list them.

However, for as popular as he is, John Williams is not the only mastermind of conducted soundtracks. One of my all time favorites is Danny Elfman - Mainly because I love everything Oingo Boingo. Elfman himself scratches his head at why Tim Burton selected him to write his soundtrack for Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (the film which started their long working relationship). Whatever the reason, Burton was right to choose him. Danny Elfman writes fantastic music, often with a dark or quirky tone which fits in perfectly to Burton's on screen visions.

For a more synthesizer based soundtrack which hits all the marks, you really need look no further than Vangelis who was the mastermind behind Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner. Ironically, due to a dispute with the film company, you couldn't actually find Vangelis Blade Runner soundtrack until 1994. Instead you'd have to suffice for a recording by The New American Orchestra when the film was first released.

Other conductors get an honorable mention for their work in 80's film. Though there are many of them, three specific albums come to mind; The Terminator by Brad Fiedel, Thief by Tangerine Dream and Escape From New York by the film's writer / director, John Carpenter.
 The Terminator
Thief*Escape From New York

Last, but certainly not least, I want to mention a few albums for 80's films which helped introduce me to the great tunes of yesteryear. Some of these soundtracks take me back as far as the 40's and 50's, while others introduced me to the soothing sounds of Mowtown.

The Blues Brothers*Stand By Me*Good Morning Vietnam
The Big Chill*The Last Dragon

This really is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many great films of the 80's out there with equally great or better soundtracks. This definitely will not be my last post on the subject. In the meantime, please feel free to add your own list of great 80's soundtracks to the comment section. Who knows, maybe some of your selections will make it into my future post.

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