There’s so much to adore about the films and television of the 80s: the heroic characters, their glorious clothes and haircuts, their tenacious never-give-up attitudes in the face of any adversity. And these beloved properties wouldn’t carry anything like the same courageous, indomitable spirit without one very specific component of the viewing experience: the soundtrack.
Few things more distinctively mark out a movie or TV show as being a product of the 80s as their music. Never before or since have theme songs had quite the same anthemic, air-punching quality – and once that tune has inevitably burrowed its way into your subconscious, there’s no way it’s ever getting out again.
Have you ever managed to get these movie and TV theme tunes out of your head? We’re pretty sure you won’t be able to after reading this…
10. The A-Team theme
The A-Team was everything to kids in the 80s. It may have only run for 98 episodes between 1983 and 1987, but as far as most of us were concerned the show dominated the entire decade, and when we weren’t staring in awe at the action on our TV screens, we were out in the playground staging our own little A-Team adventures, and arguing over who got to be BA Baracus.
The rousing theme music by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter played a major role in making the show so memorable, with the military drumbeat and opening narration setting the mood, and the ensuing orchestral refrain getting the blood stirring. And don’t try to pretend you don’t immediately break out the air guitar as soon as it hits the thumping rock section midway.
9. Danger Zone – Top Gun
Yeah, we know, it might be argued that the official theme for 1986’s Top Gun is the power ballad Take My Breath Away by Berlin; that was the bigger chart hit, and won the Oscar for Best Original Song. However, the song that really captures the spirit of the high-flying blockbuster is of course Kenny Loggins’ storming rock anthem Danger Zone. With its roaring power chords and pounding electronic drumbeats, Danger Zone is an audio adrenaline rush that conveys the energy and bravado of Top Gun’s soaring jets and hyper-confident hot shot pilots.
Kenny Loggins made a number of notable contributions to 80s movie soundtracks, including the theme song from Footloose, I’m Alright from Caddyshack, and another memorable track from the Top Gun soundtrack, the beach volleyball scene’s Playing with the Boys. But for our money, none of those cut anywhere near as deep as Danger Zone.
8. Knight Rider theme
It made David Hasselhoff a superstar, and left everyone who watched it wanting their very own KITT – but a big part of what kept Knight Rider buzzing in our brains all through the 80s, and reminds us of the decade today still, was its thrilling synthesiser-based theme song, composed by Stu Phillips and series creator Glen A. Larson. As soon as you hear a split-second of that throbbing electronic beat, it’s impossible not to envisage that sleek black Trans Am with the flickering red light beam soaring across the sand against a hazy purple sky.
Knight Rider ran for 90 episodes from 1982 to 1986, but it’s on endless syndicated reruns in our hearts and minds, with the music playing on a loop. Busta Rhymes later sampled the theme on his 1997 hit Fire It Up.
7. Don’t You (Forget About Me) – The Breakfast Club
The second feature film from writer-director John Hughes (and arguably the one with the biggest lasting impact, although Ferris Bueller’s Day Off puts up some stiff competition there), 1985’s The Breakfast Club has long been held close to the hearts of anyone who saw it as a teenager. Its blunt confrontation of high school’s social hierarchies and the pressures of growing up resonated with generations of viewers – although there are certain aspects of the film which perhaps don’t stand up so well today.
Still, while The Breakfast Club is a bit heavy on the woe-is-me, adolescence-is-hard, let’s-all-blame-the-parents melodrama, it ultimately ends on a triumphant note, with the former strangers united, recognising the common ground they all share. Simple Minds’ Don’t You (Forget About Me) evokes that spirit beautifully, and once heard it can never be divorced from The Breakfast Club’s final moments – most memorably Judd Nelson’s climactic air punch.
6. Where Everybody Knows Your Name – Cheers
Bit of a change of pace now, with the opening music to one of the most enduring, beloved TV sitcoms of the 80s. Cheers ran from 1982 all the way to 1993, and while the cast fluctuated a little in that time (goodbye Shelley Long, hello Kirstie Alley!), one thing that remained unchanged throughout was the show’s striking opening credits montage set to the unforgettable song Where Everybody Knows Your Name by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo.
The song lends a perhaps unexpected poignancy to what might otherwise have been a show about a bunch of losers who work in a crummy bar, and the even bigger losers who regularly frequent it. Once you’ve sung along to Everybody Knows Your Name, the staff and clientele of Cheers immediately feel like your best friends; no wonder we all kept going back for 11 whole years.
5. The Power of Love – Back to the Future
The Power of Love may have also been the title of two other huge 80s pop hits courtesy of Jennifer Rush and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, but it’s the Huey Lewis and the News version that really comes out on top as one of the greatest anthems of the decade – thanks in no small part to its prominence on the soundtrack of one of the decade’s most beloved movies, 1985’s Back to the Future.
Again, the music has long since become indistinguishable from the on-screen imagery which accompanies it: there’s no way you can hear that pounding refrain without picturing yourself as Marty McFly in denim jacket and red down vest, skateboarding your way across Hill Valley and skitching a few rides from passing vehicles en route. And once you’re in that headspace, impulsive cries of “Great Scott!” and “1.21 gigawatts!” can’t be far behind.
4. Thank You for Being a Friend – The Golden Girls
We’re taking down the tempo a little once again, with the very different but equally ear-worm-inducing theme music of long-running sitcom The Golden Girls. Considering how heavily the 80s seemed to prize youth and masculinity above all else, it’s perhaps surprising that a show about a quartet of female senior citizens would prove such a major ratings-grabber, yet The Golden Girls managed just that, hooking viewers in their millions from 1985 to 1992, and helping Betty White remain an icon to this day.
You might not have known that Thank You for Being a Friend is actually a cover version of a pre-existing track recorded by singer-songwriter Andrew Gold in 1978. The version featured on the opening credits of The Golden Girls was sung by Cynthia Fee.
There’s no more surefire way to ensure an eternal association between a song and a movie than by giving both of them the same title, and making that title the core refrain of the song. Since 1984, it’s been impossible to hear the words “Who you gonna call?” without immediately replying as loudly as possible, “Ghostbusters!” – and that’s all thanks to Ray Parker Jr.’s absolutely unforgettable theme song to the classic supernatural comedy blockbuster.
Reportedly the filmmakers rejected somewhere between 50 and 60 potential Ghostbusters theme songs before deciding on Ray Parker Jr.’s submission – and we can all agree they made the right call there. The track would go on to be used on TV animated spin-off The Real Ghostbusters, and was covered by Run DMC for 1989’s Ghostbusters II. (But let’s try to forget about the version recorded by Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliot for the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot.)
2. Run with Us – The Raccoons
If we’re talking about the best-remembered animated kids shows of the 80s, The Raccoons might not be the first that comes to mind – but those of us who were young at the time were addicted to the forest-bound adventures of the bold but bumbling Bert Raccoon and his friends, forever struggling against the tyranny of greedy tycoon Cyril Sneer. However, while The Raccoons may have been a fairly light-hearted show, it had a surprisingly hard-edged theme song in the form of Canadian singer Lisa Lougheed’s Run with Us.
In contrast with the other TV theme tunes we’ve mentioned, Run with Us actually played over the closing titles of The Raccoons rather than the opening – but if the show ran on Netflix today and they tried that automatically skipping the credits malarky, fans would be outraged. Run with Us is one of the most quintessentially 80s anthems ever recorded, and such was its popularity that Lisa Lougheed was ultimately given her own character in the cartoon, named (what else?) Lisa Raccoon.
1. Eye of the Tiger – Rocky III
Once again, nothing defines an 80s theme song more categorically than a defiant spirit, a willingness to go against the odds and a determination to emerge victorious. No movie series encapsulates that vibe more than Rocky – and no one song embodies it more than Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger, the theme song of 1982’s Rocky III. The band wrote and recorded the song specifically for the movie at the request of Sylvester Stallone himself, who (believe it or not) had originally wanted to use Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust in the movie but was turned down.
All these years later, Eye of the Tiger is synonymous with boxing and training montages, and those of us who were still young when the Rocky movies were being made were surprised to learn that it wasn’t used in the movies until the third one. No disrespect intended to Bill Conti’s equally iconic Rocky theme, but Eye of the Tiger simply is Rocky in musical form.