'80s music continues to retain a mystique and retro charm that often bleeds into contemporary and even current filmmaking. A number of movies both recent and occasionally even made during the '80s make significant use of actual '80s music to great effect, but a select few go as far as creating original fictional compositions that serve both to celebrate and parody the music of that era. Here's a look at some of the best songs of this type, which in most cases offer far more loving tribute than sneering, self-aware disdain. '80s music forever!
In a discussion of fictional and parody music featured in film, it's practically impossible to begin anywhere other than 1984's brilliant mockumentary prototype, This Is Spinal Tap. Many observers have noted over the years that Spinal Tap's vision of hard rock and '80s heavy metal often produced songs at least as good, if not far better at times, than the pompous bombast the film was meant to ape. This is certainly true, but the musical gifts from the comedy team of Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and Rob Reiner have much more to offer than superior derision. "Heavy Duty" plods along with all the subtlety of a full-volume jackhammer in slow motion, but it's a delightful celebration of the '80s focus on Marshall stacks.
Following a long-overdue recent viewing of 1989's teen black comedy classic Heathers, I had to find a way to honor this fake anti-suicide song (as well as the fake band that "recorded" it) that serves as the film's comic centerpiece. Anyone who admires it probably realizes that this film and its deliciously dark vision feature some great one-liners, but the sustained creation of a satirical, painfully real high school landscape is its greatest achievement. '80s music legend Don Dixon wrote and recorded the song for the film with some usual cohorts of the period, but the essence of Big Fun will live forever through Martha Dumptruck. All hail this winking, conceptual blend of Wham! and Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
For another great example of taking a concept to its highest point, the 2007 film Music and Lyrics wastes no time in introducing this wonderful parody song through a full-blown retro music video. And even if Hugh Grant might not quite pull off the age at which he's supposed to be as a member of PoP!, the song works on many levels beyond its excellent parody of actual pop duo Wham! A singing, dancing Scott Porter (of Friday Night Lights TV fame) is an amusing touch in the George Michael role, not to mention the full-tilt costuming. Fountains of Wayne bassist Adam Schlesinger cowrote several fine songs for the film, but this Andrew Wyatt-penned homage to '80s cheese helps pack the proceedings full of '80s music fun.
Mark Wahlberg has certainly received enough mockery for his actual recording career as leader of Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch (well, maybe not yet) that he could have been excused for balking at the chance 1996's Boogie Nights offered him to further skewer his own musical image. But it's to his credit, as well as the epic power of Paul Thomas Anderson's fictional porn universe, that Dirk Diggler shamelessly and even proudly attempts to peddle his questionable wares as a musician. "Feel the Heat" perfectly encapsulates the delusional extremities of some minor celebrities who are convinced they're far more talented than they actually are. Of course, let's not forget John C. Reilly's contributions to this arena rock "masterpiece," either.
Well, you knew we had to get around to the montage at some point. One of '80s music's signature contributions to cinema, this form marries pop music to narrative exposition to an extent none of us could have ever expected. Wet Hot American Summer produces a number of note-perfect if conceptually challenging moments, but the sight of troubled camp cook Gene (a hilarious Christopher Meloni) imparting Zen-like wisdom to young pup Coop (Michael Showalter) - complete with careful choreography - registers as something far beyond inspirational. Again, there's as much love involved here as there is a knowing, satirical statement about pop culture. And that kind of concern for detail is what makes this new wave romp (and the film) such fun.