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Top 10 '80s Songs Featured on '80s Film Soundtracks

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The combination of the very special manifestation of '80s cinema with contemporary music was often an exhilarating one, as some of the most memorable tunes and films of that decade have become almost inseparable. With the advent of the MTV age, the line between movies and music became even more blurry, as music videos provided highly noticeable links between the two media. Here's a look at 10 of the best and most memorable '80s songs featured in films released during that decade.

1. Simple Minds - "Don't You (Forget About Me)"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of A&M Records

1985's John Hughes classic The Breakfast Club persists as one of the most beloved teen films of the '80s, but its use of music on the film's soundtrack, particularly this song employed as the main theme, really showed how vibrantly and memorably music and film could be used together. The song became a huge hit, but it's likely that it would have never reached the heights it did without its ties to the film, both through repeated appearances on the soundtrack and, of course, during Judd Nelson's fist-pumping walk across the football field as the credits roll.

2. Irene Cara - "Flashdance (What a Feeling)"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Mercury Records

'80s music in general had a propensity for soaring choruses and anthemic bombast, but when combined with great visuals and an inspiring narrative, a song like this one from the soundtrack to the film of the same name proved that there was basically no limit for uplift in movie themes. Whether it was actually Jennifer Beals (or not) flying through the air in a leotard, this song never would have been the staple of aerobics classes that it became if not for its perfect marriage to Adrian Lyne's welder-dancer underdog story, Flashdance, from 1983.

3. Mike Reno & Ann Wilson - "Almost Paradise"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Columbia/Legacy

The '80s never lacked in over-the-top love songs even away from the big screen, but this partnership between the lead singers of '80s fixtures Loverboy and Heart, respectively, truly carried the torch for this kind of romantic power ballad. This was great music for first-date jitters, inaugural make-out sessions or obsessive crushes, and the song's populist appeal stemmed both from its universal emotional base and its prominent appearance in one of the decade's biggest films, 1984's Footloose, as well as its soundtrack.

4. Bananarama - "Cruel Summer"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of London Records

Few '80s movie hits found a narrative niche as snug as this song from The Karate Kid, which perfectly summarized the struggle against long odds of its protagonist, Daniel-San. Associations with visual memories can be as permanent for people as eye color, as I knew a guy whose memory of the scene in which this song played was almost as vivid as anything that happened in his life. Anyway, it's a great song made into something more by its savvy use in a film. But oddly, it's excluded from the soundtrack.

5. Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark - "If You Leave"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of A&M Records

For OMD, having one of the most elegant names in synth pop and producing one of the most evocative and lush keyboard openings was not necessarily enough to forge a hit song. But throw in Molly Ringwald's poor-girl nobility and fierce longing for true love, and you have one of the most iconic '80s tunes in any genre. The great synth opening and unforgettable chorus would not seem nearly as striking if not for the song's crucial narrative placement at the prom scene of Hughes' Pretty in Pink. It's also a memorable selection, of course, from the film's soundtrack.

6. John Parr - "St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Atlantic Records

It didn't matter that John Parr sounded pretty much exactly like Foreigner's Lou Gramm or Night Ranger's Jack Blades. It didn't matter either that the only other hit Parr could muster was the rather shameful "Naughty Naughty." All that mattered was that when you combined the bombast of this rousing theme from the Joel Schumacher film of the same name with Rob Lowe's fantastic mullet and a naked Demi Moore stylishly freezing to death in a room with all the windows open, you simply got magic.

7. Peter Gabriel - "In Your Eyes"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Sony
This song has the distinction of being a major hit in its own right prior to its association with an '80s film, but there's no doubt it reached an entirely new plane with its inclusion in Cameron Crowe's 1989 teen romance Say Anything. Crowe has sometimes been frustratingly guilty of overly self-indulgent filmmaking, but the image of John Cusack holding a boom box to project this song to Ione Skye will probably always remain one of the best marriages of pop music and film of all time. The film's soundtrack otherwise is not too shabby either, unsurprisingly.

8. Patti LaBelle - "New Attitude"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of MCA

I guess it's a pretty clear sign of a song's impact when it has the power to show up 20 years later in advertising. Or maybe it's just evidence of the power of the almighty dollar, but either way this bouncy dance-pop tune from Beverly Hills Cop certainly stands as one of the decade's niftiest melodies. As delivered by R&B songstress LaBelle on the film's soundtrack, the song becomes something particularly special. Its arrangement was ideal for the period, maximizing keyboards and a heavy, aerobics-ready beat.

9. Sheena Easton - "For Your Eyes Only"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol/EMI

It's no surprise that Sheena Easton has found her way onto another one of my lists, I know, but this song from the 1981 James Bond film of the same name has always been a haunting favorite of mine. The melody is timeless and forceful, and the vocal performance is one of the Scottish singer's best. The sheer beauty of the tune makes one long for the time when Bond films used to convey some sense of style rather than just sheer sensationalistic excess.

10. Plimsouls - "A Million Miles Away"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Rhino Records
Credit 1982's Valley Girl for introducing the great new wave of Peter Case and the Plimsouls to a wider audience. The group made highly accessible pop/rock that somehow never got the attention it deserved in pop music circles. Strangely enough, it took a small cult film soundtrack like this to give the song a sort of immortality that reaches well beyond the rather novelty feel of much of the music from the film. "Johnny Are You Queer?" is an '80s classic in its own right, but it lacks the permanence of this tune.
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