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10 movie soundtracks from the 1980s you should definitely own

Cast members of The Lost Boys, Top Gun, Fast Times At Ridgemont High and Pretty In Pink
(Image credit: Warner Bros/Universal Pictures/Paramount)

Sure, there were movie soundtracks before the dawn of the 1980s – for example, who can forget the enduring image of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper roaring along on motorbikes to the sound of Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild in Easy Rider, or young Benjamin Braddock about to be seduced by the wily Mrs Robinson to the dulcet tones of Messrs Simon & Garfunkel in The Graduate? But, prior to this thrilling decade, the soundtrack to a movie could often seem to be something of an afterthought. 

In the 80s, however, everything changed. The movies got bigger, brasher and more bombastic. And so did their scores. It was a time for specially-commissioned and written songs that fulfilled the remit of encapsulating the film in a three or four minute blast. Earthy rocker Kenny Loggins seemed to develop a real knack for this and found a renewed sense of purpose during the 80s, writing the main rock themes for both Top Gun and Footloose

Sometimes a director knew he’d have a hit on his hands if only he could find the right piece of music to accompany it. After all, would Survivor’s Eye Of The Tiger have been such a massive worldwide hit were it not for the fact that every time we heard it, we subconsciously saw Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa pounding the Washington DC streets in pursuit of his dream? I think not. 

Likewise, think of all the monster ballads that have become mega smashes thanks to the film they were associated with. Would Berlin have been anything other than an obscure, struggling rock band had they not been offered the chance to record Take My Breath Away, the love theme to Top Gun?

The soundtrack also afforded bands the opportunity to record a song that might not fit into their regular album profile. Many 80s soundtracks featured bands putting their own distinctive spin onto a cover version. It’s also a fantastic way to hear artists you might never have had the chance to before. Think of the movie soundtrack as a way of discovering new bands, as a mixtape compiled by your favourite director, as a way to getting into the heart and mind of your favourite movie characters.

Oh, and don’t forget, in the 80s the songs that were featured in the accompanying soundtrack, were actually to be found somewhere in the movie – unlike the more modern taste for songs “influenced and inspired by the major motion picture” marketing cash-in. 

What’s even better, is that in the 80s, the overwhelming majority of soundtracks really rocked, as the following selection proves. Get them on vinyl for that truly 80s vibe.

Top Gun - Various Artists (Columbia, 2000) (opens in new tab)

Who can forget the amazing aerial photography of the fighter jets in Top Gun? We're betting you can't, and part of the reason is down to the truly rockin' accompaniment to the breathtaking visuals. Soundtrack stalwart Kenny Loggins (who also did Footloose) was the guy who brought us Danger Zone, while Cheap Trick (opens in new tab) and Loverboy also show up. 

Make sure you get the special edition as it also includes Otis Redding's (Sitting On) The Dock Of The Bay and Jerry Lee Lewis's Great Balls Of Fire, both songs intrinsic to the movie itself. But the standout was Berlin's Take Your Breath Away. And if the song didn’t, the volleyball scene might’ve.

Fast Times At Ridgemont High - Various Artists (Elektra, 1982) (opens in new tab)

A brilliant teen movie, made all the more compelling by its tremendous soundtrack. Clocking in at 19 tracks, it ticks all the right rock boxes by including specially-comissioned songs from heavyweights such as Jackson Browne (who had a US hit with his contribution Somebody's Baby) and Sammy Hagar (opens in new tab)

Also among the luminaries are most of the Eagles (opens in new tab) in their solo guises, Stevie Nicks (opens in new tab) and The Go Gos. Fast Times's soundtrack is the perfect 80s soft rock mixtape.

The Lost Boys - Various Artists (Warner Bros, 1987) (opens in new tab)

Sex and drugs and vampires? A slightly surreal soundtrack accompanies this blood-sucking brat pack movie. INXS team up with fellow Aussie Jimmy Barnes for two numbers – Good Times and Laying Down The Law, Echo & The Bunnymen (opens in new tab) keep things going in fine style, adding a certain je ne sais quois to The Doors (opens in new tab)' People Are Strange. 

Foreigner (opens in new tab)'s Lou Gramm turns in the somewhat spooky Lost In The Shadows (The Lost Boys), while Roger Daltrey (opens in new tab)'s subdued take on Elton John (opens in new tab)'s Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me is worth the price of admission.

Less Than Zero - Various Artists (Def Jam, 1987) (opens in new tab)

Turning novelist Bret Easton Ellis' novel about nihilistic, self-obsessed, drug-addled rich kids into a movie was always going to demand a killer soundtrack. And it got one. 

Mainly comprised of interesting cover versions, The Bangles turn in a spot-on, rocked up version of Simon & Garfunkel's Hazy Shade Of Winter, Slayer (opens in new tab) take on Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, while most curiously of all Roy Orbison offers his interpretation of Glenn Danzig's Life Fades Away. This soundtrack was also the very first place anyone would get to hear Public Enemy's Bring The Noise.

Pretty In Pink - Various Artists (A&M, 1986) (opens in new tab)

The movie which featured the girl from the wrong side of the track falling in love with a high school rich boy gave The Psychedelic Furs their breakthrough hit in the shape of the title track (rerecorded from its original 1981 form), and it leads off the album in fine Bowie-esque style. 

Crammed full of cool Brit rock (Bunnymen, Smiths, OMD) and the cream of US college radio; Suzanne Vega takes a different shot at her Left Of Center, while there's also the most curious carbon copy cover of Nik Kershaw's Wouldn't It Be Good by Danny Hutton Hitters. 

Say Anything - Various Artists (WTG, 1989) (opens in new tab)

Former Rolling Stone journo Cameron Crowe ought to know a thing or two about music, and so it proved when he compiled the soundtrack to his directorial debut. 

Roping in the missus (Heart (opens in new tab)'s Nancy Wilson) for the sole new song All For Love, Crowe's selection runs the gamut from live tracks from artists as diverse as Living Colour and Depeche Mode to a classic from The Replacements (Within Your Reach), and turned Peter Gabriel (opens in new tab)'s In Your Eyes into one of the most enduring images from the movie, as John Cusack holds a boombox playing it aloft to win back his girlfriend. 

Rock’n’Roll High School - Various Artists (Warner Bros, 1981) (opens in new tab)

Yes, the film's a low-budget flick featuring those loveable rogues The Ramones (opens in new tab), but the soundtrack is more than just a selection of tracks from the denim-clad New Yorkers. 

Nick Lowe, Eddie & the Hot Rods, Chuck Berry, Brownsville Station get the party started, Todd Rundgren (opens in new tab) contributes A Dream Goes On Forever, and where would any self-respecting soundtrack to a film called Rock'n'roll High School be without the almost compulsory inclusion of Alice Cooper (opens in new tab)'s School's Out? The Ramones do get a significant chunk of disc time, contributing the titular number and a medley of Blitzkrieg Bop, Teenage Lobotomy, California Sun and Pinhead. 

Repo Man - Various Artists (MCA, 1984) (opens in new tab)

Many 80s soundtracks opted to include big, dumb rock anthems, but cult classic Repo Man went down another route entirely. The film is set in Los Angeles, and so the accompanying music is taken from artists from the early 80s LA hardcore scene. 

Black Flag (opens in new tab), Suicidal Tendencies, Fear and Circle Jerks all get their voices heard, while the main theme comes courtesy of Iggy Pop (opens in new tab). The soundtrack was key to the movie's appeal. As the film's director Alex Cox said, “The record was a major element in promoting the film; it was popular with the punk rock community and that got the word around". 

Purple Rain - Prince & The Revolution (Warner Bros, 1984) (opens in new tab)

Slightly different from the other soundtracks in this list in that it features only songs by one artist – Prince (opens in new tab) – but as both a film soundtrack and standalone album it works perfectly. 

The diminutive Purple one is at his best here whether rocking out with the rifftastic, funk heavy Let's Go Crazy, kicking back with the beautiful ballad When Doves Cry or letting rip with the climactic title track, which on the album (unlike the single release) features the most amazing extended guitar solo. The film may be seven kinds of dodgy, but the music certainly isn't.

Some Kind Of Wonderful - Various Artists (BGO, 1986) (opens in new tab)

Culling its tracklist from some of the 80s' finest, underground UK bands such as Flesh For Lulu (opens in new tab), Jesus & Mary Chain, The March Violets (opens in new tab), the Apartments and one-hit wonders Furniture. (Remember the brilliant Brilliant Mind? Well, it's on here) and solo cuts from Stephen Duffy and Pete Shelley (opens in new tab), SKW's soundtrack is a quirky gem, and worth a slot in anyone's record collection. 

Standout track? Undoubtedly Lick The Tins decidedly Celtic approach to Can't Help Falling In Love. Even better pumping out of your stereo than it is playing over the closing credits.  

Classic Rock editor Siân has been an obsessive music nerd for as long as she can remember. Has a pathological hatred of people turning the rock canon into jukebox musicals.