I miss the world we used to live in. The one where a film was not considered a complete work of art until a ‘relevant’ popstar of the time had given it an accompanying theme song. Popstars today have it easy. They just have to write whatever they feel like. But popstars of the eighties and nineties had it tough. If they wanted to make it big they had to write songs that squeezed in the title of a specific film, and write lyrics which at least partially described the narrative of said film.
It was a golden time where films doubled up their trailer potential by releasing an actual trailer and then a music video; MTV then offering free assistance by unwittingly playing film clips to salivating teens.
But which were the best? Here’s my opinion:
Featuring the ball clenchingly shit lyric ‘Hey don’t feel afraid, of an undercover raid’ as well as McCartney wearing some of the worst clothing ever produced, this song and it’s video are like an SNL comedy sketch ripping the piss out of nostalgia itself.
Following the greatest movie song of all time was not going to be easy for Ghostbusters 2, nevertheless they went to Run DMC to try and emulate Ray Parker Jr’s success, and in doing so ended up with a gloriously bizarre rap odyssey whose style was later aped by Vanilla Ice with his ‘Ninja Rap’ from TMNT 2. It’s a fun song though, and if it had been written for any other film it would have been remembered far more widely. Sadly it now lives in Ray Parker Jr’s shadow.
Crap. Just a big pile of movie-exec cash-in crap. And yet I love it. Hammer was still at the height of his powers back in 1993, so was the obvious choice. The fact that he decided to accompany a family of goths and undead creatures with an upbeat rap song, well that’s a true artist subverting expectations for you.
With a voice to out-sexy Barry White (yeah I went there), Isaac Hayes created perhaps the most parodied movie theme of all time. Everyone has aped it at some point or another, admit it, you’ve done something you consider impressive in your life and sung “who’s the man that [insert your own achievement here]…SHAFT”.
It promises a sexy good time with a few ounces of danger. In other words it promises exactly what the film goes on to deliver. Can ya dig it?
Potentially the artist with the greatest credibility on this list (there’s one other that might fight her for such a lofty title), Cyndi Lauper’s Goonies song was one of the first movie themes I ever heard, and for me sums up the early eighties perfectly. It’s got that Girls Just Wanna Have fun vibe, but with a nice hint at the troubles faced by our heroes: “Here we are hanging on the strains of greed and blues.”
You might have thought if I was going for a Will Smith movie theme it should be Men in Black, but for me Wild Wild West outdoes both MIB songs in every aspect. The lyrics are way cheesier, and also more thorough in describing every plot point in the film. Then of course it includes the irresistible force of Mr Thong th thong thong thong himself: Sisqo on backup vocals. It’s a lethal combination of pure 90s bliss.
Vying with Cyndi Lauper for most credible act on the list, Danny Elfman (yes that Danny Elfman) was frontman of Oingo Boingo, and so it’s no surprise they were used more than once on eighties soundtracks. But Weird Science was their greatest soundtrack song, in that it plays almost as a musical number which could be included anywhere in the film. Elfman’s signature eccentric vocal performance is playfully tongue-in-cheek and the video itself is like an eighties documentary, complete with floppy disks and CGI that looks like a slightly evolved form of teletext.
As delightfully synth heavy as the rest of John Carpenter’s score, this title track has it all. The drums are that perfect amalgamation of all cheap Yamaha keyboard pads meshed together and the oriental instrumental lines over the groove feel hammy and racist in a way only a film like this could get away with. I also love the idea of the band (which was Carpenter’s band) sitting down at some point and talking about how they could best musically represent the difference between the ‘Big Trouble’ and the ‘Little China.’
“I know,” Carpenter must have suggested. “One of us will sing the first part really low and the other will sing the next bit high pitched.” – Thus musical history was made.
The first LP I ever bought (Vinyl forever!) was the original TMNT soundtrack. I bought it based on the strength of its front cover (the four turtles peeking out of a manhole cover with Manhattan growing all around them) and this song. I feel like I wasn’t alone in this act. Will Smith must have been making a similar purchase, because in feel and in lyrical content it is like a foreshadow of what Smith would go on to create for any film he starred in during the nineties.
What I really love about this song is that it name checks every main character at some point or another; giving us a little bit of background on each one (‘Leonardo, Michaelangelo and Donatello, make up the team with one other fellow, Raphael’). For a hip hop song to use the word ‘fellow’ you know it had to be special.
Let’s face it, it’s the ultimate. It’s the song that started the revolution in movie theme songs. What’s possibly most amazing about it, is how totally different it sounds to anything else by Parker Jr. You’d think they offered him the gig based on past experience but obviously not. Unless maybe Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis were hoping for a cheap synth RnB love song, in which case I can only imagine how hugely disappointed they were with the finished product. Either way hats off Ray.
And let’s not forget Ray’s further forays into the world of movie themes; the ones that never quite made it.
Honourable mentions go to Footloose by Kenny Loggins (as much for the memory of angry Kevin Bacon dancing his big haired heart out) and Ninja Rap by Vanilla Ice. They’re all winners really.