The best movie theme songs of the 1980s and '90s
From 'Footloose' to 'Beauty and the Beast,' we round up our favorite cinematic songs of the era.
From the opening notes of "Mission: Impossible" to the orchestral crescendos of "Star Wars," movie theme songs serve as an audio entrée into the main course. And if it's a good one, we'll be humming it even after we leave the theater.
Shuki Levy, an Israeli-American music producer, knows the importance of a good theme song. He's written hundreds of them – including the inimitably hummable opening score of "Inspector Gadget," a song he came up with while driving to work. "I started hearing this melody," he told From The Grapevine. "I got into the studio and we recorded it, and it became a big hit. So you never know where it comes from."
The secret to a good theme song, Levy said, is instant recognition. "You have to grab the listener's attention very, very fast, because you only have a minute to do so. The goal is almost the minute the theme song starts playing, people know what it is."
'Beauty and the Beast'
Sung by British Actress Angela Lansbury in the 1991 Disney animated feature, the tune was later recorded for radio play by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson. Their version won the Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals. In honor of the new "Beauty and the Beast" movie, starring Emma Watson, the theme song has received a modern-day makeover thanks to pop stars John Legend and Ariana Grande. The new version, seen in the video above, was just released this week. It has already racked up nearly 10 million views on YouTube.
Speaking of Celine Dion, her performance of "My Heart Will Go On" has become synonymous with the Oscar-winning movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as star-crossed lovers aboard that fateful ship. The memorable song went to No. 1 all over the world, including the United States, Canada, Ireland, Britain and Australia. The song received a cavalcade of awards – an Oscar, a Golden Globe and several Grammys – and cemented Dion in the pantheon of the generation's most beloved singers.
Originally recorded back in 1964, Arnon Milchan, a prolific Israeli movie producer, thought the Roy Orbison tune would be the perfect song for his 1990 romantic comedy. Rolling Stone magazine included it on their list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time," and the tune was eventually selected for preservation by the Library of Congress. The version in the video above was recorded in 1987 and features a cast of cameos including Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, kd lang, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and many more. And while we have you here, are you the ultimate "Pretty Woman" fan? Take our quiz and test your skills.
After just a few chords, this toe-tapping diddy makes you want to jump out of your chair and dance. In the video posted here, you can compare the dance from the original 1984 film as well as from the 2011 adaptation. The Kenny Loggins song helped catapult the film's lead, Kevin Bacon, to stardom and has (for better or worse) been associated with the American actor for decades. In a 2013 interview with Conan O'Brien, Bacon admitted that he hates to hear the song at weddings. "I go to the disc jokey, hand him $20 and say, 'Please don't play that song.'"
Clearly Loggins, known as the soundtrack king, was on a roll in the 1980s. Two years after "Footloose" came out, he penned "Danger Zone," the theme song to 1986's "Top Gun" which introduced Tom Cruise to the world. "I didn't expect that song to be the type of song that would hold up for almost 30 years," Loggins said in a 2013 interview. "At the time, it seemed like a pretty simple piece of rock and roll." According to one report, the U.S. Navy described this video as "the most effective recruiting poster ever produced."
The 1984 jingle by Ray Parker Jr. is constructed as a mock late-night commercial for a fictional business. "If there's something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Ghostbusters." That refrain – "Who you gonna call? – became a pop culture meme and has appeared countless times in sitcoms, advertisements and even political campaigns. The single reached No. 1 status throughout the world and was even nominated for an Oscar award. An updated version of the song featuring Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliott was released in 2016 to coincide with a new reboot of the film.
The Scottish rock band Simple Minds almost didn't record this famous song from the 1980s, but we're so glad they did. Playing during both the opening and closing credits of John Hughes' classic high school coming-of-age film, the song is "a romantic and melancholy dance track," wrote Spin magazine. "Therefore it cuts ice both in the living room and on the dance floor." The song is so iconic of that era that when CNN was advertising its series "The Eighties," it used "Don't You Forget About Me" as the soundtrack in the commercial.
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