When I accepted this assignment, I knew that I could not include the usual suspects. Yes, I know Purple Rain is a masterpiece and any ‘80s list should include it. Dirty Dancing. I get it. It’s a feel good movie, but as soundtracks go, it’s a mixtape of sixties songs that offers no surprises. The eight soundtracks I have chosen here are not the greatest soundtracks of the ‘80s, mind you, but they deserve some shine nevertheless. They are of their time and either off the beaten path or deserve another look. Let’s dig in.
One from the Heart (1982)
Besides being the movie that drove Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope Studios into a ditch, One from The Heart is an amazing soundtrack collaboration between...wait for it...Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle. Originally conceived as a collaboration with Tom Waits and Bette Midler, Waits chose Crystal Gayle as a replacement when Midler became unavailable.
Waits was the sole songwriter for the entire soundtrack and you can catch a glimpse of where his career was going musically. The songs in which Gayle and Waits perform together are beautiful and do not disappoint their respective fan bases. There is less of Waits' signature gravelly and droll delivery and more of an earnest and subtle interpretation of his songs.
I was never really a Crystal Gayle fan, but this album definitely made me a believer. I'm still not a huge fan of hers, but I have a great appreciation for her performance on this LP. It is outstanding. For Tom Waits, One from the Heart signaled a drastic change in the direction of his career. He fired his manager, changed record labels and released the brilliant Swordfishtrombones afterwards. One from the Heart is a must-have for your record collection.
Valley Girl (1983)
If you had HBO in the late ‘80s into the early ‘90s and you were up late, then you saw this movie. Hardly a classic film, but it did have a very young Nicolas Cage as the protagonist. The really cool thing about this compilation of songs is that it puts a stamp on a very brief period of time when so-called new-wave music was being pushed by record labels. Radio stations like WLIR in New York and KROQ in Los Angeles seized the opportunity and played many of the artists on this album. The music was definitely for people who were not into arena rock or punk rock. They were in the middle, but out of the mainstream. They needed a home.
Bands like The Plimsouls, Modern English, Sparks and Josie Cotton appear on this soundtrack and eventually would also have videos broadcast on MTV, which emerged around the same year Valley Girl was released. If you have a thirst for hearing the new-wave music of your youth, then this is your LP or at least a good place to start.
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Krush Groove (1985)
Listening to this album again was like opening up a time capsule and hearing old school rap at its peak. At the time, no one knew where the genre was going to go, but if you were to make a musical timeline, then this would be one of the time periods you’d highlight. Although the production seems a bit dated with its heavy use of synthesizers, there is no denying that Krush Groove captured a unique moment in music history that foreshadowed hip-hop’s path.
Hip-hop and rap had not fully crossed over yet, but this soundtrack definitely spoke to the fans of the growing genre. There was never a question that LL Cool J was going to blow up. It was a question of how soon. ”I Can't Live Without My Radio" is one of the featured songs along with The Beastie Boys’ “She's On It.” The career paths of these two artists, as we’re well aware now, took turns that even they could not have ever envisioned back in 1985.
It wasn’t strictly a rap soundtrack, however. Cuts by Chaka Khan, Debbie Harry and The Force MD’s made their way onto the LP. Even The Fat Boys got in on the action with their track “All You Can Eat.” The strange omission from the soundtrack was Sheila E’s "A Love Bizarre.” ”Holly Rock" was on the LP instead. Could the Purple One be the reason why it was excluded? More on him later. The sum of Krush Groove’s tracks are definitely greater than its individual parts, but it does have an important place in rap history. If you’re interested in hip-hop’s strange and curious path to the mainstream, start here.
Parade (Under the Cherry Moon) (1986)
You can most certainly file this one under great soundtracks tied to horrible movies. As brutal and unforgiving as the critics were to Prince’s Around the World in a Day (1985), the movie Under the Cherry Moon universally received savage reviews. The film’s saving grace is its daring soundtrack, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this past Thursday (3/31).
The opening track, "Christopher Tracey's Parade," could have easily made it onto Around the World in a Day. Prince’s genius is on display as he shifts musical moods from song to song. The highlights of Parade are “Girls and Boys,” "Mountains," and the classic “Kiss.” The final track “Sometimes It Snows in April" shows us Prince at his best. Mixing odd religious and sexual metaphors, the track ties a beautiful and haunting bow onto a very under-appreciated gift from his Purple Badness. Parade slash Under the Cherry Moon is a perfect primer for his next album, Sign O’ the Times.
Round Midnight (1986)
The film Round Midnight was released in September of 1986. It's a musical drama starring jazz legend Dexter Gordon, who plays Dale Turner, a jazz saxophonist living in Paris in the 1950's. Gordon received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. The soundtrack was produced by Herbie Hancock and features jazz greats such as Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter, Bobby McFerrin, Chet Baker, and Wayne Shorter, just to name a few. Dexter Gordon appears on five of the album’s 11 tracks.
The beauty of this album is not its all-star cast of players, but the way the music tells Dale’s story. Bobby McFerrin's rendition of Thelonious Monk’s "Round Midnight" is exquisite. It also earned McFerrin a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Male. It's an album that jazz purists can love and novices seeking an introduction into contemporary jazz can embrace. I encourage you to watch the movie and get lost in the beautiful music.
Pretty in Pink (1986)
Besides making incredible movies that capture the joy, angst, and everything in between of being a teenager, John Hughes knew how to put together a soundtrack. The things you can count on with a Hughes soundtrack is that you either were turned on to something you never heard before or you would say to yourself, "oh wow, I thought I was the only one who knew about this song or artist.”
If you listen to OMD's "If You Leave" today, your mind immediately thinks Pretty in Pink. This 10-song collection is highlighted by The Psychedelic Furs’ remake of their 1981 classic “Pretty In Pink.” While most people prefer the original, this version holds up very well because of the excellent vocal performance by Richard Butler. My favorite song besides the title track is the Joe Jackson/Suzanne Vega collaboration “Left of Center.” Vega's subtle vocals evoke images of Molly Ringwald's character, Andie Walsh, and place you squarely in her shoes and in the record store (Trax) that employed her.
Pretty In Pink gave good exposure to college radio faves such as The Smiths, New Order and Echo & The Bunnymen, and was a great companion to the movie. John Hughes stated at the time that he was not satisfied with the ending of Pretty in Pink, so he decided to do somewhat of a rewrite to the movie and he wound up with...
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
The comparisons between Some Kind Of Wonderful and Pretty in Pink are numerous. Each of these movies and their accompanying soundtracks are often pitted against each other. Without shame, I am definitely in Camp Some Kind Of Wonderful.
Listening to this soundtrack is like being in a very cool record store that no one else really knows about. You spend hours digging in the bins, occasionally asking the clerk to play something you find. Pete Shelley, Stephen Duffy, and The Jesus and Mary Chain were probably the best known artists at the time. The big semi-hit from this album was Flesh for Lulu's "I Go Crazy", which was featured in the original trailer for the movie along with a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Can't Help Falling in Love" by Lick the Tins. The one other cover song in this collection is "Miss Amanda Jones" by the March Violets, originally done by the Rolling Stones on their 1967 release Between the Buttons.
This tragically overlooked soundtrack works from the first track to the last. It's like time traveling back to 1986 and finding an awesome college radio station to listen to.
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Say the words “Do the Right Thing.” Go ahead. You immediately recall not just Spike Lee's classic movie, but also Public Enemy's super-charged "Fight The Power.” The Isley Brothers anthem of the same name was driven out of our consciousness by Public Enemy's iconic song. You can no longer say the words “Fight the Power” without hearing Chuck D spit to the truth. The song kicks off both the film and the accompanying soundtrack, and it definitely sets the tone for both. Appearances by Steel Pulse, Al Jarreau, Ruben Blades, E.U., and (the kings of New Jack Swing at the time) Guy make for a very strong soundtrack. The standout song for me besides "Fight the Power" is “Don't Shoot Me" by Take 6, a commentary on the senseless violence that pervades our society. The song is still relevant today.
The Do the Right Thing soundtrack is a great companion piece to the movie, with each track transporting you to the respective scene in which it appeared. When I listen to this soundtrack, I feel the summer heat on me. I practically start sweating. In 1989, it provided the soundtrack to a sweltering hot summer in New York City, one that I’ll never forget.
Your extra credit assignment—should you choose to accept it—is to also look into the soundtracks for Local Hero (for you Mark Knopfler fans) and Desperate Teenage Lovedolls (for you aging punks).