Summer Soundtrack: 20 Great Songs From the Ultimate '80s Movies

Madonna in New York City circa 1984.
Madonna in New York City circa 1984.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

As familiar—even iconic—as many 1980s movies have become in audiences’ minds, there are always a handful that get overlooked, or thankfully rediscovered, thanks to re-releases and anniversaries.

Home video distributor Vinegar Syndrome recently issued the epic BMX-themed teen movie Rad on DVD and 4K; suffice it to say its most notable cultural footprint might be an early Lori Loughlin role as a biking prodigy, and the contribution of Real Life’s “Send Me An Angel” to playlists in an era where one-hit wonders seemed to dominate the airwaves. But especially during the heyday of teen-oriented movies, there are almost too many great songs to count (or remember) that started their lives onscreen opposite some important moment of romance, redemption, or inspiration—or in a classic '80s montage scene.

As the summer not-so-quietly continues to heat up, it felt like a good time to dig back into that rich library of ‘80s movies—most of them for, or about, teens—to look at the songs we’ve maybe long since forgotten that began their lives on an '80s movie soundtrack, or surged in popularity because of one.

While this is by no means a comprehensive list, it hopefully includes more than a few songs you forgot that you loved, alongside a whole bunch of others that were (and maybe still are) well-established staples of your musical diet.

1. “Cruel Summer” // Bananarama

Before The Karate Kid (1984) franchise became a clearinghouse for Peter Cetera ballads, the original film used Bananarama's perennial hot weather favorite as a centerpiece for young Daniel LaRusso’s (Ralph Macchio) martial arts-oriented life lessons.

2. “Invincible” // Pat Benatar

The Legend Of Billie Jean (1985) is a too-often-forgotten ‘80s teen movie—a thrilling, maddening, and inspiring story of standing up for yourself, and suffering the unfortunate consequences in a world where the deck is stacked against young women. The movie featured this absolute firestarter of a Pat Benatar song as its main theme.

3. “Take My Breath Away” // Berlin

What good is a playlist without a few detours into balladry? In Top Gun (1986) Berlin brought home young Maverick’s (Tom Cruise) fledgling romance with his instructor “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis) with this synth-heavy love song.

4. “Somebody’s Baby” // Jackson Browne

Inheriting the bittersweet tone of ‘70s dramas while molding entertainment for (and about) teenage audiences in the early 1980s, Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982) holds up as one of the era’s most enduring and honest portraits of adolescent life, bolstered by a soundtrack full of classic pop tunes such as this Jackson Browne rocker.

5. “Shake It Up” // The Cars

The Last American Virgin (1982) might be the most underrated teen sex comedy of the 1980s, right down to its absolutely devastating ending. Its soundtrack juggles a remarkable breadth of tones, featuring everything from James Ingram’s earnest “Just Once” to The Cars’ bouncy earworm “Shake It Up.”

6. “Rhythm Of The Night” // DeBarge

Martial arts comedy The Last Dragon is memorable for a number of reasons, not the least of which this joyful R&B song by frequent '80s chart-toppers DeBarge. Lead singer El DeBarge would go on to have another soundtrack hit with his first solo tune, "Who's Johnny," which was featured in Short Circuit (1986).

7. “I Can Dream About You” // Dan Hartman

A good friend of mine danced to “Tonight Is What it Means To Be Young” from the Streets Of Fire (1984) soundtrack at his wedding. But for decidedly less formal occasions, Dan Hartman’s blue-eyed soul single remains the standout from this mid-‘80s musical directed by Walter Hill (The Warriors).

8. “Into The Groove” // Madonna

Madonna was only beginning her record-breaking run as a female pop star when she appeared in the Susan Seidelman dramedy Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), but she managed to supply a slinky dance floor classic as one of the film’s lasting legacies.

9. “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” // Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes

As tempted as we were to add Patrick Swayze’s “She’s Like The Wind,” there’s just no substitute for the main theme to Dirty Dancing. It’s guaranteed to set a dance floor—and your heart—on fire.

10. “If You Leave” // Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark

Within two or three movies, Molly Ringwald became either the girl you wanted or the girl you to wanted to be. In Pretty In Pink, she finds love as Andie while her best guy friend Duckie (Jon Cryer) pines not-so-silently by her side, while heartfelt songs like this one nudge both of them toward the partners they’re meant to be with.

11. “Neutron Dance” // Pointer Sisters

Harold Faltermeyer's instrumental "Axel F” became as much of a hit as any of the pop songs on the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack. But this Pointer Sisters hit, which is full of irreverent energy, easily became as synonymous with Eddie Murphy’s wisecracking cop as Faltermeyer’s theme.

12. “Catch Me (I’m Falling)” // Pretty Poison

Jon Cryer played a stock broker on the run from the mob in Hiding Out, a 1987 back-to-high-school comedy that’s mostly unworthy of rediscovery outside of Pretty Poison’s catchy Top 10 pop hit from its soundtrack.

13. “Let’s Go Crazy” // Prince

Featuring not only probably the best soundtrack of the 1980s, but one of the best of all time—not to mention one of the best-sellingPurple Rain, Prince’s film debut, is stacked with both memorable and iconic musical moments. But this opener, played as Prince, Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero), his band, and his competitors reveal their ambitions and real selves, sets the stage for melodrama that feels quintessentially ‘80s and yet endures today with vibrancy and peerless musicality.

14. “Send Me An Angel” // Real Life

If your childhood ambition wasn't already to become a BMX superstar, surely watching the sports movie Rad (1986) led many of you to dream of a choreographed dance where you and your dream girl (or boy) derail a high school dance with some sick freestyle moves. No? Well, either way, this song slaps.

15. “Maniac” // Michael Sembello

It’s no surprise that a movie about a dance features some great music to dance to. But this banger from Flashdance was originally inspired by a slasher movie, until producer Phil Ramone encouraged Michael Sembello to rewrite it for something a bit more upbeat.

16. “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” // Simple Minds

John Hughes movies absolutely dominated, and defined, stories about teenagers in the 1980s. The Breakfast Club virtually set teenage personalities in stone, especially after this Simple Minds song supplied a soundtrack to the most desperate need in their young lives—to be remembered, no matter what.

17. “True” // Spandau Ballet

Two great stories converge in John Hughes’s 1984 comedy Sixteen Candles: young Sam’s (Molly Ringwald) forgotten birthday and Farmer Ted’s (Anthony Michael Hall) realization that he doesn’t need to be an insufferable jerk to connect with girls. They culminate in Sam getting her birthday wish, a kiss from dream guy Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling), all to Spandau Ballet’s enduring, midtempo pop song.

18. “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” // Starship

Mannequin is honestly only a few notches higher than Weekend At Bernies in terms of “high-concept” '80s comedies (starring Andrew McCarthy), but this hit for the ever-evolving Starship delivers a wonderful, feel-good oomph to the adventures of an ambitious artist (McCarthy) and the reanimated department store mannequin (Kim Cattrall) who becomes his muse.

19. “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” // Tears For Fears

Martha Coolidge’s Real Genius is one of those movies everyone loves but often gets forgotten in the conversation about the ‘80s great comedies. Tears For Fears’s worldwide chart-climber perfectly captures the film’s sociopolitical undertones.

20. “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” // Deniece Williams

1980s soundtracks were positively dominated by Kenny Loggins, from Caddyshack to Top Gun to Footloose. But the original drama about small-town kids defying their parents to learn how to dance boasted a high number of hits in addition to Loggins’s title track, such as this exuberant R&B single from Deniece Williams.

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10 Surprising Facts About Britney Spears

Britney Spears performing in Germany in 2008.
Britney Spears performing in Germany in 2008.
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

While it’s now well-known that Britney Spears got her start as a member of Disney’s The Mickey Mouse Club, the show didn’t immediately catapult her to superstardom. Spears was still practically an unknown when she released her first single “...Baby One More Time” in 1998. Needless to say, that anonymity didn't last.

Spears quickly became the poster child for pop music at the turn of the century, redefining the genre with ensemble dance numbers, a not-that-innocent onstage persona, and the occasional Burmese python. From her brief stint on Broadway to her trailblazing Las Vegas residency, here are 10 facts about the star who inspired an entire generation of kids to choreograph dance routines during sleepovers.

1. Britney Spears was an Off-Broadway understudy at age 10.

In 1992, Joel Paley and Marvin Laird were busy auditioning hopefuls for Ruthless!, a spoofy Off-Broadway musical about a young girl willing to kill her competition for the starring role in a school production. They had already cast their leading lady—future Broadway heavyweight Laura Bell Bundy—and were worried an equally talented understudy would prove impossible to find. “And that’s when we found Britney Spears,” Paley told the New York Post. Spears, then 10 years old, was a triple-threat, complete with “confidence and a great mom.” She stayed with the show for about eight months, until the repetition started to bore her. Her successor was another future star: Natalie Portman.

2. Britney Spears went back to being a regular kid after the Mickey Mouse Club ended.

Spears first auditioned for The Mickey Mouse Club at age 8, but producers told her she was too young for the show. Her second tryout was successful, and she joined Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling, and a few other budding entertainers as Disney’s new class of Mouseketeers in 1993. But when the program ended two years later, Spears didn’t head to Hollywood. Instead, she went home to Louisiana and enrolled in high school.

“I was so bored,” Spears told Rolling Stone in 2011. “I was the point guard on the basketball team. I had my boyfriend, and I went to homecoming and Christmas formal. But I wanted more. I mean, it was fun while it lasted, but then I got the record deal, and I left.”

3. Britney Spears almost headed up a girl band.

Before she embarked on a solo career, Spears was briefly the frontwoman for a girl band called Innosense, which was created by Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC manager Lou Pearlman. The group—which also included Awkward star Nikki DeLoach—was originally meant to be America’s answer to the Spice Girls, but Spears left before the project got off the ground, and the band never amassed a very large fanbase. Innosense did, however, get to open for Spears at a few concerts in 2000.

4. The music video for “...Baby One More Time” was all Spears’s idea.

Music video director Nigel Dick's original idea for the "...Baby One More Time" video envisioned Spears alighting from a spaceship and launching into a dance routine on the surface of Mars, which Spears vetoed immediately. Instead, she pitched a Grease-inspired scene in which a group of bored students dance around their school. Dick and the studio executives decided their teenage starlet probably had a good grasp on what would appeal to other teenagers, so they went with it. Spears also came up with the idea to wear school uniforms—Dick had planned to dress them in basic T-shirts and jeans. The director’s original idea did eventually make it off the cutting room floor; Spears’s “Oops!...I Did It Again” video, which was also directed by Dick, takes place on Mars.

5. Britney Spears auditioned for The Notebook.

Spears is no stranger to the screen. In addition to making memorable guest appearances on Glee, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Jane the Virgin, Will & Grace, and other shows, she starred in the 2002 romantic comedy Crossroads (written by Shonda Rhimes). Not long after its release, she was in the running to star alongside fellow Mouseketeer Ryan Gosling in 2004’s The Notebook. “She did an excellent job, actually,” Gosling said of her audition. The role of Allie Hamilton ultimately went to Rachel McAdams, who impressed Gosling and director Nick Cassavetes with her assertiveness and emotional range.

6. Britney Spears had a short-lived, long-distance dalliance with Prince William.

By Spears’s own account, reports of her romance with the future king of England hit quite wide of the mark, and the pair never actually met up. During an interview on The Frank Skinner Show in 2002, Spears admitted that Prince William was technically to blame for their missed connection. “We exchanged emails for a little bit, and he was supposed to come and see me somewhere,” she said, “but it didn’t work out, so that was it.” When Skinner expressed mock outrage that William stood her up, Spears demurred. “He’s a busy guy,” she said.

7. Britney Spears often travels under an alias.

Ms. Alotta Warmheart departing a Manhattan hotel in 2002.Arnaldo Magnani/Getty Images

As one of the most preeminent pop stars of the 21st century, Spears incites a media frenzy with virtually every move she makes. To give herself a little anonymity, she doesn’t always book hotel rooms under her own name. But her pseudonyms, which she often invents on the spot, don’t exactly fly under the radar. Spears divulged to James Corden during "Carpool Karaoke" that she’s been Alotta Warmheart, Anita Dick, and Chastity Montgomery in the past. Biographer Steve Dennis alleged that she has also used Mrs. Diana Prince (a nod to Princess Diana), Mrs. Abra Cadabra, and Queen of the Fairy Dance.

8. Britney Spears inspired a Barry Manilow album.

The paparazzi have ruthlessly documented Spears’s personal life in a way that many consider shamefully exploitative. Witnessing her battle for privacy escalate in 2007 actually inspired Barry Manilow’s 2011 album 15 Years. “She couldn’t have a life without [the paparazzi] pulling up next to her car and following her and driving her crazy," Manilow told the Los Angeles Times. “We all looked at it in horror, and [my collaborator Enoch Anderson] and I said, ‘Is this what happens these days?’ So it seemed like a thing to be writing an album about.”

In another section of the entertainment industry, screenwriter/director Shana Feste was watching with similar horror, which inspired her to develop the 2010 film Country Strong. In it, Gwyneth Paltrow plays a country music star navigating the many pitfalls of fame.

9. Britney Spears's “Do Somethin’” music video was banned in France.

In 2005, Spears released a highly imaginative video for her single “Do Somethin’” in which she and her friends fly through the clouds in a bright pink Hummer. They also evidently imagined that Louis Vuitton would take no issue with said Hummer’s upholstery looking suspiciously similar to Louis Vuitton’s Cherry Blossom pattern. Unfortunately, the Paris-based brand sued the record label. “We don't make dashboards,” a spokesperson said. The case was settled, but Sony BMG had to pay more than $117,000, and France was banned from airing the video. In the version currently on YouTube, there’s nary a cherry blossom in sight.

10. Las Vegas dedicated a day to Britney Spears.

Britney on her eponymous holiday in 2014.Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Before Celine Dion came to town at the height of her career, the Las Vegas Strip had a reputation as the place “where musicians go to die,” i.e. where aging musicians can perform an entire concert series without all the tiresome travel necessary for a tour. Spears upped the ante in 2013 with a dynamic, high-budget residency complete with a fire ring, acrobatics, giant hamster wheels, and plenty of other gasp-worthy effects. The spectacle drew a younger crowd than usual and set a new precedent for Vegas shows; since then, the city has attracted performers who are currently ruling the charts, like Lady Gaga, Drake, and Cardi B. To acknowledge Spears’s impact and express gratitude, Las Vegas declared November 5 “Britney Day” in 2014. Spears was given a key to the city, and the first 100 people named “Britney” to arrive at the celebration got free tickets to see her show.