I recently started reading Ready Player One by Ernest Kline. It’s a novel absolutely soaked in 80’s nostalgia. Nearly every page is line after line of old school game nods, song references or movie quotes. My husband suggested I read it after he finished reading it in a matter of days. “It’s right up your alley,” he told me. And boy was he right.
Picking out all the little Easter eggs in the book is an adventure in of itself. But the first song mentioned is “Dead Man’s Party” by Oingo Boingo. There is a group of teenagers dancing away at a high school dance to the dance (if you want to know why, read the book yourself). After reading the passage, I immediately thought of the scene in Sixteen Candles where The Geek dances to Oingo Boingo’s “Wild Sex (In the Working Class).”
After that, I started thinking of the decade’s fantastic use of music. It’s so easy to recall what song was iconic in Dirty Dancing or which two songs will forever be in pop-song history from Flashdance. Dare I say that there is no decade of film that even holds a candle to how good 80’s movies were with music.
As this post progressed, I realised I couldn’t stop thinking of great scenes, and I really needed to stop at some point. Don’t worry, I won’t sleep tonight knowing I left off the montage from Valley Girl. I feel even more racked with guilt that the parade scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off isn’t here either… But I left the obvious choices to live in their revel in their own success elsewhere. Plus it was SO difficult not to include every John Hughes film in existence. I even left of “Try a Little Tenderness” because I have written about that movie so damn much.
Here are those scenes in 80’s movies that wouldn’t be half as good if it wasn’t for the music that was playing:
1. Van Halen “Everybody Wants Some” in Better Off Dead (1985)
One thing special about 80’s movies is that they had this fantastic knack of incorporating new music and classics (usually from the late 50s, early 60s). The best example I can think of for this is Better Off Dead. “With One Look” is a pretty decent original song for the movie done by English musician Rupert Hine. His songs are much more tame examples compared to the pop performance given by Valley Girl‘s Elizabeth Daily at the dance scene.
The movie also features a hilarious sequence of break-up songs including Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.” But there are two scenes that are particularly memorable for their use of music. The first is
But Better Off Dead is a really strange movie, to day the least. And no scene does it better than one with a claymation hamburger lip-syncing Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some” and plays Eddie Van Halen’s signature red Frankenstrat. In this scene, all-around weirdo and hero Lane Meyer has taken up a job at Pig Burger where he has to pat patties all day. The mundane job quickly sends him into a daydream – one where he is the mad scientist and creator of all musician burgers.
The amount of adsurdity is unreal, but it is fun as all hell.
2. Tim Cappello “I Still Believe” in The Lost Boys (1987)
Sorry. Not sorry. I just needed to include this one for pure entertainment purposes. Everything about this scene in this Kiefer Sutherland vampire-flick is totally bizarre, but oh-so enjoyable. The kids are all the pier watching live entertainment as the young folk do. There are stolen glances and a girl dressed like a hippie named Star. But none of the story matters in this scene.
Vampires roaming around Santa Carla? Who cares! Tim Cappello is here in all his tenor sax, bare-chested glory. It comes as no shock that his is the man who played saxophone for Tina Turner for a number of years. But really, let’s just sit and watch the clip and enjoy the tiki torch light dance off the reflection of Cappello’s oiled skin. So 80’s it hurts, but in all the right places.
Bonus fun fact: Cappello was in a “porn pop” boy band called The Ken Dolls. The world is a good place.
3. Thompson Twins “If You Were Here” in Sixteen Candles (1984)
A subtle choice, but just think of how over-blow love scenes can be. Compare the gentle love of this John Hughes movie to over-blown love scenes like Top Gun (which single-handedly ruined how cool of a band Berlin was). The choice of this Thompson Twin’s pop single is perfect. The sound epitomizes sweet, young love.
The ending scenes to Sixteen Candles still makes me squee like a teenage girl. A lot of that is due to Jake Ryan, but also to the lovely, dreamy sound of “If You Were Here.” There is still nothing better than when one of the flat-chested of us win the guy.
4. David Bowie “As the World Falls Down” in Labyrinth (1986)
Speaking of dreamy, let’s drool about David Bowie in Labyrinth.
Ok. Done? No. Me either. But let’s keep going.
I get the feeling a lot of people like Labyrinth in an ironic way. Is this film not genuinely super entertaining? Every moment has something to love about it, especially Bowie’s music for this movie. Though it certainly isn’t his most prolific or complex work ever, there is still a lot going for it. That being said, this is a scene that can be a little uncomfortable. Sarah is just a young girl, but it does seem like Jareth the Goblin King is trying to seduce her (not like that’s very difficult in those trousers, am I right?).
But this is SUCH a scene. A scene with such such-iness. It is everything I want my life to be. I would literally give up my baby brother to dance at this masquerade ball in that massive ball gown with Jareth. But without “As the World Falls Down” there wouldn’t be nearly as much dream-like quality to the scene. Perhaps an instrumental could have been used, but with Bowie singing, everything feels that much more magical and intimate (with creeper touches or not).
5. The Crystals “Then He Kissed Me” in Adventures in Babysitting (1987)
Oh the “getting ready montage.” Really a must in any movie (I request more, please). This one beats out the opening Pretty in Pink scene, but mostly because Elisabeth Shue wears a petticoat in 1987. Bonus points.
This Chris Columbus film is a bit of an over-looked one, but it’s actually really enjoyable. The scene where babysitter and co. need to escape a gang of baddies by singing in a blues club is THE BEST, but probably not THE BEST because it’s still not as good as spinning around your bedroom in a massive petticoat.
6. Karla DeVito “We Are Not Alone” in The Breakfast Club (1985)
Okay. I know most people here would say the Simple Minds’ version of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” should be here instead, but really the star of that scene in the Breakfast Club letter, in my humble opinion. But both “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” and “We Are Not Alone” are both solid tracks in an otherwise rather uninteresting soundtrack.
What I love about the scene in the library is this true sense of celebration and liberation. DeVito’s pipes are as fantastic as always on this track. Clearly all the kids in detention get how awesome she is. But now this scene pretty much exists as a reminder of just how cool Molly Ringwald’s dance moves are, and I thank you for that, scene.
7. Harry Belafonte “Banana Boat Song” in Beetlejuice (1988)
This scene scared the shit out of me as a child. Actually, play this and Mars Attack! back to back and you’d have 5-year-old me’s worst nightmare. At least now I am old enough to appreciate the absolute hilariousness of this scene.
Between Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song” and “Jump in the Line” (which was used in the closing scene), I much prefer the latter. The scene with dancing ghost football team and a floating Winona Ryder left a massive impression on me, but the dinner scene edges out the competition. The bizarre decor, the awful-looking meal and uncomfortable dinner conversation all add up to one fantastic scene. The only thing that could top it is a haunting of the house ghosts, who are literally so harmless the worst they can do is make them dance and lip sync.
Now everyone! “Lift six foot, seven foot, eight foot BUNCH!”
Daylight come and me wan’ go home…
One more thing…
Here’s just one last treat before we hit the road: