What was it about the ’80s that united movies and music in a way that was total magic? In the decade before Disney dominated the Academy Awards with a winning streak of kid-friendly animated features, the 1980s offered up movie music we could actually dance to at parties (and we don’t mean the kind with balloon animals and cupcakes).
There’s no way you can read the titles of the Oscar-winning songs below and not have your brain automatically hit the play button. You know that thing where you get a song stuck on repeat in your head for an entire day? This is like that, except awesome. Better yet, hit play on the videos below and treat yourself to a playlist stacked with some of the best movie music ever—all from the best decade in movie music history.
1980: “Fame” – Fame
Bow down to the woman who brought you not one, but two of the most danceable pop songs of the ’80s: Irene Cara. Not only did the singer/dancer star in the iconic movie Fame, she also sang the film’s theme song—and it wasn’t the era’s only Oscar track she exercised her glorious vocal chops on… stay tuned.
1981: “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” – Arthur
The ’80s gave us permission to unironically love sappy ballads about falling in love while caught between the moon and New York City. And now this catchy, catchy ballad is stuck in your brain. The sign of a brilliant song? Forgetting it exists but being able to instantly recall the tune and lyrics the second someone hints at them.
1982: “Up Where We Belong” – An Officer and a Gentleman
Referenced by a cross-section of pop cultural phenomena from South Park to Moulin Rouge, “Up Where We Belong” is the hit that almost wasn’t. The Grammy, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Oscar-winning song wasn’t a winner in the eyes of An Officer and a Gentleman‘s producer, who made an actual bet that it would be a total flop. (A bet he paid for at the 1982 Academy Awards.)
1983: “Flashdance… What a Feeling” – Flashdance
You know a song has staying power when the showrunners behind Glee decide that their cast should cover it—and their cover actually charts in the UK. The original, the second Irene Cara hit on this list, reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in the ’80s and number 26 on its All Time Top 100.
1984: “I Just Called to Say I Love You” – The Woman in Red
Remember The Woman In Red? Neither do we. But we’ll never forget Stevie Wonder’s Oscar-winning song—a hit that remains his label’s (Motown Records) best-selling UK single to this day.
1985: “Say You, Say Me” – White Nights
The set of White Nights was where director Taylor Hackford fell for his future wife Helen Mirren. Was Lionel Richie’s chart-topping song “Say You, Say Me” responsible? There’s no way to know for sure, but we’d bet it played a big part.
1986: “Take My Breath Away” – Top Gun
A Top 40 hit twice over (first when Berlin sang it for the Top Gun soundtrack and again when Jessica Simpson covered it for 2004 album In This Skin) “Take My Breath Away” is more than a song—it’s the collective memory of when our crush on Tom Cruise began. Which was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it?
1987: “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” – Dirty Dancing
“She has a sweet voice, but she’ll never have a hit song.” Those were the words of that same producer on An Officer and a Gentleman who, it seems, wasn’t a big Jennifer Warnes fan. Another Golden Globe, Grammy, and Oscar later (to say nothing of the nearly 20 recorded cover versions of this song), it’s safe to say that he was wrong. Again.
1988: “Let the River Run” – Working Girl
There are only two songs, written and performed by a single artist, that have won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Grammy. This is one of them. Carly Simon’s song is a hymn that turns into an anthem at the chorus. It’s sentimental and inspiring and it makes you wish your commute involved a ferry ride from Staten Island to Manhattan every morning.
1989: “Under the Sea” – The Little Mermaid
This is the song that ushered in an era where Disney’s songwriters owned the Academy Awards (the ’90s saw winning songs from Beauty and The Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Lion King, and Tarzan). “Under The Sea” is the source for 9 separate parody songs, one of which features Tina Fey as a mermaid and Fred Armisen as a manta ray on Saturday Night Live. In the 21st century, mockery is the sincerest form of flattery (or at least the most ubiquitous).
Catch the 88th Academy Awards on CTV on February 28th.