“I Was A Victim of the 80’s Montage”
As a child of the 80’s, I have a tender fondness in my heart for those iconic montage songs so prevalent in the movies of that decadent decade. As an easily influenced (and, admittedly, naive) child, I often looked up to hyper-macho, muscle bound personalities like Mr. T., Hulk Hogan or Sylvester Stallone as my idols and sucked up these machismo tropes like a thirsty dry sponge. The orientation of this misaligned compass needle is laughable now, looking back in hindsight. However, at the time there were few things my friends and I liked more than watching a film with an “inspirational” action sequence commingled with a memorable song. No doubt, our aesthetic inclinations were strongly molded by the omnipresent influence of MTV, wherein it was popular for fictional images and narratives to be paired with music for the sake of creating a larger, compelling storytelling arc.
I recently read “I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution“, a book that highlights in extensive detail the burgeoning intent of musicians and filmmakers in the 1980’s to make early music videos appear more “cinematic.” But I contend that this change also happened conversely in cinema (movies were trying to look more like popular music videos of the time in order to be “edgy” and “relevant” to a younger consumer demographic). It is with this larger context of popular media forms in the 80’s that we undertook this task of compiling the “best of the best” montage songs from that era where sound and vision became permanently intertwined.
Based on extensive (and mostly sober) late night “field research” in bars and drinking establishments, I talked to both bartenders and patrons alike about their personal favorites (yes, we know that this isn’t the most scientific methodology). Our five criteria in our poll were fairly simple: (1) The song had to be featured prominently in a 1980’s movie; (2) The song needed an “inspirational message” (e.g., “You can do it!” etc.); (3) The tempo of the song needed to be upbeat (no romantic breakup/reunion “Dirty Dancing” slow-dance type songs allowed here); (4) the song needed to be “training,” “competition” or “fighting” oriented; (5) the cheesier the song the better. Based on these factors, we’ve compiled what we believe are the top 10 montage songs of the 1980’s.
10. Michael Sembello- “Maniac”
“Maniac” was featured in an iconic sequence in the 1983 film “Flashdance”, starring Jennifer Beals in the role of protagonist Alex. This scene in the film also single handedly popularized what was to become the charitable “ice bucket challenge” a couple decades later. This stands as definitive proof that Jennifer Beals was a true philanthropic visionary.
9. Kenny Loggins- “Footloose”
To this day I can still remember going to see a double feature of “Footloose” and “Breakin’ 2 Electric Boogaloo” (talk about “montage heaven”!) when a drunk man vomited two rows behind me during “Footloose.” An inept usher then came out and sprayed a ridiculously toxic amount of Lysol to cover up the smell. OSHA compliant this business certainly was not, but hey, it was the 80’s, back when kids could still jump in the back of their father’s pickup truck with no seat belts or ride their bikes without the safety of headgear. Due to this childhood trauma of pavlovian conditioning, the smell of Lysol will forever be unfairly associated with Kevin Bacon and vomit.
8. Kenny Loggins- “Danger Zone”
Like his contribution to the “Caddy Shack” and “Footloose” soundtracks, Kenny Loggins similarly dispenses with his pure pop perfection confectionaries here for the 1986 film “Top Gun” like an impulsively generous Willy Wonka on Ritalin. Like the two major montage songs featured in Rocky IV, this one gets extra points for fitting so well into the adolescently minded “us vs them” Cold War zeitgeist of 80’s pop culture.
7. John Cafferty- “Hearts On Fire” (from Rocky IV)
“Hearts on Fire” isn’t the best montage song around, but it IS featured in perhaps the best cinematic montage scene of all time in 1985’s Rocky IV. One that has been emulated and spoofed to no end. The one where Rocky is so manly and full of testosterone that he grows a full beard seemingly in a matter of days in order to defeat Drago, who killed his best friend Apollo Creed. By adopting a minimalistic, ascetic training regimen in which he communes wth nature, Rocky obtains the superhuman strength and resolve needed to defeat his seemingly invincible adversary, whose reliance on Soviet technology and steroids became the latters’ Achilles’ heel.
6. Survivor- “Eye of the Tiger”
From 1982’s Rocky III, here’s another contender that makes Rocky the ultimate film heavyweight in terms of having the most “montaged” movie scenes from the 80’s. I loved this song when I was a kid. It complimented my obsession with Mr. T to a, well, ….tee. This is the song that put the titular phrase into our collective consciousness and modern lexicon.
5. Robert Tepper- “No Easy Way Out”
As far as Rocky montages go, this one from 1985’s Rocky IV is conspicuously unique in its stark portrayal of the cumulative pain and loss that our beloved protagonist suffered over the course of four entire films. Unlike other montage songs that seem focused on an upcoming challenge, “No Easy Way Out” has more of a retrospective therapeutic element, where we see glimpses of PTSD-like trauma relating to Rocky’s fragile psyche, dangling over his head like the Sword of Damocles. It was one of many needed humbling cinematic strategies to continue to push Rocky down a couple pegs to maintain his “underdog” status, ultimately making his predictably inevitable victory all the more satisfying.
4. Ollie and Jerry- “No Stopping Us”
One of my first cassettes I ever bought was this soundtrack to the 1984 movie “Breakin’,” back when my neighborhood friends and I would bust out the cardboard and practice our dolphin dives and windmill spins with aplomb. Little did I know that a few decades later I would be interviewing Michael “Turbo” Chambers and even get a chance to breakdance with him at the New Wave Bar in Bellflower, California. If there was ever one singular song that was responsible for proliferating the appeal of breakdancing to suburban kids everywhere like a mutated virus, it was this. With classic affirmative lyrics like “This is our time, walls were made for us to climb” and “Don’t you try to lock us out ’cause we’re breaking down the doors” this rightfully danced its way firmly in the pantheon of 80’s montage songs.
3. Stan Bush- “The Touch”
Featured prominently in the 1986 animated “Transformers: The Movie,” this track isn’t as well recognized as the others on the list, but I contend that this song had the potential for being much more renowned than it was if it had been featured in a more popular mainstream film. And it almost was, with songwriter Stan Bush originally writing the song for Sylvester Stallone’s 1999 film “Cobra.” Given its relative obscurity, this montage song has the most cult street cred of the bunch. In fact, beloved filmmaker Paul Thomas Andersen was so enthralled by it that he actually used it in a 1988 student film and again in 1997 in “Boogie Nights”. With compelling lyrics like “You’re a winner, you got the moves, you know the streets,” “You got the heart, you got the motion, you know that when things get too tough, you got the touch, you got the power!” “You never bend, you never break, you seem to know just what it takes, you’re a fighter!” Stan Bush may win an award for the most frequent incorporation of the word “got” in a modern rock song. Grammar policing notwithstanding, this is a criminally underrated montage song that deserves greater notoriety than it ultimately received. This is the apocryphal gospel covered up by the papacy, but available to be discovered by loyal adherents with their DaVinci Codes. If there was one obscure but holy montage song on our list worthy of proselytizing, this would be the one to do missionary work for to spread the good word.
2. Paul Engemann- “Scarface (Push It To the Limit)”
Featured in 1983’s “Scarface,” this is perhaps the only anti-hero montage on our list, highlighting the empire building and ascent of drug kingpin Tony Montana. Given the enduring popularity of the Tony Montana character in pop culture (see any episode of MTV’s Cribs featuring hip-hop artists to see how ubiquitous Scarface posters are), this song will forever be immortalized in the hearts and minds of wannabe gangsters everywhere. Sung emphatically by Paul Engemann, this song was written and produced by legend Giorgio Morodor. In addition to lines like “Nothing gonna stop you, there’s nothing that strong, so close now you’re nearly at the brink so, push it,” the real beauty of the song lies in its strangely out of place juxtaposition of percussive beats, synth riffs and western whistles care of Morodor.
And, in case you’ve never seen it, here’s the Simpsons’ hilarious take at “pushing it to the limit”!
1. Joe Esposito – “You’re the Best”
This song from 1984’s “Karate Kid” came in at #1 in a landslide victory, worthy of Daniel LaRusso’s monumental victory over Cobra Kai. This montage song has everything you could want. The ultimate affirmative title that resonated in the hearts and minds of adolescent boys everywhere (after all, what boy doesn’t wanna hear the ultimate “attaboy” that they are, in fact, “the best”?). It was paired with the penultimate scene in the movie in which Danielson defies the odds to beat the bad guy and get the girl (although if you’ve ever seen the movie’s sequel, this fact was quickly and conveniently retconned to better maintain Ralph Macchio’s underdog status). Lastly, with compelling lines like “…’cause you’re only a man and a man’s gotta learn to take it…,” “Nothing’s ever gonna keep you down,” “Fight ’till the end cause your life will depend on the strength that you have inside you” it’s hard for this song to not turn a smile on even the most hardened of cynical hearts.
This song also has one of the most interesting stories on our list. Being a true “underdog contender” it was originally intended for the Rocky III soundtrack, only to be beat out by Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” It was also defeated by Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” for a coveted position on the “Flashdance” soundtrack. Persevering against seemingly insurmountable odds, Joe Esposito finally enjoyed his much deserved victory when his song roundhouse kicked its way onto the Karate Kid soundtrack, forever sealing its legacy as the true champ of 80’s montage songs.
Do you agree with our assessment? Have we overlooked a song that should have secured a coveted spot on our list? Share our article and let us know on social media. Also, be sure to like Inner Edge Music on Facebook while you’re at it. Thanks!
Inner Edge Music
Also, if you would like to go “full on beast mode” the next time you’re in the gym, here is our complimentary Spotify playlist to help you wax on and wax off in a manner that would make even Mr. Miyagi proud: