Debate Club: Best soundtrack songs

Debate Club: Top 5 soundtrack songs

Contributed by
May 16, 2018

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

In this week's installment, we look at the greatest original soundtrack songs. It's one thing to have a great score or to find the perfect song from the pop canon to go with a grand chase sequence. The real challenge is having a song work perfectly for your film and have it live on in the world outside the film as well. To have a hit in your movie and on the charts.

Maybe your film is defined by the hit song or maybe it stands outside of it. But it lives on forever, sometimes even when your movie doesn't. Here are the best genre film soundtrack songs of all time. (And a quick caveat: We're not including any James Bond songs on this list. There are so many of 'em — we'll save that for a separate Debate Club.)

“We Don’t Need Another Hero” from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

In the midst of Tina Turner's mid-1980s comeback, she co-starred in the third Mad Max film — and sang the theme song. "We Don't Need Another Hero" has the same soulful power as her other hits of the period, especially "What's Love Got to Do With It," and even if the song has little to do with Beyond Thunderdome, Turner's emphatic, impassioned vocals are so great that it's impossible to care. And when that kid choir hops on the mic for the big finale? That right there is movie soundtrack heaven.

“Everything Is Awesome” from The LEGO Movie (2014)

The hit song of The LEGO Movie is, like the film, a cheerful, slyly subversive lark. Featuring the vocal talents of Tegan and Sara, as well as hip-hop spoofsters the Lonely Island, "Everything Is Awesome" serves as the ironic theme song for the world of the LEGO characters, who have been brainwashed into a kind of collective mediocrity.

"Everything Is Awesome" mockingly champions teamwork and community when it's really a satire of smiley-faced conformity. The fact that "Everything Is Awesome" is such an infectious, sunny song only makes its buried commentary all the more barbed: everybody loves the Oscar-nominated tune, weaponizing the power of a catchy radio jam.

"Eye of the Tiger" from Rocky III (1982)

The American rock band Survivor had landed a couple of songs in the Top 40 when Sylvester Stallone came calling, asking them for a track for his upcoming Rocky III. Finagling an early cut of the film, the band watched in hopes that inspiration would hit.

As Survivor guitarist Jim Peterik recalls, "I heard that phrase: 'Hey Rocky, you're losing the eye of the tiger.' I remember turning to [bandmate] Frankie [Sullivan] and saying, 'Well, there's the name of our song!'"

Not only was "Eye of the Tiger" the band's first (and only) No. 1 hit, it became one of the quintessential pump-you-up workout songs of the 1980s, spawning a whole genre including "You're the Best" from The Karate Kid (1984). "Eye of the Tiger" has been parodied all over the place — it might as well be called "High-Octane Training Montage Song" at this point — but it's an earnest, adrenalized anthem that's very, very hard not to sing along to.

"Ghostbusters" from Ghostbusters (1984)

Ray Parker Jr. famously only had a few days to come up with the soundtrack song and no ideas, mainly because, jeez, how in the world do you incorporate that title into lyrics? The answer came from a late-night infomercial; ironic, considering how many hackneyed ad taglines came from this song itself? Cheesy, silly and absolutely irresistible, the song has become as part of Ghostbusters iconography as the logo, or even Bill Murray. The best part, too: Check out that original video, which features Al Franken, Jeffrey Tambor, Chevy Chase and ... is that Peter Falk?

"Danger Zone" from Top Gun (1986)

Kenny Loggins has performed songs for movies as varied as Footloose, Over the Top, Caddyshack and The Tigger Movie, but he'll be known forever for "Danger Zone" from Top Gun. The song still feels like a call to action 30 years later; close your eyes and you can see fighter planes zooming past each other. It still strikes us a bit weird that Loggins is singing about highways to the danger zone when this is a movie about jets in the, you know, skies, but when you're pumping your fists with your bomber jacket during karaoke, you won't mind. Besides, Sterling Archer has assured this song's immortality.

 

Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.