It's hard to imagine it today, when movies are in and out of theaters in a week or two, to be replaced by the next much-hyped blockbuster, but there was a time, back in the '80s, when movies were so pervasive that their soundtracks sold in the millions, making them ubiquitous in theaters, on the radio, and on MTV all at once. The high point of the soundtrack era may have come this week 30 years ago, with the release of Prince's autobiographical film "Purple Rain" on July 27, 1984.
The movie itself was just okay –- except during the performance sequences, which were electrifying and remain so today –- but the soundtrack was mindblowing. And for the latter half of 1984, you couldn't turn on the radio without hearing one of its tracks –- "When Doves Cry," "Let's Go Crazy," "I Would Die 4 U," or the epic power ballad that was the title track. The soundtrack would spawn two No. 1 singles, top the Billboard album chart for 24 straight weeks, sell 20 million copies, win an Oscar for Best Original Song Score (an award the Academy no longer gives out), set the high water mark for Prince's long career, and even influence the way records were then sold. It was, after all, the risqué lyrics of "Darling Nikki" that so shocked then-Senator Al Gore's then-wife Tipper that she instigated congressional hearings over pop lyrics, leading to the creation of parental-advisory stickers for discs deemed too mature for minors.
Of course, "Purple Rain" was just one of many '80s movies that so memorably affixed image to music. The rise of MTV throughout the '80s had movie tunes linked to big-screen imagery like never before. It's hard for anyone who saw "The Breakfast Club" as a kid 30 years ago to hear Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)" without instantly recalling the movie, and it's hard to see any scene from that film without thinking of the Simple Minds track.
Some '80s movies, like "Breakfast Club," "American Gigolo," "Chariots of Fire," or "Ghostbusters" had just that one great song, but others, like "Purple Rain," had many. And some, like "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," had lots of unforgettable songs but didn't actually issue a soundtrack album. The list above, then, of the best '80s soundtrack albums, honors those movies with many great tunes, on collections you can actually buy.