The Summer of 1982 is a pivotal time in pop culture history. Films like Poltergeist, E.T., Mad Max 2, Blade Runner, and TRON all hit theaters, capturing the hearts of audiences and leaving an indelible impact on their successors. Of course, it is the stories, cinematography, dialogue, and actors who anchor much of this love. But another critical aspect of their resonating success is often their scores and soundtracks.
The summer of ‘82 lineup represents a wide range of musical proclivities, infusing ‘60s nostalgia, sweeping orchestras, and the popular sounds of the time period like the synthesizer into our slate of films. Some of the songs in these films went on to be just as ubiquitous, if not more, than the properties they derive from. Or, they inspired songs for decades to come. Let’s take a look back at all those epic scores, theme songs, and jams that make these Summer of 1982 films extra special. (And, there’s a special treat for you at the end of this post!)
Orchestral Sounds from Warriors to Space Adventures
A common thread among our ‘82 film list is the use of sweeping orchestral tones in scores. We hear them in Conan the Barbarian and The Beastmaster, which is interesting considering the film’s similar settings and tones. However, Conan the Barbarian’s music is by Basil Poledouris while Lee Holdridge takes the reins for The Beastmaster. It makes total sense to heighten viewers’ excitement in these action-packed films with a grand score filled with horns to sound war. We get this in The Beastmaster’s frankly epic “The Battle On The Pyramid” part one and two.
Of course, you cannot talk about big, sweeping scores without the man, the legend himself: John Williams. His work spans several generations of moviegoers from the ‘70s kids who were lucky enough to experience the rise of Star Wars in theaters to ‘90s kids delighting in the chaotic sounds of the McCallisters running through the airport sans Kevin. In the between decade, specifically 1982, Williams made his mark on the summer. He’s responsible for E.T. the Extra-terrestrial’s iconic score. Empathetic, stunning, and heartfelt, his music elevates the film’s touching premise. It became a winner of not one but four prestigious awards: an Academy Award, Golden Globe, Grammy, and BAFTA. Without a doubt, this is one of the most well-known scores of all-time.
John Williams isn’t the only composer to drop heat in ‘82. Jerry Goldsmith also had quite the fantastic year with the scores for Poltergeist and The Secret of NIMH. Both soundtracks lean heavily into Goldsmith’s 20th-century orchestral inspirations, swinging from the lullaby inspired theme for Poltergeist’s Carol Anne to the lively, whimsical flutes of The Secret of NIMH’s “Flying.”
Goldsmith’s signature sounds certainly resonate with Star Trek fans as he’s composed five of the films. Interestingly, the Star Trek film from 1982, The Wrath of Khan, is one that doesn’t feature his melodic guidance. Why? The answer is simple. The second Star Trek film was working on a shoestring budget and simply could not afford him. Yesterday’s price is not today’s price. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The filmmakers said they didn’t want a John Williams-esque, orchestral sound but something more “modern.” This seems a bit shady but that’s not my business.
Synth Sounds and Billboard Hits
Anyway, the folks behind The Wrath of Khan wanted something with a nautical and swashbuckling vibe. Think Pirates of the Caribbean. And that’s what budding composer James Horner, who was 28 at the time, did. He leaned towards the synthesizer, a huge component of ‘80s music, eschewing the orchestral sounds of E.T. and The Thing. Speaking of The Thing, while it is a John Carpenter film, the score is actually by Ennio Morricone, who takes Carpenter’s dream of a “European” musical sound combined with his signature sound to heart. It’s quite subtle and unsettling, just like the location in the film. Brain May’s composition on Max Max 2: Road Warrior goes the opposite way with some orchestral grandeur. But it’s with a Western flair to reflect that “fight me on sight” and often bleak/dusty/plain lawless atmosphere you’d get from those films.
The synth sound and/or pop rock also show up in Blade Runner (composed by Greek electronic musician Vangelis) and TRON, both films with a futuristic plot. Frustratingly, TRON’s composer Wendy Carlos (who is also responsible for The Shining’s haunting score) is the only woman among a sea of male composers. The TRON soundtrack also features two tracks by the rock band Journey: “Only Solutions” and “1990s Theme.” The former really speaks to protagonist Kevin Flynn’s experience as a man diving into a mysterious unknown world and well, producing a solution to right an egregious wrong against him.
“Only Solutions” didn’t become a chart-topping hit like, oh, a little Journey tune called “Don’t Stop Believin’.” But there’s another ubiquitous rock song from a 1982 film that is now legendary. “The Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor is a staple at sporting events because it encapsulates the relentless drive of an athlete. The lyrics embody the determination to face a rival and come out on top, to get to (and remain) at the top of their game. And that’s exactly what happens in Rocky III, where our titular hero is no longer the underdog working diligently for his shot.
Instead, Rocky’s big into his ego until Clubber Lang knocks him on his ass literally and figuratively. Balboa’s good friend Apollo Creed tells him that he must find that motivation and get the “eye of the tiger” look back. It’s honestly one of the best song/film pairings of all-time, which is interesting considering this wasn’t the original plan for a theme song. Sylvester Stallone wanted Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” but couldn’t secure the rights to it.
So, after jamming to some Journey, he asked Jim Peterik (a Journey member) to write a song for the film. The group watched the film and, you guessed it, Apollo’s speech led to this song’s existence. “Eye of the Tiger” became the number one single on Billboard Hot 100 chart for six consecutive weeks and scored a Grammy the following year. And, who can possibly forget the Rocky’s inspiring theme song that we hear when he’s doing those great training montages? A true classic.
Quite a few famous radio songs interweave into Fast Times at Ridgemont High. This makes a ton of sense because, like Rocky III, it is rooted in ‘80s reality; however, it leans more into the pop culture of the time as a coming-of-age film. Soundtrack songs like Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby” hit high on the Billboard charts that year while other songs like “We Got the Beat” by The Go-Gos (1980) were featured in the film yet not on the official soundtrack.
Art Influencing the Future and Odes to the Past
Fast Times at Ridgemont High takes influence from pop culture at the time. Rocky III gives inspiration to a rock band. But neither of them are quite like what comes out of Annie. It’s born from the 1977 Broadway musical of the same name and while its songs are not representative of the ‘80s sound, they are now iconic. Annie’s wistful “Tomorrow” was perhaps the most optimistic musical tune since Dorothy Gale sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” It gives hope not only to those who long for love, but to our friendly neighborhood Deadpool years later as he saves Cable’s life.
Speaking of long-lasting and interesting inspiration, the film’s prolific composer Charles Strouse nabbed a Grammy nomination years later for “Hard Knock Life.” How? Well, back in the late ‘90s Jay-Z not only named his third album after the tune but features a prominent sample of the song for its title track. The song was nominated for Best Rap Solo Performance in 1999 but could not defeat Will Smith’s inescapable “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.” Fun times.
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and Grease 2 also fall outside of the ‘80s spectrum due to their narrative settings. The former is a humorous homage to film noir and detective films so the score, composed by Miklós Rózsa, reflects that with orchestral sounds that are sweeping, suspenseful, and rather romantic and dreamy.
Grease 2, on the other hand, reflects ‘60s high school life with some upbeat and often funny tunes. It doesn’t get the same accolades as its predecessor in many ways. But it features some classics like The Four Tops “Back to School Again” and the cast singing “Who’s That Guy?”
The Horror (Franchise) of It All
Finally, there are two big films from horror franchises in their third installments that have some fun music history. First, there’s Friday the 13th Part III, which brings its composer Harry Manfredini back for another round. Of course, a lot of the music is for scares, including Jason’s infamous “theme sound” of “ke ke ke, ma ma ma” that Manfredini spoke himself. It’s become a staple in pop culture that it as vital to the franchise as the hockey mask that makes its debut in this film. But the really wild news is the disco version of Jason’s song, which allegedly became a club banger. I mean… I can see it vibing at a Halloween party but the club?! It was a weird time indeed.
And, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, like its predecessors, does not have a symphonic score. Instead there’s music for building tension and scary moments with John Carpenter taking the reins. The franchise’s piano jam of a theme is also missing because this film doesn’t have Michael Myers. Fans get a synthesizer heavy electronic tune that’s a low-key jam. Many say this film is underrated and I dare say that its score is too. We also get the gift of a creepy song about Halloween coming in the tune of London Bridge.
Of course, there were lots of popular songs outside of what’s featured in these fictional films. It was a little too early for Michael Jackson’s Thriller greatness which came in Fall 1982. (Fun fact: Jackson did a song called “Someone in the Dark” for E.T.‘s audiobook and won a Grammy for it.) But these were a few of the hot songs of the summer (May-August 1982):
- “Ebony and Ivory” – Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder
- “Don’t You Want Me” – The Human League
- “Let It Whip” – Dazz Band
- “Love Come Down” – Evelyn “Champagne” King
- “Jack & Diane” – John Mellencamp
- “I Like It” – DeBarge
- “The Message” – Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
- “777-9311” – The Time
- “I Keep Forgettin'” – Michael McDonald
- “Do Me Baby” – Prince
- “Vacation” – The Go-Go’s
Celebrate the greatest summer movies of all-time and let the haunting, happy, and hopeful tunes play. In fact, we’ve made it easy for your with our Summer of ’82 playlist featuring a few great scores and songs from the time.