Unusually Good ’80s Movies Scores By Musicians Who Didn’t Score Movies


Joe Strummer – Permanent Record (1988) and Walker (1987)220px-walkertheatrical

Joe Strummer’s post-Clash songs for soundtracks and benefit comps often blow away the pretty damn good songs found on his solo albums. They deserve their own compilation. Following the final breaths of the Clash around 1986, Strummer jumped right into soundtrack work with two excellent songs for Sid & Nancy. With the soundtrack for Alex Cox’s Walker, he provided the entire score, including this beauty:

For Permanent Record, Strummer assembled the The Latin Rockabilly War  (Zander Schloss, Jack Irons) for one entire album side, and the best work he’d done, by that point, since the Clash. Same ensemble later backs him on his unfairly maligned Earthquake Weather. 


Big Country – Restless Natives (1985)

restless-natives-scotlandAlthough in high demand as session musicians in the 80s (See: Pete Townsend), Big Country‘s landline probably wasn’t blowing up with offers to score films. Finally tapped for a hometown production, they’re more than up to the task, delivering a perfect balance of melancholy and heroic for Restless Natives, a Scottish version of The Legend of Billie Jean with motorcycles and dudes (It’s a painfully simple, sad and yes, sweetly corny film). It was said this music was lost until a 1998 comp, but that’s partially wrong; 1986 B-sides for Big Country’s 12 inch singles contained most of it.

Edge – Captive (1985)

The only solo record by a member of U2 to date. And it was good. See my larger piece on it. 

Stewart Copeland – Rumble Fish (1983)

f97a6d7afb5e880ce535a7b0cca67574Copeland is a soundtrack machine  – now. In the mid-eighties, he wasn’t, and most Police fans (or those unaware of Klark Kent) probably wouldn’t have guessed that, after Rumble Fish, he’d go on to score 17 more movies (as well as TV and video game work). Copleand’s work for Rumble Fish was a revelation; the movie loses all tension without it. He should have won an Oscar for it – that’s right: won – but wasn’t even nominated (look at the garbage that was. Fight me). Also noteworthy, in order to match tempo to action, Copeland mixed his music into the film using software invented by sound editor Robert Randles. The lone vocal track featured Stan Ridgway, a heavenly pairing. I don’t have critical distance for said track; when I was 12, it was my favorite song, and I love it still.


Jimmy Page – “Death Wish II” 1982jimmypagedeathwishiicover

There’s nothing special upon hearing this until you learn that Page, in a low part of his life following Bonham’s death, churned it out in three weeks – playing everything himself. Next time you complain about Garage Band freezing, remember that.

Eurythmics – 1984 (1984)

eurythmics_1984Almost all of this soundtrack was omitted from Michael Radford’s 1984 cinematic rendering of Orwell’s book (a personal favorite film in how relentlessly dark and well-cast). Yet the Eurythmics delivered their best record, overall, aside from their debut full-length. Annie Lennox stands at the peak of her once-in-a-lifetime vocal talents and employs them like a female Bobby McFerrin; Dave Stewart never again crafted better electronic soundscapes. IDM before it existed. Added bonus: they dropped some of their most odd and beautiful pop songs no one heard:

Flash Gordon – Queen (1980)

flash_gordon_backWhere do I start? For one thing, Queen wrote all new music, much of it instrumental, much of it a perfect fit for the subtle camp of the film. To certify the singularty of this as soundtrack work, even the single sported bits of film dialogue. I’m fairly certain Queen never does anything like it again -their work for “Highlander,” whether released, unreleased, or released later, wasn’t instrumental, and unfortunately stabbed at Dio-like metal songwriting, a seeming a waste of their relative talents. Although “Flash Gordon” didn’t chart so well for Queen, either (that would come soon after with “The Game”) and may seem obscure, the album hit American living rooms hard via the Columbia House “11 for a Penny” scam, meaning it made its way into the homes of kids ages 8 to 12 regardless of radio demographic or format. Music was far more commercially segregated in 1980 than now, and Columbia House crossed that divide because snail mail knows no racial divide. Meaning, some kids who copped “Flash Gordon” grew up to be DJs.

Ry Cooder – Paris, Texas OST (1984)


For years after Paris, Texas, movies would ape Cooder’s spacious, patient, acoustic-electric slide guitar atmospherics. None have come close. To boot, almost every track is a re-working of a theme: Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground.” The sole vocal track features Harry Dean Stanton singing in Spanish. Go away if you don’t love this.

David Bowie – Labyrinth

so wrong

Unless you were younger than 10 when it was released, Bowie’s “Labyrinth” soundtrack is best forgotten. Good reasons you don’t hear this one much anymore are legion. For one thing, the instrumentation hasn’t aged well. Bowie phones in some weak-ass songs. A codpiece in a children’s film. Puppets. I only include this in the interest of putting a stop to those who continue to celebrate it.


Peter Gabriel – Birdy (1985)

petergabrielbirdyost212657Largely a reworking of already-written songs on his albums, Gabriel’s score for Birdy is nonetheless interesting for his removal of his voice almost entirely from all tracks. It’s  also the album where Gabriel meets Daniel Lanois and David Bottrill. And don’t sleep on Alan Parker’s atmospheric film. An 80s flick starring Nicholas Cage and Matthew Modine would usually mean pastel suit jackets or high school prom scenes, but “Birdy” adapts William Wharton’s heartbreaking novel of post WWII PTSD suffered by soldiers returning to poorest Philadelphia.


Better Off Dead – Rupert Hine


Almost totally lost, I’m certain the record is out of print (and whoever stole mine, eat me), and I’m not sure if the movie itself is easily available. While often hilarious and responsible for John Cusack’s career, said film was the b-side to John Hughes’s A-sides, and this soundtrack works much the same way. The Fixx couldn’t get arrested for a Hughes soundtrack, and super producer Rupert Hine’s solo career was in the dumpster (and stayed there) but here Hines and Fixx singer Cy “Christine Todd Whitman’s Doppleganger” Curnin collaborate to produce at least one solid if disgustingly eighties-like single with “With One Look.” If you tolerated Howard Jones for more than a second, you can’t hate this too much. Hine makes the best of the rest of the soundtrack with synth instrumentals. Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some,” a key piece of the film, wasn’t included, probably because fuck those guys.

Wang Chung – To Live and Die in LA OST (1985)60441d43847eba4c09ca26a2da84a374

Allegedly recorded in two weeks at the William Friedkin’s request, Wang Chung’s titular song is the only halfway decent pop song created for the movie. I’m not, nor ever was, a Wang Chung fan, but the jewels here are the rushed instrumental tracks, as pure a distillation of 80s-era Miami Vice atmospherics as existed without being called “music from Miami Vice.”


David Byrne – The Catherine Wheel (1981)

Not a film soundtrack but rather a score commissioned by choreographer Twyla Tharp, tharp2“The Catherine Wheel” easily ranks among Byrne’s most interesting instrumentation projects, and among the best of his solo works. Only Talking Heads’ married rhythm section is missing; sort-of TH members Adrian Belew, Bernie Worrell and Brian Eno contribute. Some echoes of future heads work like “I Zimbra,” but most tracks are completely unique. Tharp plays a water pot on “Cloud Chamber.”


honorable mention (don’t @me)

Tony Banks – Quicksilver; Roger Waters –When the Wind Blows; Wendy Carlos – Tron; Declan McManus – The Courier




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