Picture Perfect: A HyperHistory of Film Music in the United States

In the Eighties, the relationship between the movie business and the music business was at its peak. During the height of the disco craze in 1980, there was no doubt that a film’s popularity was linked to a sellable, danceable soundtrack. What’s more, the business discovered that the placement of several artists on one soundtrack, rather than a focus on one composer, became an efficient way to sell a movie. Think back to the popularity of these “albums:” The Breakfast Club, Flashdance, and Top Gun. The combination of dance tracks and ballads made for surefire radio airplay of at least two songs from the soundtrack, which was bound to entice audiences to the theater, especially during an era of spending.

Despite this trend in packaging, the eighties give us the first glimpses of film composers getting attention as stars, rather than just behind-the-scenes nerds respected only in the biz but whose faces would never be recognized elsewhere.

Songwriter/producer Giorgio Moroder, famous for his production of Donna Summer‘s dance hits such as “Love to Love You, Baby” and “I Feel Love“, had developed a distinct personality as a songwriter, lyricist, and film composer. Although Deborah Harry‘s strong vocals in “Call Me” lead us into the 1980 film American Gigolo, Moroder’s production of the song—and the rest of the film’s score—is unforgettable. His layered, otherworldly synthesizer sounds and signature, pulsing beats carried us into the decade with powerful force, whether we liked it or not. Synonymous with late nights, fast cars, and new expensive technologies, Moroder’s sounds pushed the eighties along and helped to create its frenetic pace, rather than merely accompanying it.

Thanks to the invention of the music video, we finally got to see a film composer performing live. In the video for Harold Faltermeyer‘s “Axel F,” the theme to Beverly Hills

Cop, Faltermeyer appears to be creating the action of the story with the electronic instruments in his studio. The cuts between the street action of the film and the composer in his studio give the impression that he is the controller, creating the movement of the characters with his music, rather than accompanying it. Suddenly it became cool to be a musical geek mired down with keyboards, amplifiers, and wires!

From Picture Perfect: A HyperHistory of Film Music in the United States
By Nicole Zaray
© 2003 NewMusicBox