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What Ever Happened to the Summer Blockbuster Movie Theme Song?

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There’s no post-credit scene in Avengers: Endgame. There’s no great power ballad or uplifting arena rock singalong; no ode to Thanos; no “Ballad of Tony Stark;” no Dion, Mellencamp, Tyler, Swift, or Loggins to see us out. And the same can be said of other recent summer blockbusters like Wonder Woman, or of any of those ludicrous Transformers films, or even of the most recent Pixar films.

Some movies of course have hit songs embedded in them, like “Shallow” — a mega-hit and Oscar winner — but that one came out of a music-based film with tons of original songs in it. Fifty Shades Darker produced a hit in ZAYN and Taylor Swift’s “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” but that film came out in February. Black Panther’s “All the Stars” did too, even though it had me dancing around my house singing to myself.

But other than that, I can only think of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” which launched off the heals of Despicable Me 2 in July… of 2013! Not quite as ground-breaking as Bobby Brown spitting rhymes about Vigo the Carpathian in the Ghostbusters II 1989 hit “On Our Own,” but I’ll take it I guess.

The summer Hollywood blockbuster with its smash hit song-in-tow used to be such a thing! It unified us in reverie despite how cliché and kitsch the films might have been, and it was a full-on executive cash-grab for the sunny season to boot. But we didn’t care. It was the ’80s and ’90s!

So what happened? Where did these movie songs go?

Did the slow death of mainstream radio take the summer blockbuster smash hit along with it? Did YouTube kill the MTV video star tie-in?

I honestly don’t know, and I was hoping you might…scroll down to voice your comment on the matter. This is more of a yearning and bafflement piece. I miss the days where film-inspired songs aimed for the top of the charts and closed out a mildly enjoyable movie on the soaring wings of an epic high note. I miss Oscar bait and Golden Globe ear candy.

Back in the day, the disk jockey heroine seemed to be a prerequisite for summer films — and for the audiences considering seeing them. I mean, how did we ever, ever survive without Trisha Yearwood’s version of “How Do I Live” from Con Air? Well, we didn’t. The movie was terrible, but it made a ton of money and the song (two versions!) did too.

That 1990s schlock aside, the 1980s were arguably the biggest decade for this phenomenon.

In jogging my memory of the Flock of Seagulls decade, I’m reminded of Beaches, not a typical bombastic slammer and not even a summer release (although it does always remind me of summer). Its hit single was as melodramatic as the movie’s message, and it resonated with audiences, making a lot of people cry — like, a lot. It probably still does any time you go to a wedding.

Yes, “Wind Beneath My Wings” skyrocketed to Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, scored Song and Record of the Year at the Grammys, and probably earned more miles on Casey Kasem’s Request and Dedication than Bon Jovi’s “Never Say Goodbye.” And if memory serves, that’s pretty darn huge.

If I dig deeper into the dark caverns of my memory (because I apparently have too much time on my hands), I strongly recall being excited about Beverly Hills Cop 2 in 1987, not only because of Eddie Murphy, but because of Bob Seger’s #1 single “Shakedown.” Ridiculous lyrics (“you’re busted”) aside, it even earned an Oscar nod.

Other decade highlights included Oscar nominee and chart-topping theme song, “Ghostbusters,” by Ray Parker, Jr., Survivor’s “The Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky III, and how can we ever forget Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Power of Love” from Back to the Future.

Other standouts that have made a lasting impression on me include “Danger Zone” by film soundtrack demigod Loggins from Top Gun, and Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love” from The Karate Kid Part II. I could go on, but why? (Did I already lose you with that Kasem namedrop?)

Jumping back to the Fresh Prince decade, the 1990s really brought the notion of a flick, paired with a tied-in hit, to new heights. And it literally did so with the orchestral space-apocalypse gem “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith from the super crater Armageddon. 

I’m reminded also of Bryan Adams’ mega-hit “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” from The Lion King, courtesy of Elton John. These songs were huge — Adams’ song in particular spent a ton of time topping charts worldwide at Number 1. And if you were alive in ’95, you couldn’t escape Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” off the Batman Forever soundtrack. Rumor has it that Seal had to live in a bomb shelter to escape it for six months. “Batdance” this was not.

I miss the days of the big summer soundtrack. Deadpool gets it. Last year, Deadpool 2 grabbed Celine Dion for its theme, “Ashes,” and even though it was tongue-in-cheek, it was appreciated by a particular cultural consumer. Dion is, of course, the undisputed queen of film soundtracks, with her trifecta of Oscar-approved tunes like “Because You Loved Me” from Up Close and Personal to “Beauty and the Beast” from you know, and the mega-fabulous-chest-thumping “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic.

Case in point: Something has happened. Have we grown skeptical? Is music just too saturated?

Our blockbusters are songless. Filmmakers, let’s bring it back up to Space Jam level, but please leave R. Kelly behind. I’d wager Peabo Brysen has been waiting by his phone, and there are far too many films in the Marvel canon to ignore him anymore.

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Jon Chattman
Jon Chattman

Jon Chattman has shared a Reuben sandwich with Randy “Macho Man” Savage, somehow ignited Snoop Dogg to sing Dean Martin, and questioned Meryl Streep on what she’d do during a zombie apocalypse. He has written for a variety of outlets including Huffington Post, Inked Magazine, and USA Today, and runs his own music series (“A-Sides”), which has drawn such acts as Gary Clark, Jr., Imagine Dragons, Sleigh Bells, Joe Perry, and Alice Cooper, to name just a few.