Here at Topless Robot we’ve already given the business to a not-quite-dozen nerd-centric songs that could best be described by Spinal Tap’s immortal two-word review, “Shit Sandwich.” But there’s more to life than snark?there’s even more to the Internet than snark, believe it or not?and while anyone whose driver’s license doesn’t read “MATLIN, MARLEE” can tell you that Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap” eats it, selecting the true cream of the soundtrack crop is a tougher row to hoe. Armed only with fond memories, refined taste, and that sweet YouTube extension for the Firefox search bar, we’ve selected the finest tunes ever to grace any movie about extraordinary, gaudily dressed individuals solving problems through violence. (If you’re reading this site, that describes pretty much every movie you’ve ever seen.) Our one rule: If the song is from a score it has to have vocals?otherwise we’d just end up rattling off a few dozen tracks from John Williams, Danny Elfman, and John Carpenter and having to call it a day.
So feast your ears on the eleven songs listed below: They’re really freaking good. And for once, we’re not even being sarcastic.
11) Stan Bush: “The Touch” – Transformers: The Movie
If this song didn’t exist, the ’80s would have had to invent it. The ultimate fist-pumping, headband-wearing, sleevless-sweatshirt-sporting anthem, Stan Bush’s contribution to the only full-length Transformers movie so far in which Bumblebee does not urinate on Barton Fink is basically the peppiest song EVAR. It’s so deliriously encouraging, so psychopathically uplifting that I wonder if an on-staff psychiatrist prescribed it so as to mitigate the damaging effects that the movie itself would have on its grade-school audience. How upset can you get over the death of Optimus Prime and dozens of other Autobots or those creepy floating-head tribunal things who feed people to shark robots when Bush’s full-throated “You’re a winner! You’re nobody’s fool!” is ringing in your ears? Bonus video: Dirk Diggler pays homage in Boogie Nights! He’s right about the vocals, you know.
10) Tomoyasu Hotei: “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” – Kill Bill Vol. 1
Yes, this track rapidly became the most played-out soundtrack staple since White Zombie’s “More Human Than Human.” But in the context of your very first viewing of Quentin Tarantino’s genre-movie mash-up masterpiece Kill Bill Vol. 1, where it served as the entrance theme for crosseyed cutie Lucy Liu’s O-Ren Ishii and her gaggle of Asian pop-culture stereotypes the Crazy 88s, it was pretty much the coolest thing you’d ever heard. That reverbed-out “When the Levee Breaks” drumbeat, those razor-sharp J.B.’s-style horn blasts, and those towering peals of guitar and trumpet practically had me ready to jump into the screen and start attacking people with my Hanzo sword myself. Not coincidentally, this was one of filmdom’s best “walking in a group in slow motion to stylish musical accompaniment like total fucking badasses” scenes since another Tarantino movie, Reservoir Dogs. And frankly, if I have to get killed by a gang of vicious criminals with coordinated clothing, I think I’ll take Go-Go Yubari and Sophie Fatale over Mr. Pink and Nice Guy Eddie.
9) Michael Sembello: “Rock Until You Drop” – The Monster Squad
One of the many, many, many great things about Fred Dekker’s “Our Gang meets the Universal Monsters” mash-up masterpiece The Monster Squad is that when he decided the forces of good needed some kind of rebuttal to Dracula’s proclamation of certain victory, this is what he came up with. Over a memorable montage of the Monster Squad’s middle-school members prepping for a confrontation with the Prince of Darkness and/or fighting for a look at a naked picture of their colleague’s slutty sister, singer Michael Sembello (yes, the “Maniac” guy!) orders his legion of listeners to have so much fun that they literally dismember themselves: “Dance until your feet fall off!” “Party till your brains fall out!” Sir yes sir! And just when the music threatens to get too hot, Sembello breaks it down so that we can enjoy the rest of the montage without spilling over the side like a pot of spaghetti you leave unattended on the burner for too long. Even despite the total lack of any visible contribution to the cause from Squad member Fat Kid, I think you’ll still agree with Sembello’s musical assessment of this sequence: “It’s totally rad. It’s coo-coo. It’s coo-coo. It’s cool.”
8) Tim Cappello: “I Still Believe” – The Lost Boys
Years ago, on the message board for comic-snob bible The Comics Journal, I somehow got around to the topic of the sax-heavy song performed by a shirtless, musclebound, heavily greased gentleman on the Santa Carla boardwalk in Joel Schumacher’s one and only good movie, The Lost Boys. Who was that barechested, Brutus “the Barber” Beefcake-bodied bard, I asked? The answer, as I found out (from the former EIC of TCJ and current mastermind of ComicsReporter.com, bizarrely enough), is Tina Turner sideman Tim “Timmy” Cappello. Kudos to Mr. Cappello, then, for producing this atmospherically anthemic ode to believing, whatever the cost. Musically it boasts the shit-hottest sax this side of Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” or Beck’s “The New Pollution,” while lyrically it’s a defiant declaration of belief in the face of pain, grief, lies, storms, cries, wars, cold, heat, rain, tears, crowds, cheers, shame, greed, heartache, tears again, wait, years, and of course pseudo-punk vampire tribes, though that last bit is more implied than stated outright. Such is its power that, like Corey Haim does to Jason Patric, we can only force our eyes away from the rhythmless yet oddly passionate dancing of ’80s goddess Jamie Gertz and gaze in awe as the bonfire light reflects off his glistening torso while he plays it.
7) Rage Against the Machine: “Wake Up” – The Matrix
This right here? This is why the Matrix sequels sucked. No, seriously, listen: You’ve just finished watching the most groundbreaking Western action movie of the ’90s, a combination of Philip K. Dick conspiracy/philosophy, Yuen Wo-Ping wire-fu, cutting-edge CGI, and “electronica”-era shiny pants that blew the minds of every geek in the country. You’ve listened to the now-godlike Neo, fresh from laying the hacker-Zen smackdown on Agent Smith, tell his computerized overlords that he’s gonna rip the lid off humanity’s virtual-reality prison. You’ve seen him step out of a phone booth into the midst of the brainwashed hoi polloi and take to the skies like a trenchcoat-wearing, ecstasy-rolling Superman. And most importantly, you’ve seen it all go down to the astonishingly intense roar of Tom Morello’s how-the-hell-does-he-get-it-to-make-those-sounds-anyway guitar and Brad Whatsisname’s pounded-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life drums from Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up,” an absolutely brilliant music choice that literally had me laughing for joy in the theater. You are, in short, FUCKING PUMPED. So whatever those wacky Wachowskis cooked up for parts two and three, how could it possibly top the sequel you instantly saw in your head?
6) John Williams: “Duel of the Fates” – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Yeah yeah yeah, prequel trilogy sucks blah blah blah, Darth Maul doesn’t do anything yadda yadda yadda, John Williams past his prime bitch bitch bitch. “Duel of the Fates” is still as good a piece of music as Williams ever wrote, a “Carmina Burana” for the Jedi set. And it serves as the soundtrack for one of the greatest fight scenes ever filmed, regardless of the quality of the movie that surrounded it. Show me someone who didn’t get goosebumps when that big vocal chorus erupted over that vertigo-inducing shot of that massive shaft where Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Maul were dueling and I’ll show you someone who thought midichlorians were a good idea. One last thing: Just try not to hear the words differently once you’ve seen this.
5) Barry Harman, Ford Kinder, and Spencer Michlin: “G.I. Joe: The Movie Title Theme” – G.I. Joe: The Movie
For many Joe fans, the only way Stephen Sommers’s upcoming live-action G.I. Joe: An International House of Pancakes (or whatever the P.C. bastards are insisting we now call it) could get any worse is by including Cobra-La, the bugfuck-crazy race of snake-insect-fungus people who battle the Joe team in their full-length animated feature. For others, that’s about the only thing that could save Sommers’s stupid movie. (Put me in the latter camp?I for one have long felt that we should dedicate more military resources to fighting secret Himalayan enclaves of genocidal Lovecraftian manimals.) But there’s at least one thing that Joe devotees divided by The Movie‘s sci-fi storyline can agree on: That opening theme song is fabulous! Essentially an extended remix of the TV series’ theme, it kicks off with a memorable minor-key Cobra-centric section. Who can forget its immortal lyrics: “Crashing through the sky / Comes a fateful cry: / Coooooooo-bra / Co-braaaaaaaaa! / Coooooooo-bra / Co-braaaaaaaaaa!” If inventive pronunciations of the name of a completely unrealistic techno-terrorist organization were horses, Harman, Kinder, and Michlin would ride. Then the kick-ass Joe theme proper kicks in, and by God, everytime you hear it, do you doubt for a second that G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero, G.I. Joe truly is there? The whole shebang accompanies the most dazzlingly animated sequence in franchise history, a Fourth of July attack on the Statue of Liberty by Cobra featuring such eye-popping imagery as the Cobra paratroopers’ kaleidoscopic descent (and one particular Cobra paratrooper’s telescopic crotch). By the time its final notes fade into memory, you’ll be hoping the Joe team’s entirely non-lethal reign of heroism will never end.
4) Annie Lennox: “Into the West” – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
I know, I know. It’s not an ironically enjoyable artifact of the ’80s, it’s not a high-energy song of celebration, it doesn’t involve conspiracy theories about the United States government murdering civil rights leaders–what the hell is this doing on the list? It’s here because it makes me cry every time I hear it, and if you’re as big a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Peter Jackson’s adaptations thereof as I am, it probably has the same effect on you. With music by LotR score composer (and former SNL bandleader!) Howard Shore, lyrics by LotR screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and vocals by Eurythmics androgyne and Galadriel soundalike Annie Lennox, its evocative images and majestically swelling chorus served as the perfect emotional capstone to the greatest action-adventure trilogy of all time. Enjoy watching the above clip of Lennox performing the song at the Oscars that The Return of the King went on to sweep, provided you haven’t already poked your own eyes out with the massive boner you get when presenter Liv Tyler delivers her breathy introduction to the song while wearing sexy librarian glasses.
3) Ray Parker Jr.: “Ghostbusters” – Ghostbusters
Considering that Ghostbusters is simultaneously one of the greatest comedies, New York City movies, and science-fiction-horror films of all time, you’d have to ask yourself what kind of moron would turn down the chance to record its theme song. The answer, of course, is “the kind of moron named Huey Lewis.” After the editor-in-chief of The News passed on the gig, the producers decided they wanted a new “I Want a New Drug” and tapped session man Ray Parker Jr. as the composer, performer, and future lawsuit defendant of a knockoff version they could use as the flick’s theme. (Listen to Huey’s track–see the resemblance?) The resulting designer-impostor ’80s-funk workout surpasses the original, thanks to Parker’s laconic vocal delivery, electronic-horn riff, synthesized spooky noises, and that head-nodding synth-bass beat. But here’s the real reason bustin’ makes me feel good: How many theme songs can you name that contain almost as many classic catchphrases as the movie they’re from? “Who ya gonna call,” “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts,” and that unmistakable shout of “GHOST-BUSTERS!” all stem from the song, not the flick. And I’m sorry, but you’ve got to be some kind of crazy lyrical genius to write a song about a ghost and decide that of all the things you could say about it, you’ve gotta throw in “I hear it likes the girls.” No wonder every single celebrity who made the early ’80s awesome wanted to be in the video.
2) Prince: “Batdance” – Batman>
Batman, meet Prince’s dirty mind. Prince’s dirty mind, meet Batman. I’m sure you’ll have a lot to talk about! Man, try to imagine modern-day Warner Bros. and Christopher Nolan turning over the soundtrack for their ponderous Batman Begins to, I dunno, OutKast and you’ll have some idea of how freaking crazy it is that this song and video ever even happened. Torn between his brother-in-mononymhood Batman and his fellow purple enthusiast the Joker, Prince created a hybrid character called Gemini, who presides over a berserk interpretive dance involving women in batsuits, a parade of Vicki Vales led by a woman in a shirt reading “ALL THIS AND BRAINS TOO ” (an homage to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns!), cheeky references to the ’60s TV-show theme that still have over-serious Bat-fans sputtering with fury, collage-style lyrics culled from all of Prince’s other Batman soundtrack songs, and a fucking vicious guitar solo. The end result is a ballsy slab of industrial-dance-funk-rock-madness that proves superhero soundtrack music doesn’t have to be kid-tested and mother-approved.
1) John Williams: “Ewok Celebration” – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Christmas morning, the last day of school, your first time, the birth of your grandchildren?nuts to that action. For sheer, unadulterated joy, nothing on God’s gray earth beats hearing the Yub-Yub Song. Sure, wannabe tough guys slag the Ewoks as lame, original-trilogy-ruining Muppets for kids. This is goddamn absurd. First of all, as if freaking Star Wars fans have any right to complain about something not being macho or sophisticated enough. (And I say that as a guy with a Rebel Alliance tattoo.) Second of all, let’s see you take out the Empire’s war machine with lumber. Third and most important of all, the moment those adorable little insurgents finished watering the mighty trees of Endor with the blood of their imperial occupiers, they busted out the hap-hap-happiest song of celebration ever recorded in this or any other galaxy. Ever since I first heard this over two decades ago, I’ve dropped whatever I was doing and danced around the house, dorm, apartment, or theater like I just destroyed an AT-ST. Williams and Lucas might have tried to burn this toe-tapping, paw-clapping, helmet-bongo-bashing masterpiece out of their movie like Luke torching his old man’s corpse, but they’ll never deactivate the shield generator that keeps it safe inside our hearts. Celebrate the love!
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.