My 80s Playlist: John Parr chooses his favourite 80s songs from Toto to Tina Turner

Virgin Radio

27 Jan 2023, 15:26

He’s the man behind some of the biggest movie themes from the 80s, and this week, musician John Parr has picked out his favourite tracks from the decade in My 80s Playlist on Virgin Radio 80s Plus. 

The singer-songwriter is perhaps best known for his 1985 single, St Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion), which became the hit track from the movie of the same name. 

John went on to create 10 movie theme songs for iconic 80s flicks such as Three Men and a Baby and The Running Man. 

Not only that, but he toured with the likes of Tina Turner, the Beach Boys and Bryan Adams throughout the years, as well as with his own band, The Business. 

While at the Top of the Tower for Virgin Radio 80s Plus, John shared some of his favourite tracks with host Steve Denyer, and the memories that go alongside them. 

The Boys of Summer - Don Henley 

Eagles singer Don Henley ruled the airwaves with The Boys of Summer in October 1984.

It became his most successful single in the UK, landing in at number 12 on the singles charts, but has lived on as one of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. 

Henley was a bit of a hero for John, who shared: “[Boys of Summer] was one of those songs. You hear it on the radio in the car, you know to pull just blew me away. I mean, he's kind of an idol of mine, Don Henley. I followed him all the way through the Eagles.

"We were in the kind of mid-80s. The bar was set very high. There was a lot of amazing records. Not just songs but the production. Everything was really kind of pole vault level you know?"

Rosanna - Toto

1983 tune Rosanna by Toto landed in the top 20 in the UK after its release in 1982, and featured a West Side Story-esque music video to boot. 

For John, the track had a much more sentimental meaning. He told host Steve Denyer: “I remember in the early 80s…my wife was paying the bills. I was just at home writing songs. Our treat every month would be to buy an album and we bought Toto IV, and I cried. I played the record, that song of [Steve] Lukather singing Won't Hold You Back. And it just brought me to my knees. 

“I picked Rosanna just because of the boys really, and because it's got [trumpet player] Jerry Hey on there. That's the same brass section that played St Elmo’s Fire, same guitar player.”

Wind Beneath My Wings - Bette Midler 

1982 classic Wind Beneath My Wings was originally released by Kamahl for a Country album, but it was Bette Midler’s 1988 version that became the highest-charting one. 

Re-recording for the movie Beaches, Wings picked up the Grammy Award for Record of the Year, and Song of the Year. 

John reminisced about the time he first heard the iconic track, and how one of his biggest career regrets stems from almost producing for the broadway star. 

The singer shared: “My friend Dave Mackay, great record producer. He was in LA, and he said, ‘we’ve got to pick my mate up on the way, they'll come to the show. The guy got in the car and said, ‘I've been writing with my mate today, have a listen.' He put the cassette in and it was Wind Beneath My Wings, he’d written it. 

“Bette Midler kind of epitomises the hard way, doesn't she? The journey through, she's done everything. One sad thing in my own life, I signed with Atlantic and as my career took off, they asked me to produce Bette’s album. Stupidly, I didn't know so much about her then and thought it's not for me, and I regret it to this day.”

Jump - Van Halen

Rockers Van Halen released their ultimate feel-good track Jump in 1983 as their lead single of sixth studio album, 1984. 

It reached the top 10 of the UK singles chart, with it signalling a side-step from their edgy style to more of a synth sound. 

John shared: “It just blew my mind. I've no connection at all, other than Eddie [Van Halen], like every guitar player. What I can remember, hearing that guitar solo, and then the stuff he did for Michael Jackson. It was revolutionary.

“I used to teach kids in my spare time guitar lessons, and they bring records and I could usually show them how to do it. I remember that one coming through. I didn't understand what tapping was, so I kind of stopped doing it because Eddie just rewrote the map. And of course,  David Lee Roth had his peak, he was the larger than life frontman wasn't he? Doing the splits and all the bits in the mid air, and it was such a great song.”

Owner of a Lonely Heart - Yes

British prog-rockers Yes had a hit on their hands with Owner of a Lonely Heart in 1983. 

It was a massive tune in the US, and was reissued a number of times throughout the decade to capitalise on its success. 

Of the track, John said: “It’s one of those where you pull over, don't you? I was such a fan of [producer] Trevor Horn…I just loved it. I just thought it was one of those songs that was completely outside everything else that was going on, in a band that was kind of a punk rock band.”

Hard Habit to Break - Chicago 

Hard Habit to Break by American rockers Chicago, released in 1984, was a top 10 hit across the pond and in the UK. 

It was nominated for four Grammys, and was praised for being a “pop masterpiece”, with critics particularly praising the shared lead vocals of Bill Champlin and Peter Cetera. 

Waiting for a Star to Fall - Boy Meets Girl 

Waiting for a Star to Fall was written and performed by pop duo Boy Meets Girl in 1988, after they witnessed a falling star at a Whitney Houston concert.

The single was used as the final track to the 1990 movie, Three Men and a Little Lady, which was the sequel to Three Men and a Baby, which had the song The Minute I Saw You by John.

On writing music for the film's release, the singer-songwriter explained: "We had a lot of fun. I remember we wrote it to fit the front of them, and this is how movies can turn upside down. So we wrote it for the front of the film, and [director] Leonard Nimoy came in at the end, and he went, before he heard it, 'I'm sorry, guys. It's going in the end over the credits, I'm going to use a song called Bad Boys.' No matter what argument these three Oscar winners put forward, that song was at the end of the movie, they cut it to a ribbon. So it didn't even fit the same way."

Don’t Give Up - Kate Bush & Peter Gabriel 

Genesis’ Peter Gabriel and fellow 80s icon Kate Bush teamed up for stunning duet Don’t Give Up in 1986, as part of Peter’s seminal album, So. 

It spent 11 weeks in the top 75 UK singles chart, peaking at number nine, and it won the prestigious Ivor Novello prize for Best Song Musically and Lyrically. 

Inspired by the Great Depression and the difficult economic conditions of the 80s, Gabriel wanted to pen a tune around the struggles many felt during the era, and wrote lyrics from the perspective of an unemployed man, and the voice of hope coming from Bush. 

It was an uplifting song for John too who said it felt like “the story of my life.”

He added: “Don't they do it so beautifully? And there's just something about Don't Give Up. It’s completely out of character to the Gabriel, you think we know. And yet Don't Give Up is just…a little biblical hymn, because it's so simple. But it's so beautiful. Because I would say to anybody don't give up, don't give up on your dream, don't give up on any of it.”

Walk This Way - Run DMC & Aerosmith

Run DMC featuring Aerosmith was released in 1986, and took everyone by surprise by balancing between the rock and rap charts, something previously unheard of. 

It was a top 10 charting single in the UK, and not only put Run DMC on the map, but also marked a major comeback for rockers Aerosmith. 

The ability to combine two very different genres was something that stuck with John. He told Steve: “It carved a furrow and I have no connection with it, other than being completely blown away by the imagery of it. The guys with the dark glasses and the hats, and this kind of rock and roll, it had never happened before.

“I think it did everybody a big favour, because it went hang on a minute, you know, we can smash it all together, and it's just cool and exciting and fun. That kind of epitomised it, didn't it?”

We Don’t Need Another Hero - Tina Turner 

Tina Turner grabbed the attention of not just music lovers, but movie buffs too when she released We Don’t Need Another Hero as part of the Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome soundtrack. 

The 1985 action flick, which Tina also starred in, was massively successful for the powerful vocalist, not just earning her a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, but also a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and the Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically. 

John, who had previously toured with the singer, said of the power ballad: “It was such a great song, she cracks it. She just does, because it kind of smokes a bit. You don't want it to end, and you go ‘yeah it’s a good song’, but you put it on, you forget how great it is. It just summed everything up. What a way to close.”

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