Back to the Future is the greatest film of all time. Period.
I have been a huge fan of Back to the Future since I was a small child. I remember watching for the first time at 7, and being mesmerised by the concept of a boy going back in time in a DeLorean and then later becoming a really huge fan. Like obsessed with this movie. Ever since then, it’s been my favourite film of all time. I’ve seen both the original film and the first sequel in the theatres, held a Back to the Future themed 21st birthday party, and have even met one of the original actors from the film, Claudia Wells, at a convention a few years ago.
And I mean, what’s not to love about Back to the Future? It’s got action, romance, amazing acting and characters, a brilliant and engaging story, and Michael J. Fox. Let’s be real, all the ladies reading this who are fans, you are in love with Marty McFly. It’s okay to admit it, we all feel the same way!
In case you are somehow not familiar with the film, here’s a quick rundown of the plot. In 1985, high school student Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is living a less-than-ideal life. His family are losers, he is afraid to pursue his dreams of being a musician, and he keeps getting in trouble at school. However, he is also friends with eccentric scientist Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd), who has invented a time machine out of a DeLorean car. After running away from Libyan terrorists, Marty is inadvertently sent back in time to 1955, where he accidentally prevents his parents’ (Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover) first meeting. So, with the help of 1950s Doc, Marty must make his parents fall in love, whilst also figuring out a way to get… Back to the Future!
The movie turned out to be a huge hit, becoming the highest grossing film of 1985 and spawning two sequels in 1989 and 1990 respectively. And since then, it’s become a staple in popular culture, constantly played on TV and referenced in many films and TV shows.
What’s interesting about BTTF is that music is such an integral part of its identity as a film. The music helps to tell the story, the main character is a musician, and the most iconic part of the film series is the soundtrack.
So, to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the release of the first Back to the Future film on Friday (3rd July), I’m going to be doing a whole week of BTTF music related posts, from Monday to Friday. I’ll be talking about the music in the films, the meaning of the music, and also exploring some other musical aspects of the franchise.
Today, I’m going to be talking about the ‘pop’ songs from the soundtrack for the original film. (See the end of this post for a schedule of the topics I will be talking about this week!)
The soundtrack of Back to the Future has some of the most iconic movie songs of the 1980s. “The Power of Love” and “Back in Time”, by Huey Lewis and the News will be forever associated with the sound of BTTF. Then there’s the 1950s songs like “Earth Angel” and “Johnny B. Goode”, that are amazing songs that also make some of the most iconic scenes in the whole film and trilogy. In addition, the main theme, written by Alan Silvestri, is extremely iconic, and has been featured in many movies since (Ready Player One, anyone?). I’m sure just thinking about it you can hear the twinkling sound effects, or the large booming main melody of the theme. (see tomorrow’s post for a full analysis and discussion of the main theme of BTTF!)
I thought today I would dissect each of these iconic songs from the soundtrack, to see if they still hold up today, 35 years later. Let’s get started!
- The Power of Love – Huey Lewis and The News
The iconic theme song of the film! I’ve already mentioned this song, but it is truly a jam. Hearing the synth melody and the big booming voice of Huey Lewis just takes me back to 1985 (even though I wasn’t even born yet!). This song has a sound that truly cannot be replicated. I’ve heard cover versions and live versions and all sorts but nothing can replicate how 80s the original sounds and how well it musically surmises the themes of the film. The story of how this song was conceived is interesting. Lewis was approached by director Robert Zemeckis to write a song for the film, and he begrudgingly accepted. Lewis said he didn’t ‘want to write a song with Back to the Future as the title’. The filmmakers simply wanted one of Lewis’ songs and so he sent them the next song he wrote, which just happened to be “The Power of Love”.
One argument I have heard about this song is that the lyrics really have nothing to do with Back to the Future, but that is not true, at least in my opinion. Love is one of the central themes of the whole trilogy; its why Marty has to get back to the future, and it’s the theme of both the main conflicts in the film (getting Marty’s parents to fall in love, Marty trying to save Doc’s live because of the friendship they share). I think the way it connects with the film but isn’t in your face about it like some of the other movie theme songs of the day (like “Ghostbusters”, for example) is really cool and works so well! I love this song so much, it’s the best song in the whole movie!
In the film, this song is played during the opening scene, when Marty grabs his skateboard and rushes to school, grabbing on the back of cars and waving to girls do aerobics on his way. Then, it appears again shortly after as the song that Marty and his band The Pinheads play at the auditions for the Battle of the Bands. A fun tidbit here is that the judge that tells the The Pinheads they are “too darn loud” is actually Huey Lewis himself! Finally, the song is played when Marty heads home after a day of school. Funnily enough, this whole segment is probably my favourite part of the film! Have a watch of the scene here:
2. Time Bomb Town – Lindsey Buckingham
A song you might not even know is in the film! “Time Bomb Town” was written by Lindsay Buckingham especially for the film. Musically, Buckingham played every instrument in the recording except for drums. The song is a fun little rock song, with some very interesting chord changes. Lyrically, Buckingham sings about knowing a secret and wondering how it is going to blow up in his face (possibly a reference to Marty knowing this information about the time machine). In the film, this song appears briefly in the background of the scene in which Marty speaks to Doc on the phone before heading off to Twin Pines Mall. I remember getting really excited about this song when I found out it was by Lindsay Buckingham, as I am a huge Fleetwood Mac fan! Anyway, definitely worth a listen.
3. Heaven Is One Step Away – Eric Clapton
This is another song that is on the soundtrack but is barely in the film. Clapton’s fun rocking romp is featured towards the end of the film, when Marty arrives back in 1985. He interacts with Red the Bum, realising that he successfully made it back to the future. “Heaven” is played in the background, on Red the Bum’s radio. Another song worth a listen, even just to acknowledge its existence in the film. It’s sad that some of these songs have gotten over looked over the years.
4. Back in Time – Huey Lewis and the News
The other iconic song from Back to the Future. Interestingly, this song only very briefly features in the film (playing on Marty’s alarm clock when he arrives back in 1985), but is mostly own for its place in the end credits. Lewis wrote this song as a summary of the movie’s plot, heard clearly in the lyrics (“Tell me doctor where are we going this time; is this the fifties, or 1999?”). The title of the song cleverly has a double meaning, as in the film Marty McFly goes back in time when he visits the ’50s, but he also wants to get back in time to return things to normal.
This is another one of my favourites from the film. It’s just a classic jam! The song is so catchy, and I love the long instrumental breaks complete with guitar and saxophone solos. Listen to this, jam to it, and go back in time to the 1980s 🙂
One thing I discovered about this song is that it wasn’t the original choice for the film. Lewis was writing another song called “In the Nick of Time”, and presented that to Robert Zemeckis. However, that song ended up being in another film called Brewster’s Millions. It’s interesting to listen to that song and see what might have been, and hearing the clear connections to Back to the Future in the lyrics. Have a listen.
5. Mr Sandman – The Four Aces
So, now we move to the 1950s songs in the soundtrack! “Mr Sandman” appears in the film as Marty walks into the town square of 1955. For some reason this song isn’t on the original soundtrack, but it’s too iconic to the movies to not include it here. This song is so quintessential 1950s that it sets the scene perfectly for the audience. We know we’re in the 1950s now. I particularly like the use of harmonies and different vocal parts here as well.
6. The Wallflower (Dance with Me, Henry) – Etta James
This song features in the infamous diner scene, in which George tells Lorraine that he’s her “density”. This song was a big hit in 1955, topping the rhythm and blues charts, so it makes sense that the filmmakers decided to include this song. It’s just another way of making the setting of the 1950s feel authentic.
7. Night Train – Marvin Berry & The Starlighters
This is an instrumental track that features during the Enchantment Under The Sea dance. Interestingly, this song was not written for the film, like I always thought. It was originally recorded by tenor saxophonist Jimmy Forrest in 1952, becoming number 1 on the Billboard rhythm and blues charts. It featured prominently on the radio during the 1950s. This song is the perfect song to have in a 1950s dance. The rhythm and beat of the song make it easy to dance to, and the melody is very catchy. I really like this song and its place in Back to the Future.
8. Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine) – Marvin Berry & The Starlighters
A song from one of the most iconic scenes in the whole franchise of films. “Earth Angel” is the song that is played during the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, when Marty’s parents finally kiss and fall in love. Originally recorded by The Penguins, the song was re-recorded by fictional band “Marvin Berry and The Starlighters”. Harry Waters, Jr, the actor who played Marvin Berry, recalls how he was asked to record the vocals for the track. He thought that those vocals wouldn’t end up in the final product, and it wasn’t until watching the film at the cast and crew screening that he noticed his own voice! I think he does a wonderful job here, the vocals are full and strong. I really love how in the film version, elements of the score are embedded in, adding more emotion to the song and almost relief, knowing that one of the conflicts of the film has finally been resolved. In my opinion the Back to the Future version of “Earth Angel” is the definitive version by far.
9. Johnny B. Goode – Marty McFly with The Starlighters
Iconic! After playing “Earth Angel” with the Starlighters (and almost fading from existence), Marty is asked to play another song with the band. He decides to play “Johnny B Goode”, showing off his spectacular guitar skills and in the process going a bit too metal for the 1950s crowd. This scene is fantastic, and I love this arrangement of the classic Chuck Berry song. It seems to be a bit more rocky than the original, which would make sense given the influences of Marty McFly. Michael J Fox does NOT sing or play the guitar here, however he did actually learn the guitar part and is playing to the track during the film. This is why it looks so real and like he is really playing. Marty’s vocals were done by Mark Campbell, and the epic guitar solo played by Tim May. They do a great job here to really create not only a rocking version of the song but also a version makes the audience think that it really is Michael J. Fox performing. This song is great, the guitar solo is epic and it fits in perfectly with the film. No wonder why it’s so iconic!
Check out the “Earth Angel” and “Johnny B Goode” scenes here:
Well, that was my look at the Back to the Future soundtrack. So iconic, so many great jams, one of the best soundtracks of the 1980s. Have a listen to all these songs, and next time you watch the movie try and pick them out.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post, tune in for tomorrow’s post which is on the Back to the Future score!
Have a safe trip back in time gypsies,
BACK TO THE FUTURE WEEK
Day 1: Looking Back at the ‘Back to the Future’ Soundtrack