Back to the Future spans two very different time periods, but the soundtrack allows you to experience both even if you don’t have a souped-up DeLorean. If you were one of those who went out and bought the soundtrack – and plenty did, because the album spent 19 weeks on the Billboard Top 100 – you got hits from both the 1950s and the 1980s.
And in case you’ve forgotten, here are the songs that appeared in the movie and helped define whatever era Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) happened to be cruising through.
1. "Johnny B. Goode" by Marty McFly and the Starlighters
It’s not only the most iconic musical moment in Back to the Future, it’s also maybe one of the best scenes in the whole movie: Marty plays the Chuck Berry hit “Johnny B. Goode,” three years before Chuck Berry wrote and recorded the tune in 1958. Thank this scene for introducing the phrase "ontological paradox" to a more mainstream audience.
2. "The Power of Love" by Huey Lewis & The News
The soundtrack to our first-ever look at Hill Valley, “The Power of Love” was the first No. 1 hit for Huey Lewis & The News. When Marty’s band auditions for his high school’s battle of the bands, it’s actually Lewis himself playing the judge who deems Marty’s band to be “just too loud.”
3. "Back in Time" by Huey Lewis & The News
The one problem with “Power of Love,” however? Its title made no reference to the movie it was associated with – and as Cyndi Lauper will tell you, this was the thing to do back in the day. Consequently, a second Huey Lewis song was added. This one plays over the movie’s end credits and was later used as the theme song to the Back to the Future animated series.
4. "Earth Angel" by Marvin Berry and The Starlighters
Sung memorably by Marvin Berry (Harry Waters Jr.), “Earth Angel” was first recorded by L.A. doo-wop group The Penguins in 1954. It actually would have been a fairly current hit when the “back in time” scenes take place in 1955. It’s been covered many times, but how many other versions feature a guy’s hand slowly turning invisible as a result of a time paradox?
5. "Mr. Sandman" by The Four Aces
Also first recorded in 1954, “Mr. Sandman” provides the soundtrack for Marty’s “through the looking glass” moment when he first realizes he’s gone back in time 30 years. It’s a good fit: What better way to suggested datedness than a song in which female singers mention Liberace in the context of being a viable romantic candidate?
What’s Cyndi Lauper’s Favorite ’80s Song?
6. "Heaven Is One Step Away" by Eric Clapton
Red the Bum is listening to this Eric Clapton song when Marty returns to 1985. You don’t hear it for long, but it was enough to merit a spot on the soundtrack. For a lot of young Back to the Future fans, it was this 1985 track that turned us on to Clapton’s amazing catalog.
7. "Night Train" by Marvin Berry and The Starlighters
Proms today lack quality saxophone solos like this one – as do live bands, too, for the most part. This track provides the soundtrack for the amazingly awkward dancing of George McFly (Crispin Glover). The original version by Jimmy Forrest was released in 1952.
8. "The Wallflower (Dance with Me, Henry)" by Etta James
This Etta James classic is playing in the diner scene, when Marty walks in, spots the jukebox and gets even further confirmation that no, it is not 1985 anymore. The song was a hit for James back in 1955.
9. "Pledging My Love" by Johnny Ace
What a romantic song to be playing during a scene in which Lorraine (Lea Thompson) shares a tender kiss with her time-traveling son from the future! This 1955 R&B tune features the lyrics “Forever my darling, my love will be true / Always and forever, I’ll love just you.” Good thing it turned out not to be the case for everyone involved. Listen to the full version here.
10. "Time Bomb Town" by Lindsey Buckingham
You only hear it for a second – it’s one of the songs Marty’s alarm clock radio plays – but it’s a good track, and we’re always happy to give Lindsey Buckingham (of Fleetwood Mac fame) a shout-out.