I’ll never forget when I saw Xanadu in the theaters in 1980. Sure, it featured a bunch of roller skating muses, but this wasn’t no roller disco movie! Not a disco song to be found on the soundtrack. The vivid neon colors, the fashions, and the keyboard-saturated tracks by Electric Light Orchestra were all signs of what was to come in the decade ahead. The “electric” sound of their song “I’m Alive,” which opens the movie, accompanies the digital age visual of the muses, surrounded by sizzling halos of light, as they pull away from their graffiti art likenesses on a brick wall on the street.
The movie seems so self-aware about ushering in the new decade (not to mention prophetic). Andy Gibb clone Michael Beck makes a self-proclamation about the modern sounds he wants for his purely 80s club, which serves as the introduction to the song “Dancin,” in which innocent and virginal pre-Physical Olivia Newton-John does an old-skool-meets-new-skool duet with The Tubes—who would score their biggest hit a few years later as part of the new wave movement with “She’s A Beauty.” While Olivia’s big band segment is lip-synched by three “Andrew Sisters” types in the film, the electro rock segment featuring the Tubes is drenched in neon lights, with the camera focusing heavily on electric guitars, keyboards, and scantily clad women in tight spandex and leather. This often scorned film was a pioneer! Here’s a clip of ONJ actually performing as all three women on Midnite Special with the Tubes. Just doesn’t have the same effect as it was presented in the film:
Next we have…no, not Tron. A year before that, there was Looker. This 1981 sci-fi thriller, written and directed by Michael Crichton and starring Albert Finney and Susan Dey (goodbye 70s), focuses heavily on the world of fashion modeling and its obsession with perfection (Wow. That was a prophecy of Nostradamus-sized proportions).
The main plot of the movie is that this evil company (don’t they always have to be evil?) has created a computer that can determine how to make a woman’s features flawless…as long as she gets the surgery to fix those digitally detected flaws. However, what the computer is really doing is creating cyber women based on the anatomy of the real women! Bwah hah hah!
But there’s a much deeper mystery here as beautiful models begin, um, jumping out high-rise apartment building windows on a regular basis after seeing mysterious flashes of light that seem to hypnotize them and make them lose all sense of time. What would happen if the technology of digitally generated people on TV was combined with an ability to hypnotize people with light? It would be a recipe for world domination I would say.
The real 80s treasure here is the “Looker” theme song. This icy synth vocal rocker with seductive female vocals has a pulsing electronic riff that screams 80s soundtrack song. The track is as perfect as the women in the movie. For the film, the song is performed by never-had-a-hit recording artist Sue Saad (I wish her lone album would be reissued on CD!), and it was covered by Kim Carnes a few years later. The Sue Saad version is still the best.