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11+ Famous Instrumental Hits of the '80s

As a Baby Boomer, I grew up in the '60s and '70s, finishing up college in the '80s. Occasionally, I like to share some nostalgia.

Remember the Instrumental Hits of the '80s?

Music changed in the '80s—punk, new wave, electronic music, hip hop, and more really hit their stride. These changes even began to show up in the instrumental hits of that time period.

As you look at these non-vocal hits, you will hear electronic keyboards, Moog synthesizers, and even turntable techniques and hip hop influences. For this reason, some of these hits were particularly popular in dance clubs. However, both the big and small screens had a heavy influence on our music as well. Many of the other instrumental hits of this period came in the form of theme songs on popular television shows and films.

Below you can sample some of the most popular instrumental tunes from the '80s.

1. "Axel F"

Like many instrumental hits of the '80s, "Axel F" was featured in a popular film. 1984's Beverly Hills Cop was the first of several movies that focused on the antics and crime fighting of Axel Foley, played by Eddie Murphy.

"Axel F" was written and performed by Harold Faltermeyer and hit the charts in 1985. It's an electronic piece, which can be heard below.

2. "Love Theme" From St. Elmo's Fire

The 1985 movie St. Elmo's Fire produced a couple of musical hits. One was a vocal called "Man in Motion" (performed by John Parr). The other hit was an instrumental (by David Foster) that is known as the love theme. It has, of course, been recorded since, including vocal versions.

3. Hill Street Blues Theme

This instrumental hit came from a very popular television show in the U.S. versus a film. It was the theme song from Hill Street Blues, a police drama that ran for several years, starting in 1980.

The song was written by Mike Post and can be heard below.

4. "Route 101"

Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass became popular in the 1960s and on through the '70s. The group disbanded, but then Alpert reformed a group in the early '80s. One of the hits that came from this was "Route 101," which hit the charts in 1982.

Like so many instrumentals, you may not know the song by its name, but if you listen to it, it will likely be familiar.

5. "Chariots of Fire"

The movie Chariots of Fire won numerous awards in 1981, including an Academy Award as well as honors at Cannes. The film included a new composition by Vangelis as the theme. Like the film, the electronic music of the theme song was very popular with audiences.

6. "Crockett's Theme"

There were a few popular tunes to come from the television show Miami Vice. The show's theme song was popular but so was the song later known as "Crockett's Theme." The song enjoyed success in Europe as well.

This instrumental was composed by Jan Hammer and can be heard below.

7. "Peter Piper"

The '80s did have a few instrumental hits that were not merely a theme in a popular movie or television show. This song is one example. In 1980, Canadian pianist Frank Mills' "Peter Piper" performed well on the charts, although not as well as his earlier hit "Music Box Dancer."

You can hear this tune below.

8. "Rock It"

Herbie Hancock's "Rock It" was a big instrumental hit in 1983. This song introduced turntable techniques and scratching, in particular, to a mainstream audience. It was a huge hit in dance clubs across the country.

Below you can hear it performed.

9. "Silhouette"

Saxophonist Kenny G released "Silhouette" in late 1988, and it was a hit. This instrumental earned him a Grammy nomination in 1989.

10. "Sirius"

"Sirius" is an instrumental recorded by the Alan Parsons Project in 1982 on the album Eye in the Sky. It is played as a stand-alone tune or as an introduction to the song, "Eye in the Sky." It has since been used in movies, television, and at athletic events so it is sometimes recognizable to those who weren't even around at the time of its release.

11. Themes From Magnum P.I. and L.A. Law

Like many hit instrumentals from the era, this one is the theme for a television show. It comes from Mike Post who also had success with theme songs from Hill Street Blues, The Greatest American Hero, The Rockford Files, L.A. Law (which you can also hear below), among others.

© 2010 Christine Mulberry


Lisa on April 06, 2020:

I've been looking for St. Elmo's fire love theme for ages. Thank you so much!

Bear on April 19, 2019:

No Art Of Boise Moments In Love or really many of their hits should be on here.

Christine Mulberry (author) on February 06, 2018:

Summer Madness was great, but it was from the 90's I think.

Grog on August 13, 2017:

Totally left out Kool and the Gang's 'Summer Madness'

Steve on August 04, 2017:

Paul Hardcastle's "RainForest" is quite an omission from this list....

charliecrews38 from Melbourne, Australia on February 17, 2014:

nice list, i particularly enjoy axel f and other tracks from beverly hills cop by harold faltermeyer, and crockett's theme from miami vice

Brinafr3sh from West Coast, United States on November 07, 2011:

The 1980's is a great time to remember of all the good hits. I know this hub is about instrumental hits, I like Herby Handcock hits as well. But I still like the songs of Cindy Lauper, Boy George, Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, Run DMC, and Atlantic Star. Would these 80s hits still be awesome if they were non-vocal?

Janice S on March 25, 2011:

Thanks for the stroll down memory lane. Great hub!

funmontrealgirl from Montreal on March 22, 2011:

Love and appreciate this hub.

Susan Hazelton from Northern New York on February 23, 2011:

Wonderful trip down memory lane. It's amazing how clearly you can remember music.

April Seldon from New Orleans on January 25, 2011:

Oh my God, your hub are so awesome, I was just a child when I watch this stuff on tv, all these memories caught my heart, I never seen that movie Chariots of fire though, that bought tears to my eyes.Thank you so much for sharing this.

Tony on January 14, 2011:

I know some of these, might know the rest if I could listen to them. No speakers at work though. maybe tonight... Good memories - it seems so long ago now - hard to believe.

Sandy Mertens from Wisconsin, USA on December 21, 2010:

I am just a vintage person. I love these hits.

Dallas W Thompson from Bakersfield, CA on December 20, 2010:

Memories. Thanks!

irenemaria from Sweden on December 20, 2010:

This was a stroll down memory lane for me! Most of the music was in my younger ears.=) Thank you!