If one were to put the entire ’80s in a juicer and squeeze it, the resulting juice would be 1983’s “Flashdance.” From its story (beautiful, inner-city welder girl aspires to become a famous dancer) to its visual style (which could be termed “Neon Pastel New Wave Deluxe,” courtesy of director Adrian Lyne) to its soundtrack (which included contributions by the likes of Donna Summer, Kim Carnes, and Laura Branigan), the movie helped to define the young decade. One of its major hit singles, Michael Sembello’s “Maniac,” was one of the first videos to be composed entirely of footage from the movie it was promoting, and it resided comfortably in heavy rotation during the early days of MTV. A No. 1 hit, the tune was so huge that it’s easy to forget that it’s not the movie’s actual theme song — that would be Irene Cara’s “Flashdance… What a Feeling,” which likewise went to No. 1.
Cara’s song shouldered its way in to stand alongside “Maniac” by virtue of a dope composition by legendary, pioneering producer Giorgio Moroder, deft production by future Billy Idol and Simple Minds producer Keith Forsey, and a stunning lead vocal that ascends from a near-whisper to a belting declaration of joy and accomplishment. Speaking of accomplishment, it also pulled off a few tricks that “Maniac” could not — spending three times as long at No. 1, winning an Academy Award for Best Song, and notching a Grammy win for Cara.