“(You Got) The Touch” & the Legacy of 80s Action Movie Power Ballads

Songwriter Stan Bush reflects on his legendary ‘Transformers’ tune on its 30th anniversary

Throughout the 1980s action movies were a staple in Hollywood — much like comic book movies are now. And in a lot of cases, these movies very specifically dealt with one person overcoming great odds to fulfill their potential of becoming the best at what they do—whether that was a martial artist, a boxer, or an Air Force fighter pilot.

These movies were about the underdogs.

Although they were fun to watch, what we tend to remember most are the soundtracks; specifically, the rock anthems that accompanied each film. And if there’s anyone who knows about movie rock anthems, it’s Stan Bush.

It’s Saturday afternoon and Bush has spent the day cleaning his house in the northwestern suburb of Los Angeles called Woodland Hills. He’s been keeping busy these days touring and making music for a new album that’s coming out next year.

Bush has been working regularly in the music business for almost 40 years, but he hit his prime in the 1980s with several songs that were featured in movies like The Wraith, Bloodsport, and Kickboxer. But he’s best known for his song, “The Touch” which appeared in the 1986 animated classic Transformers: The Movie. And he’s been getting a lot of attention lately because of the film’s 30th anniversary and its release on Blu-Ray this week.

‘Transformers The Movie’ Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, reissued on etched, color vinyl in 2015

As we chat on the phone, we talk about his career, what Transformers means to him and the lost magic of movie rock anthems.

Stan Bush is originally from Gainesville, Florida and moved out to Los Angeles with his band Helix in the late 1970s. When they landed a record deal, Bush and his band changed their name to Boulder, trying to become the next Steely Dan. Not long after realizing their strength was in pop rock, the band broke up and Bush went solo. He eventually got signed with Scotti Brothers Records, which specialized in movie soundtracks. Bush was paired with Lenny Macaluso and they wrote a few songs for an album called Stan Bush and Barrage, which featured ‘The Touch.” The song was inspired by a line of dialogue in the 1986 film Iron Eagle, starring Louis Gossett Jr .— but it was originally meant for something else.

“You may have heard this but we originally wrote ‘The Touch’ with the Stallone movie Cobra in mind,” he tells me.

I had not heard this.

I mention my disbelief to him, trying my best to imagine such an iconic song so strongly associated with one of my favorite childhood toys in a movie like Cobra. Of course, it will always be associated with Boogie Nights as well, as Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler character used the tune to champion his music career…

However, it wasn’t until Scotti Brothers got the rights to an animated movie based on an afternoon children’s show — which was based on a shape-shifting robot toy line from Hasbro called Transformers: The Movie — that fame started to find Bush.

When Transformers was released in theaters in August 1986, movie rock anthems were already taking hold of America’s inspiration-hungry youth, with Joe Esposito’s “You’re the Best Around,” from The Karate Kid, Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” from Top Gun and John Farnham’s “Thunder in Your Heart” from Rad. And do I need to even mention Survivor’s work in both Rocky III and Rocky IV? Hell, might as well include all of the Rocky movies, because, let’s face it, the film franchise helped create this genre.

Sometimes, the best movie rock anthem simply has no words.

In most cases, there was a certain, undeniable machismo to these movie songs; probably because these movies were marketed toward adolescent boys. Yet, 30 years later, they defy age or gender. They have become part of THE SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES.

When “Eye of the Tiger” plays on the radio, it’s hard not to imagine the training montage in Rocky III. Or, when “Danger Zone” plays on the radio, who doesn’t think of Maverick flying his F-14 Tomcat in an aerial dogfight in Top Gun? That’s because these songs not only did a great job in helping to define these classic scenes, but they spoke to us. They told us that deep down, we could do it! We could overcome whatever hardships we were facing and that on the other end of our struggle we would absolutely — without question — emerge victorious.

But for me and many others around my age, the pinnacle of the movie rock anthem is the moment in Transformers when Optimus Prime says, “Megatron must be stopped, no matter the cost.” As the keyboard intro to Bush’s ‘The Touch” begins to play, Prime transforms into truck mode, drives away at full speed, and mows down Decepticon after Decepticon on his way to square off against his arch enemy — and then dies shortly thereafter. “The Touch” has become iconic, synonymous not only with the Transformers franchise but with growing up and watching action movies in the 80s.

Stan Bush, you’ve got the touch, even after all these years.

“I have so many people tell me how that song somehow impacted them in a positive way whenever they have a period where they felt down or whatever, they would play that song and it would just help them overcome things,” Bush tells me.

By the 90s, college radio, rap and grunge music were becoming mainstream and Hollywood relied less on the anthemic quality of rock music to help sell their movies. Instead, films such as Boyz in the Hood and Forrest Gump featured music that reflected more on the times and the settings in which the characters interacted, rather than the emotional toils of being the underdog.

For Bush, he spent the 90s touring with acts like Survivor in Germany and continuing to make his epic rock anthems. But it wasn’t until the 2000s and the rise of the Internet when he began hearing about the following he was accruing from his work with the Transformers movie. And when he started making appearances at BotCon — the annual Transformers convention held in Louisville, Kentucky — that he really began embracing his association with the Optimus Prime and company.

“The people who went to those, a lot of them didn’t even know that I had this whole other body at work,” he tells me. “…it’s been kind of cool, the Transformers is just a part of what I’ve been associating with musically. I’m not getting rich or whatever, but the important thing is being able to continue as an artist and do what I do. But then again, it’s cool to be known for something, it’s like a-whatever-works kind of thing. It’s a crazy business.”

“The Touch” and songs like it reminds us that we all have the potential for greatness. And we don’t need a Matrix of Leadership to fulfill it. The power is within us. Or at least, that’s what I’ve learned from listening to all of those movie rock anthems.

“It’s just really cool stuff to hear, as an artist, that maybe you have some positive influence in the world, says Bush, before we end our conversation. “There’s so much negativity, and maybe it’s corny or whatever, but it’s neat to have a song that makes you feel good.”

For more about what Stan Bush is up to these days, visit his website.

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