Summer rewind: Looking back at 1984

Updated 4:05 PM EDT, Mon August 11, 2014

Story highlights

Summer of 1984 was a far cry from the dystopian landscape of George Orwell's novel

Neon hues, bodacious hair and breakdance backspins ruled the season

In films like "Ghostbusters" and "Revenge of the Nerds," geeks ruled while jerks drooled

Prince, Tina Turner and movie soundtracks provided hits for the summer

Editor’s Note: CNN Living’s Summer List series brings you the best parts of summer all season! Next up: The summer of 1994.

(CNN) —  

In George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel, “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” the world is engaged in perpetual war, and citizens are under constant surveillance by a totalitarian dictator called Big Brother.

That’s, like, grody to the max, dude.

In the summer of 1984, American pop culture was at a neon-hued, hair-teasing, ghostbusting fever pitch.

In the latest entry in our Summer List series, we’re taking a look back at what made the summer 30 years ago stand out: from movie soundtracks to athletic feats to a political climate dogged by the specter of nuclear conflict.

Politics: ‘Morning in America,’ Mondale in mourning

The summer of 1984 fell smack dab in the middle of the Ronald Reagan era. With oil prices at a low and interest rates inching upward, the so-called Teflon President seemed virtually assured re-election over Democratic opponent Walter Mondale that November. Americans had been reeling from the loss of 241 Marines after an attack in Beirut, Lebanon, the previous fall, but the swiftly executed invasion of Grenada had reaffirmed the public’s faith in Reagan’s leadership.

Mondale attempted to keep images of the fallen soldiers (not to mention potential nuclear attack by unspecified foreign forces) fresh in voters’ minds, but it was no match for the sunny optimism of Reagan’s ad “America Is Back” (often known as “Morning In America“), which depicted house-buying, flag-waving, fully employed Americans going about their business. Mondale managed only to win his home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia in the election.

Music: Private dancing in the dark while doves cry

Let’s hear it for the boys. And the girls. And an epic era of movie music. The “Footloose” soundtrack, packed with powerhouse hits from Deniece Williams, Kenny Loggins and others, reached its apex right at the beginning of summer ‘84, but still pumped out of poolside boomboxes throughout the season.

Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” and Duran Duran’s “The Reflex” skipped through the spotlight before the artist formerly and currently known as Prince wrested the top Billboard spot for five consecutive weeks from July to early August with “When Doves Cry” from his soundtrack album “Purple Rain.”

Ray Parker Jr. blasted onto the Billboard Hot 100 in August with a three-week stint in the top spot for his single “Ghostbusters,” but who’d he have to call? His lawyer, apparently. Huey Lewis eventually sued the artist for $5 million, citing similarities between the chart topper and his hit “I Want a New Drug.” The matter later was settled out of court confidentially.

A 20-year-old Courteney Cox swayed onstage with Bruce Springsteen in the video for “Dancing In the Dark” – the first single from his smash-hit album “Born in the U.S.A.” But it was Tina Turner who capped off the season that September with three weeks in the No. 1 spot for “What’s Love Got to Do With It” from the album “Private Dancer.” The song was later used as the title for a film of Turner’s life story, and it marked her first Top 10 single since the 1970s – making her, at 44, the oldest solo chart-topping female artist to date.

Movies: Revenge of the ghostbusting nerd kids

It’s easy to wax (on) rhapsodic about the silver screen in the summer of 1984 – especially if you were an underdog. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and the late Harold Ramis starred as a team of misfit parapsychologists tasked with ridding New York of ghosts and meddlesome gods. The June release of “Ghostbusters” slimed the competition at the box office, while Harrison Ford took a wild mine ride into second place with “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” after its late May release.

A baby-faced Ralph Macchio leg-swept his way into moviegoers’ hearts as “The Karate Kid” under the tutelage of handyman/martial arts expert Mr. Miyagi (played by Noriyuki “Pat” Morita). The Kid stood up to Cobra Kai tyrant Johnny Lawrence, played by William Zabka, who was eternally typecast as the go-to blond bully boy of the era.

In “Revenge of the Nerds,” released in July, Robert Carradine and Anthony Edwards paired up to play academically inclined freshmen who eventually gain social supremacy over the jockish jerks of the Alpha Beta fraternity by joining forces with other outcasts, panty raiders and nose-pickers.

“Gremlins” fed moviegoers’ appetite for cutesy horror, Patrick Swayze’s “Red Dawn” became the first release to earn a first PG-13 rating for its “intensity” of violence in a fictional post-communist invasion America, and Tom Hanks threw a “Bachelor Party” that got a tad out of hand.

Prince’s “Purple Rain” went crazy at the box office and the record stores, while “The Natural” swung for the fences. The “Star Trek” franchise found its place among the season’s biggest hits with its third installment, “The Search for Spock”; and the nation’s geeks (and probably a jock or two) commenced a collective crush on John Hughes’ red-haired muse Molly Ringwald with her breakout role as Samantha in “Sixteen Candles.”

Olympics: Barefoot, bouncing, Beatrice and bumping into history

The XXIII Olympiad in Los Angeles may have been boycotted by the Soviet bloc, but China made a grand return to the Games after its last outing in 1952, taking home 15 gold medals. Mary Lou Retton (and her iconic bouncy haircut) tumbled her way into history – and the nation’s heart – by becoming the first American to win the women’s all-round gold medal in gymnastics.

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Zola Budd was nearly booed off the track as the barefoot South African runner (competing for Great Britain) collided with American runner Mary Decker during the 3,000-meter run for the gold medal, knocking her to the curb and out of competition. American runner Carl Lewis completed his quest to match Jesse Owens’ record four gold medals in a Games in 1936, but likely due to controversy over his long jump approach, fell short of the lucrative endorsement goals he’d set for himself.

The televised Games also marked the semi-creepy public reveal of the scope of the “Beatrice” brand of products, with an omnipresent commercial campaign showing the range of common household food brands manufactured by the billion-dollar processing company. “We’re Beatrice. You’ve known us all along,” the ads said. “Is that you, Big Brother?” responded the viewing public.

Street style: Floppy, bright and totally tubular

Big, loose belts, sky-high hair, workout wear, Swatch watches, neon hues, draped scarves and a surprising return to seersucker defined 1984 summer style. The tail end of the old-school hip-hop era ushered in a new wave helmed by New York-centric artists such as Run-D.M.C. and LL Cool J, and documented in the film “Graffiti Rock.” The B-Boy culture of break dancing and graffiti art had been popular in Puerto Rican and African-American youth culture since the 1970s, but suddenly, it seemed as if everyone and their suburban cousin was hauling sheets of cardboard out to the sidewalk and practicing their backspins by the mesquite grill.

TV: It was 1984. Summer was all reruns and Olympics, like, fer sure.

What are your favorite summer memories, from music to fashion? Share in the comments on Twitter @CNNLiving or on CNN Living’s Facebook page.