'It’s A Sin' — all the 1980s music to enjoy in the new Channel 4 and HBO Max drama

Olly Alexander in It's A Sin.
Olly Alexander in It's A Sin. (Image credit: Channel 4)

It’s A Sin follows the lives of four gay friends living London at the height of the 1980s AIDS epidemic. C4’s joyful yet heartbreaking five-parter, written by Russell T. Davies, features a cast of relative newcomers and established stars, such as Keeley Hawes, Stephen Fry and Neil Patrick Harris, and includes a heady mix of the fashions, politics and music of the era.

Kicking off in 1981, the drama follows wannabe actor Ritchie Tozer (Years and Years singer Olly Alexander), party boy Roscoe Babatunde (Omari Douglas), long-haired Ash (Nathaniel Curtis), shy Welsh lad Colin Morris-Jones (Callum Scott Howells) and Jill Baxter (Lydia West), who start sharing a flat they call the ‘Pink Palace’. 

As the boys enjoy everything that London has to offer, which mostly includes lots of sex and outrageous partying, news of a mystery illness - HIV/AIDS - hits the headlines and casts a devastating shadow over all their lives.

Central to It’s A Sin is a wonderful soundtrack, especially if you’re a fan of 1980s music, which features in the background as the highs and lows (and there are some parts that’ll leave you an emotional wreck!) play out in the lively five-parter. 

Here’s our rundown of some of the 1980s biggest tracks you'll hear in It’s A Sin

It’s A Sin by the Pet Shop Boys

The song seems to perfectly sum up what the gay lads are going through, as they’re frowned on by most in a very intolerant society led by the ultra-moral right wing Conservative government of Mrs Thatcher (who will make a brief and hilarious appearance in episode four!). 

This title track for the series was a hit for British duo the Pet Shop Boys (Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe) in 1987, although it was actually written five years earlier in 1982 from their poky basement studio in London’s Camden Town. It features in scenes in a pub in a later episode set in 1988 when Ritchie Tozer goes to a pub’s juke box and puts on the song. You can watch this in the first It’s a Sin trailer launched late last year… 

Enola Gay by Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark (OMD)

This anti-war song is playing in the background at the start of the series as Ritchie Tozer leaves his childhood home on the Isle of Wight and says goodbye to his parents (played by Keeley Hawes and Shaun Dooley) to take the ferry to the mainland before going on to London. Enola Gay was a hit for British group Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark (OMD) in 1980 and was about the B52 US plane (nicknamed 'Enola Gay’ by its pilots) that was used to drop the atomic bomb Little Boy on Hiroshima in August 1945. The captain, Colonel Paul Tibbets, chose the name after his mother Enola Gay Tibbets. 

With lots of synth electric piano and bass guitar, it was groundbreaking for pop at the time. The single was a worldwide hit, reaching No.8 in the UK. It also topped the charts in Spain and Italy. Personally I remember this song being on the juke box at a local sports club which ranked tracks according to the number of times played…and Enola Gay was top for ages! See OMD performing Enola Gay right here:

Feels Like I’m In Love by Kelly Marie

One of the last massive disco hits in Britain, this hit made No.1 in the UK in 1980 before disco’s popularity faded from the mainstream. Disco music, however, remained popular among gay clubbers in the 1980s at top nightspots like Heaven in London (which features in the drama). Feels Like I’m in Love is a still favourite choice of wedding DJs to get the crowds of all ages on to the dance floor. Scottish singer Kelly Marie, born Jacqueline McKinnon, was often flanked by what must be two of the campest dancers ever when performing on television (see clip below). The song crops up in It’s A Sin when Roscoe storms out of his family home after the homophobia shown towards him by his Nigerian parents. Here's a reminder of how catchy Kelly Marie's song is...

Tainted Love by Soft Cell

What better song to be playing during scenes at a gay London nightclub than Tainted Love? Could any drama about gay life in the 1980s really be without it? Now a definitive gay anthem, the cover version reworked by synth-duo Soft Cell (Marc Almond and David Ball) made it to No.1 in Britain and 17 other countries in 1981, and made it to No.8 in the US. The song was originally a hit in 1964 for American singer Gloria Jones, the girlfriend of glam rock star Marc Bolan at the time of his death in 1977. Enjoy Soft Cell’s Tainted Love again right here...

Reward by The Teardrop Explodes

There are lots of sex scenes in It’s A Sin and one of the first has this song playing in the background as most of the main cast gets it on! The Teardrop Explodes were a post-punk/psychedelic group from Liverpool, and their success launched the career of frontman Julian Cope. Reward was released as a single in early 1981 and is the band's biggest hit, peaking at No.6 in the UK. Here’s the song: 

Hooked On Classics by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra 

The first episode of It’s A Sin features what are probably the raunchiest and most graphic sex scenes on British telly so far. Yes that’s right! We’ll leave you to judge for yourself, but make sure any prudes are in another room. The whole sequence is played out to Hooked on Classics, a surprise hit from 1981, reaching No.2 in the UK and No.10 in America. Recorded by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios in London, it features classic pieces by many of the great composers such as Beethoven, Rimsky-Korsakov, Bizet, Rossini and Tchaikovsky all to a catchy pop beat!

Call Me by Blondie

There’s a student house party where the lads get up to all sorts and Call Me by Blondie is put on the decks to dance away the night to. The song was the title track to the 1980 movie American Gigolo starring Richard Gere. Produced by legendary Giorgio Moroder, it was a No.1 hit in the US for six weeks in 1980, and topped the charts in the UK, too. Blondie’s lead singer Debbie Harry wrote the melody and lyrics to reflect American Gigolo being about a male prostitute. Enjoy Blondie’s video right here: 

Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat

No song sums up It’s A Sin better than this Bronski Beat hit about a young gay lad (lead singer Jimmy Somerville in the video) being shunned by friends and family and having to make a new life elsewhere. In It’s A Sin, there’s a brawl as the song plays. Smalltown Boy was released in 1984 as part of the band’s debut Age Of Consent album. It reached No.3 in the UK and scored success through most of Europe. It was a No.1 US dance hit. Enjoy Jimmy’s video here:

When can we see all the music in It’s A Sin?

The five 60-minute episodes will begin on Channel 4 on Friday 22 January at 9pm and all episodes will then be available on the On Demand service All4 after the first Channel 4 episode is shown. It’s A Sin will later air in the US on HBO Max.

Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus Whattowatch.com. I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.