Soundtrack Saturday: “Desperately Seeking Susan”

Written by Film, Soundtrack Saturday

The latest installment of Kelly Stitzel’s Soundtrack Saturday series revisits a kinder, gentler time of bangles and bustiers — yes, that’s right, it’s time for Desperately Seeking Susan.

When I was a kid, there were two standing arguments about pop stars among my circle of friends: Madonna vs. Cyndi Lauper, and Michael Jackson vs. Prince. My choices back then were Madonna and Prince.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like Cyndi or Michael; I just preferred the risque edge that Madge and Prince had. I was obsessed with the videos for “Borderline” and “Lucky Star” and, like many girls who were Madonna fans in the mid-’80s, I wanted to dress like her and wear my hair like her — and my mom let me! Well, for Halloween anyway. When Desperately Seeking Susan came out in 1985, I begged my parents to take me to see it, but that didn’t happen. It only had a PG-13 rating, but it was “too adult” for a seven-year-old to see in the theater, or some such bullshit. So, I had to wait until it came on Skinemax a year later to see it.

In director Susan Seidelman’s film, bored New Jersey housewife Roberta (Rosanna Arquette) keeps track of the escapades of a woman named Susan (Madonna) and her boyfriend, Jim (Robert Joy), through the personal ads they use to communicate with each other. One day she decides to observe a rendezvous of theirs in New York City, but a bump on the head and a case of amnesia later, Roberta thinks she’s Susan and ends up on the run from some mobsters who are looking for the real deal. The suburbia-meets-big-city element provides a predictable plot device as Roberta’s square husband, Gary (Mark Blum), and his obnoxious sister, Leslie (Laurie Metcalf), begin looking for her and Gary meets the real Susan. Meanwhile, Roberta begins a new romance in her amnesiac state with Dez (Aidan Quinn), a film projectionist and friend of Susan’s boyfriend. The two women finally meet when they’re chased by a hit man who’s after some Egyptian earrings they have in their possession. Reviews I’ve read have called Desperately Seeking Susan a screwball romantic comedy, but I don’t really think that’s an accurate description.

The movie created quite a stir when it was released since it was Madonna’s debut as an actress (unless you count A Certain Sacrifice). While she doesn’t technically play the lead, she got all the media attention, though Arquette did get a Golden Globe nomination and won a BAFTA for her performance. For someone whose film career has been hit-or-miss ever since, Madge turns in a pretty decent performance in Desperately Seeking Susan. Of course, her character isn’t much of a departure from the image and personality she herself presented to the public in those days — just look at the poster — so the role really isn’t much of a stretch. According to the IMDB, Diane Keaton was being considered for the role of Roberta, while Ellen Barkin and Goldie Hawn were being considered for Susan, before the filmmakers decided on Arquette and Madonna. Also, Bruce Willis auditioned for the role of Jim before landing the role of David Addison on Moonlighting. How different Susan would’ve been if any of those actors had been cast.

The soundtrack album, which only seems to be available as a split release with the Chaz Jankel score for Seidelman’s 1987 follow-up, Making Mr. Right, includes the score composed by Thomas Newman but none of the songs from the film, most notably Madonna’s MTV hit “Into the Groove.” Interestingly enough, the version of the song that appears in the film is a demo, not the version eventually released as a single. I’m providing you with the score as well as all the songs in Desperately Seeking Susan that were never released as part of the official soundtrack. You know, so you can dance — for inspiration. (Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week.)

Madonna – Into the Groove
Junior Walker & the All-Stars – Urgent
Betty Everett – The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)
Iggy Pop – Lust for Life
Run-D.M.C. – Sucker M.C.’s (Krush Groove 1)
Dee Dee Sharp – Mashed Potato Time
The Fixx – One Thing Leads to Another
Carly Simon – You Belong to Me
Aretha Franklin – Respect
Marshall Crenshaw – Someday, Someway
Thomas Newman – Leave Atlantic City!
Thomas Newman – Port Authority by Night
Thomas Newman – New York City by Day
Thomas Newman – Through the Viewscope
Thomas Newman – St. Mark’s Place
Thomas Newman – A Key and a Picture Of
Thomas Newman – Battery Park/Amnesia
Thomas Newman – Jail/Port Authority by Day
Thomas Newman – Rain
Thomas Newman – Running With Birds in Cages
Thomas Newman – Trouble Almost

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