Soundtrack Saturday: The John Hughes Edition

Written by Film, Soundtrack Saturday

Kelly Stitzel reveals the original inspiration for Soundtrack Saturday in her tribute to filmmaker John Hughes.

John HughesAs was the case with many people who grew up in the ’80s, John Hughes’s films were an integral part of my childhood and coming-of-age. And on August 6, when I read the news that he’d died suddenly of a heart attack, I was deeply saddened, not only because he was the first writer and director who really inspired me, but because the chance of one last really great John Hughes film being made was gone, too.

Since I first saw Sixteen Candles (1984) at the age of seven, I’ve been a loyal consumer of Hughes’s films. Though I’ve seen almost all of the movies he wrote, directed, and/or produced, good or bad, the ones I love the most are The Breakfast Club (1985), Pretty in Pink (1986), Weird Science (1985), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), Some Kind of Wonderful (1987), She’s Having a Baby (1988), and, of course, Sixteen Candles. They’re the ones I connected with the most. They’re the ones that had female characters I wanted to emulate and male characters I hoped actually existed in the real world (well, except for Weird Science‘s Chet, played by Bill Paxton). They’re the ones that featured the best music I’d never heard until I saw them.

Looking at the above list, I can’t help but think, “One of these things is not like the other.” To this day I can’t fully explain why I like She’s Having a Baby so much, since the desire for marriage and children is something I can’t identify with at all. I think it’s that it was the first Hughes movie I’d seen whose tone was noticeably more mature than the previous movies’, and I liked that I understood it, even though I was only 11. Also, I think it has one of the best, and most overlooked, soundtracks of any of his films. I don’t want to talk about She’s Having a Baby too much here since I plan to do a full post on it in the future, but I felt I needed to explain why it shows up alongside Hughes’s most beloved teen films as one of my favorites.

Now, I’m sure you’ve already read plenty of tributes since August 6, some focusing on the incredible, memorable music in Hughes’s films, and you may be reading this thinking, “Another one?” But I couldn’t not do a special Soundtrack Saturday post in his honor, since this column wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for John Hughes and his movies.

It was during a viewing of Pretty in Pink a few years ago, when I was still writing my old blog, Looking at Them, that I decided I wanted to write about out-of-print, incomplete, or forgotten soundtracks from my favorite movies — mostly because I’d always lamented that some of the best songs in Pretty in Pink never made it to the official soundtrack album. Thus, Soundtrack Saturday was born.

The thing about the soundtracks to most of Hughes’s movies is that they’re just as deliberate and fleshed-out as the plots and characters in the movies themselves. I recently read a previously unpublished interview with Hughes that Robert Cass shared with me in which he talks a great deal about the music in his movies and how he was a music snob in his younger years, shunning Top 40 radio and seeking out artists who were popular overseas, i.e. ones his peers weren’t aware of yet. His intense love of music is evident in the songs featured in most of his films, particularly the ones I’ve chosen to gush about below. The fact that he would seemingly take more pride in helping to catapult Simple Minds to fame by featuring one of their songs in The Breakfast Club than in the movie itself being successful just makes me respect him even more.

When I watch my favorite Hughes movies, I can’t help but think that the songs become characters themselves. There are songs in his movies that I can’t hear without thinking of a scene or a character from those movies; they’re forever linked in my brain, which I imagine was his intent. For example, I can’t hear New Order’s “Thieves Like Us” without thinking of the scene in Pretty in Pink where Andie (Molly Ringwald) is creating her outfit for the prom. When I hear the Altered Images song “Happy Birthday,” I always think of the sex-quiz scene in Sixteen Candles. And I can’t listen to Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” without picturing the scene in She’s Having a Baby where Kevin Bacon’s character is waiting to find out if his wife and baby made it through the delivery. In fact, that might be one of the most powerfully soundtracked scenes in any of his movies.

I’ve loved writing this column, both on my old blog and here, and I have Hughes’s movies and their amazing soundtracks — and the unfortunate circumstance of many of the songs in those movies not making it onto the soundtrack albums — to thank for it. In his honor, here’s a mix of some of the songs I love the most from his movies, songs that I’ll always associate with the films in which they appear. Some are re-ups from previous Soundtrack Saturday posts, while others have never appeared here before. I hope you enjoy, even if you think you’ve already OD’d on John Hughes nostalgia in the past week.

From Sixteen Candles:
Altered Images – Happy Birthday
Spandau Ballet – True
Thompson Twins – If You Were Here

From The Breakfast Club:
Jesse Johnson and Stephanie Spruill – Heart Too Hot to Hold
Karla DeVito – We Are Not Alone
Wang Chung – Fire in the Twilight

From Weird Science:
Oingo Boingo – Weird Science
Killing Joke – Eighties
Kim Wilde – Turn It On

From Pretty in Pink:
Suzanne Vega – Left of Center
The Rave-Ups – Positively Lost Me
New Order – Thieves Like Us

From Ferris Bueller’s Day Off:
The Flowerpot Men – Beat City
Zapp – Radio People
The English Beat – March of the Swivelheads

From Some Kind of Wonderful:
The March Violets – Turn to the Sky
Flesh for Lulu – I Go Crazy
Lick the Tins – Can’t Help Falling in Love

From She’s Having a Baby:
Bryan Ferry – Crazy Love
Everything But the Girl – Apron Strings
Kate Bush – This Woman’s Work