Between Sixteen Candles in mid-1984 and She’s Having a Baby in early 1988, John Hughes directed and/or executive-produced (not to mention wrote) eight movies prominently featuring music. But of those, only two produced particularly successful soundtrack albums — and the best one, Pretty in Pink, celebrates its 30th Anniversary on February 28.
Hughes deserves credit for chronicling middle American suburban coming of age during the middle-Reagan years — and a good deal of credit for breaking a certain style of New Wave in America
In 1985, propelled mainly by the previously rather artsy Scottish band Simple Minds’ chart-topping semi-ballad “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” the instrumental-padded soundtrack to Hughes’ high school Saturday detention blockbuster The Breakfast Club reached No. 17 in Billboard. A year later, Pretty in Pink’s album deservedly did even better, hitting No. 5 with help not just from its class-and-clique-conscious plot but from two songs from likewise semi-artsy British bands — electro-poppers Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s Top 5 “If You Leave” and Psychedelic Furs’ cleaned-and-saxed-up re-recording of their once punkier, half-decade-old “Pretty in Pink” itself, which just missed the U.S. Top 40.
Both soundtracks featured other mopey U.K. New Wavers (Wang Chung, The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen), not to mention one song each by Prince and Time-associated funk guitarist Jesse Johnson. And both movies, of course, starred Molly Ringwald — as the popular and preppy Claire Standish in The Breakfast Club and the craftier and less well-off record store employee Andie Walsh in Pretty in Pink — Ringwald had, of course, first worked with Hughes in Sixteen Candles.
Hughes’ movies have mostly managed to maintain a decent critical reputation over the years
What’s surprising in retrospect is that, though Sixteen Candles featured plenty of the sort of trendy haircut Anglophile music that would become a Hughes staple (and its title even serves a bridge between a 1958 doo-wop smash by the Crests and a 1995 post-grunge hit by Sponge), for all intents, it had no soundtrack album — just a five-song vinyl EP that never charted and almost nobody bought.
Maybe even stranger, Hughes’s biggest film from the period, 1986 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, a movie with a box office tally that exceeds $70 million, had no soundtrack album at all – even though, again, the movie itself featured all sorts of tunes, maybe most memorably “Oh Yeah,” by Switzerland’s weird, goofy, proto-techno duo Yello.
In fact, the third most successful soundtrack from Hughes’s mid ‘80s output, was the one for Some Kind of Wonderful — an almost certainly less remembered 1987 teen movie which, like Pretty in Pink, was technically directed by Howard Deutch and filled with yet more New Wave-y Brits (Jesus and Mary Chain, Flesh for Lulu, ex-Buzzcock Pete Shelley and March Violets), the album got to No. 57 in Billboard.
Soundtracks for 1985’s geeky Weird Science (complete with Oingo Boingo title tune) and 1988’s grown-up She’s Having a Baby charted considerably lower; the one for 1987’s nearly $50 million-grossing Planes, Trains and Automobiles — the comedy where Hughes stopped focusing on adolescence — was released and contained typical Anglophile fare, but didn’t chart at all.
If Rotten Tomatoes is to be trusted, these movies have mostly managed to maintain a decent critical reputation over the years — except for She’s Having a Baby (34 percent) and Weird Science (56 percent), they all check in with scores of 79 percent or higher.
And Hughes, who had grown up in affluent Michigan and Illinois suburbs (and who would have turned 66 earlier this month had he not succumbed to a heart attack in 2009), doesn’t merely deserve credit for chronicling middle American suburban coming of age during the middle-Reagan years.
Although nobody mentions it as much, he probably deserves a good deal of credit for breaking a certain style of New Wave in America: a kind where guitars sounded like synths or vice versa, a kind that often seemed over-serious at the time but now somehow feels almost refreshing, a kind to help lonely teens imagine they weren’t so alone.