What Is Your Favorite Song From A John Hughes Movie?

Aug 7th, 2009 // 29 Comments

John Hughes, a writer/director whose stamp on the movies he was involved with was so iconic his name was turned into an adjective, passed away yesterday at the age of 59. Hughes’ heyday coincided with the MTV era, and a lot of the movies that he had a hand in—which included The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, and other totemic comedies of the 1980s—both shaped for the music tastes of the day and had scenes that could have been snipped out of movies and directly placed into MTV’s rotation. (Witness Matthew Broderick’s performance of the Beatles’ “Twist And Shout” from the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which Hughes wrote and directed.) Chicago Sun-Times pop critic Jim DeRogatis has a nice appreciation of Hughes’ love for music:

As Hughes told Greg Kot and me during a rare interview on our radio show “Sound Opinions” in 1999, throughout his time living in the Chicago area and well into his prime years as a filmmaker, he loved nothing more than haunting the racks of vinyl at the old Wax Trax record store on Lincoln Avenue in the heady days after the punk explosion yielded to New Wave and the electronic dance sounds that followed.

It was there that he first connected with many of the bands that would become staples of his soundtracks. And it was those soundtracks that opened many young listeners’ ears to music that couldn’t be heard on many radio stations at the time.

Music played a key role in all of the films Hughes directed himself, and there’s a long list of his best, most quirky discoveries and finest pairings of sound and vision: “True” by Spandau Ballet and “Turning Japanese” by the Vapors in “Sixteen Candles” (1984); “Don’t You” by Simple Minds in “The Breakfast Club” (1985); “Oh Yeah” by Yello in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986) and of course the use of the Psychedelic Furs song that gave the title to “Pretty in Pink” (1986, which Hughes wrote and produced but did not direct).

Oh man, I forgot about him unleashing Yello on the world! (I actually had “Oh Yeah” because of the soundtrack to The Adventures Of Ford Fairlane—not a Hughes movie, obviously.) Anyway, my favorite track from a Hughes flick is probably “Holiday Road” by Lindsey Buckingham, which was the theme to National Lampoon’s Vacation; Hughes adapted Vacation from a short story of his. “Holiday Road” is brief and sun-drenched, with an otherworldly quality that makes it sound like it’s been sitting in the blazing-hot back seat of a car that’s seemingly driving nowhere for much longer than its two-minute duration. (It is also, annoyingly, out of print.)

Feel free to share your favorite memories from Hughes soundtracks here. And this has been linked from all over the place, but if you haven’t seen the memoir from a fan who was Hughes’ pen pal, you definitely should.

John Hughes [IMDB]
Lindsey Buckingham – Holiday Road [YouTube]
John Hughes: Writer, Director, And Music Fan [Jim DeRogatis]

  1. OMD, “If You Leave.” Always, always, always. Love the extended mix in the Pretty in Pink prom scene.

  2. I don’t think I fully appreciated “Oh Yeah” until “The Secret of My Success”.

    I know at the time it would definitely have been Simple Minds, but now it’s the Smiths’ “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want,” which he used twice (regular and cover version).

  3. Oh and yeah, If You Leave. Dammit, that man’s taste.

  4. Awesome topic. All of mine I think are from Sixteen Candles, and I actually looked them up a few months ago because they were so etched in my brain yet I had no clue who they were(apparently a lot of other people still don’t either). Maybe some of you people could help me out.

    There’s the rad ska song at the dance.

    There’s the song that I believe is when Jake Ryan is in the coat check. It starts of with a guitar riff, then “hoo!” guitar riff then “hah!!” and repeat. Somewhere online said it was a Devinyls track.

    The song where Molly Ringwolds character is getting dressed in the very beginning, playing in the background, I believe when she’s also talking on the phone to her friend before school.

  5. Besides all of the above, I am partial to “Left of Center,” one of Suzanne Vega’s most underrated songs (on, ironically, probably one of the best-selling albums she ever graced). The lyrics read like they came straight from a Molly Ringwald character’s diary.

    I’m also surprised DeRo doesn’t mention some of the really left-of-center stuff Hughes pimped in movies like Ferris Bueller, like Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s “Love Missile F1-11″ (huge in England, a nonentity here), Big Audio Dynamite’s “BAD” (before that Clash spinoff had a hit), and the Flowerpot Men’s “Beat City.” Also, it might not seem very outré now, but including a Smiths song (“Please^3 Let Me…”) in not one but both of his 1986 movies (Pretty in Pink plus an instrumental version in Ferris) — at a time when The Queen Is Dead wasn’t even a Top 40 U.S. album — was pretty bold.

  6. My favorite uses of music a John Hughes movie are in “She’s Having A Baby”.

    “Haunted, When The Minutes Drag” by Love and Rockets and “This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush.

  7. Also: that Lindsay Buckingham video is such a time capsule; early MTV videos were such art projects! The whole thing looks like an unwitting homage (three years early) to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

  8. @Maura: Yeah. But wow, I forgot how freaky and art-damaged the clip was. (I wonder why some of the artsiest videos back then – e.g., “You Might Think” – were shot on video. I guess it was easier to do that low-rent video CGI when you weren’t working with film?)

  9. “Holiday Road” is the best and I’m glad there are other people out there who dig it. Buckingham’s solo career is consistently unsung excellence.

    And the video for Fleetwood Mac’s “Hold Me” is another of those bizarre time capsules. White horses! Paintings! Cracked mirrors! Fleetwood Mac as archaeologists in a Dali-esque desert! Fuck yeah, the ’80s!

    As for John Hughes, my favorite will always be “This Woman’s Work.” I like to think I’ve hardened significantly over the years, no longer given to emotional nuclear winters over Billy Corgan or R.E.M. songs, but that Kate Bush track makes me cry every time I play it. It is the only song to do so anymore.

    Just kidding! My favorite is really Duckie doing “Try a Little Tenderness.”

  10. i used to like the cover of Can’t Help Falling in Love by Lick the Tins (from Some Kind of Wonderful) a lot back when that soundtrack came out… but if we’re including movies he wrote or produced but didn’t direct, i will have to say my favorite by far is Beaver Patrol by Pop Will Eat Itself from The Great Outdoors (again a cover – those John Hughes soundtracks had tons of covers on them i’m realizing…)

  11. I thought there was a Prefab Sprout song in one of his movies but I can’t find it, so I’ll rep for ‘Apron Strings’ by Everything But The Girl or Kirsty MacColl’s cover of ‘You Just Haven’t Earned it Yet Baby.’

    @BradNelson: I love that Fleetwood Mac song as well as the video.

  12. I’m not sure if I can pick one track from Pretty In Pink that was better than the rest. I love the whole album.

    She doesn’t have anything
    You want to steal
    Nothing you can touch

    What a line. I was kind of bummed wen I got older and realized that what I thought was a song about the mysterious, cool women that I would (maybe) get to date when I grew up was actually (I think – PLEASE feel free to disagree) about a sad, lonely person used up by the men in her life.

  13. @MayhemintheHood:
    I think the song you are referring to is Little Bitch by the specials


  14. The Pretty In Pink soundtrack changed things. I remember it was sold out at most of the music stores in my area. It was sort of the first of it’s kind that was actually marketed the right way. A&M really did a great job of giving the soundtrack a high profile in the record stores and also getting radio to play the OMD song. MCA put out the Sixteen Candles and Some Kind Of Wonderful and pretty much didn’t promote them at all. Anyway,
    “Bring On The Dancing Horses” by Echo and the Bunnymen was the song that really stood out to me.

  15. Let’s remember that without She’s Having a Baby, there likely never would’ve been a “This Woman’s Work.” Kate Bush wrote the song specifically for the scene in which it was used, at the request of Hughes himself. I’m completely serious when I say OMG what if that had never happened? It’s one of the greatest songs ever written.

  16. @jonian2008: Excellent point.

    No one’s going to like this comparison at all (including Maura), but: Pretty in Pink the soundtrack was really the Garden State of its day, in the sense that it sold shockingly well as an album, not a collection of hits, distinct from the movie that spawned it; and as a gateway drug to what two years later Billboard would start calling Modern Rock (the same way GS became a lot of unhip teens’ and yuppies’ gateway to postmillennial indie).

    In 1986 there was no chart or major-market radio format (college radio was still emerging) for Echo and the Bunnymen and the Smiths and the Psychedelic Furs and even New Order. And while in retrospect that soundtrack is surprisingly poppy and not as challenging as I thought at age 14, it still hangs together exceedingly well as a singular vision of mid-’80s new wave/collegiate pop. (E.g., as excellent as the Duckie lip-sync scene in the movie was, notice they didn’t include “Try a Little Tenderness” on the soundtrack, because it would’ve wrecked the mood.)

  17. Thompson Twins – If You Were Here from Sixteen Candles. Such a great song!

  18. “If You Leave” gets my vote if only because we drunkenly sang it last night when the DJ put it on in tribute.

  19. Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want Instrumental by Dream Academy was a huge part of the incredible museum scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

  20. I’ll go with “March of the Swivelheads” by The English Beat (the instrumental version of “Rotating Heads” that plays as Ferris is running home).

  21. The Breakfast Club soundtrack was an audio tape I listened to obsessively all through 7th grade…..I didn’t see the movie until nearly a year later. I don’t just love the Simple Minds song–I also love Waiting (EG Daily), Fire in the Twilight (wang chung) and all of the instrumentals. Hell, one day I want to walk down the aisle to The Breakfast Club Love Theme.
    I need to thank Hughes and the Pretty In Pink Soundtrack for introducing me to, in no particular order, Echo and The Bunnymen, The Smiths, Pyschedelic Furs and, oh yes, OMD. Seriously, that album opened up New Wave to me as a preteen. I can never thank them enough.

    I also want to ask WTF? I go on vacation for ONE WEEK and have no internet/TV for seven little days, and I come back to find John Hughes died and Paula left Idol? Thanks universe! Thanks!

  22. Probably “Shellshock” by New Order from the “Pretty in Pink” soundtrack. The Smiths’ “”Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” from the same soundtrack is also a contender.

    “Love Missle F-11″ also gets an honorable mention.

  23. AR

    I’m going to go with the cover of Nik Kershaw’s “Wouldn’t It Be Good” — it’s a perfect statement of teen (and adult) angst — from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack.

    I love Holiday Road! Apparently, it was so well received that Lindsey Buckingham was asked to do more movie theme songs (Top Gun etc.) — he could have been Kenny Loggins!

  24. AR

    And, while slightly off topic, check out the Lindsey Buckingham “Slow Dancing” video from Go Insane. Also trippy, and a work of art.

  25. I’m with Doc Strange — as much as I love “If You Were Here,” “If You Leave,” “Holiday Road,” “This Woman’s Work” etc., etc., etc., the placement and use of New Order’s “Shellshock” in that particular montage in Pretty in Pink is lovely and masterful.

  26. Wow. It’s time for a John Hughes movie soundtrack box set.

  27. mike

    does anyone know where i can get a copy of the song rotating heads by the english beat?…but the intrumental version only please comment back

  28. Stasia Domenick

    Next season Spurs replace us ,Harry has sunk them into administration and we sign Scotty back on a free transfer…hopefully Karma for Carrick and Defoe!

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