It’s hard to find a soundtrack these days without a song from some up-and-coming indie band, but that wasn’t the case twenty years ago. In the ’80s movies often showcased big name pop acts, so when John Hughes included a song from a little known U.K. act in the opening scene of The Breakfast Club it made waves through the music and movie communities.
The song, Don’t You Forget About Me, not only gave Simple Minds their first and only number one hit stateside, it transformed Hughes from a talented director to pop culture trend-setter.
“A lot of directors just threw in tunes because they sounded good, but Hughes chose songs that meant something to a scene or a character,” says Michael Perlmutter, a Toronto-based music supervisor with Instinct Entertainment. “He was one of the first modern day soundtrack gurus.”
Plenty of other bands also found success after appearing in a Hughes movie — The Smiths in Pretty in Pink, Yello in Ferris Bueller’s Day off to name two — but more importantly the director is, arguably, responsible for making new wave the soundtrack to the ’80s.
“Hughes was breaking bands,” says Corey Marr, a Toronto-based producer whose new film, Passenger Side, and its eclectic soundtrack, will make its Canadian debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. “He wasn’t going into back catalogues (of popular acts) — a lot of that synth pop was new.”
Besides discovering new music, Hughes’ ability to marry scenes with sounds was revolutionary in itself.
“For Hughes, the music and the movie were one and the same,” says Marr. “Listening to one of his soundtracks was a logical extension to his movies.”
“He found the right tunes for the right scenes and somehow captured the entire pulp culture in three and a half minute songs,” adds Perlmutter.
While Hughes’ movies and musical choices still have an enormous impact in pop culture today, a lot of directors haven’t paid as much attention to their soundtracks as he did.
Marr says that movie scores are still record label marketing tools, but there are a few directors like Cameron Crowe, Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson who use the “John Hughes method” of creating soundtracks.
And that method, Hughes told MTV news in 1986, means a song “can’t just be written apart and shoved in. It’s got to come out of the action. It’s got to talk about the characters, not the story, it has to augment that action.”