Since the death of director/writer John Hughes last week, there have been many tributes on how his half-dozen Brat Pack movies of the ’80s so realistically articulated the thoughts and fears of high school kids. No mindless slasher plots or Porky’s clones here. Instead, Hughes’ films offered some gentle life lessons in ways that weren’t condescending or preachy.
And let’s not forget how these movies — Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful — all produced soundtracks that provided a serious musical education to the kids who would soon grow up to be grunge-y Gen-Xers. A soundtrack to a Hughes movie opened doors for both listeners and performers alike.
The list of then-new U.K. bands from these soundtracks reads like a “who’s who” of the ’80s: The Smiths, OMD, the Psychedelic Furs, Spandau Ballet, New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Specials, Billy Idol, Flesh for Lulu, the English Beat, Big Audio Dynamite, General Public. For many North Americans, their first exposure to these groups came courtesy of a John Hughes movie.
Where the right existing song couldn’t be found, it was commissioned. Keith Forsey — Donna Summer’s old drummer and the Oscar-winning co-writer of Flashdance … What a Feeling — was asked to provide a title song for The Breakfast Club. He offered the performance to both Bryan Ferry and Billy Idol, both of whom turned it down. When he gave it to his distant third choice, Simple Minds turned “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” into a worldwide No. 1 hit and the biggest song of their career.
Hughes also had a soft spot for an L.A. band called Oingo Boingo, using them in almost all his Brat Pack movies. Now leader Danny Elfman is one of Hollywood’s most prolific scorers of films and TV programs, not to mention the author of the theme for The Simpsons.
If you ever find yourself wondering what the mid-’80s sounded like, rent a John Hughes movie. Or better yet, see if you can find the soundtrack CDs. The only exception is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which never saw a companion soundtrack because Hughes thought that the mix of music used in the film was too weird. Too bad, too, because it was the best-ever use of the Beatles’ version of Twist and Shout.
– The Ongoing History Of New Music can be heard on stations across Canada. Read more at www.ongoinghistory.com and www.exploremusic.com