Soundtrack Spotlight: Pretty in Pink

The Big Three: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink. These were the movies that helped all of us who were in junior high or high school in the ‘80s survive. All three were directed by John Hughes and all three have remained firmly entrenched in our nostalgic consciences. It can be fun to rate these movies and debate which was best; I’m sure many of us have done this (my rating: 1. Breakfast Club 2. Sixteen Candles 3. Pretty in Pink).

Now let us reconsider that rating and only take into account the soundtracks. It is clear, and widely reported that John Hughes felt very strongly about the music he placed in his film. He wanted the music to reflect similar emotions and ideas that the characters in his film did. (Quick side note: for some great insights on Hughes and his films, pick up and read You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried by Susannah Gora). The typical Hughes soundtrack was full of songs that, at first, were not considered mainstream nor were they recorded by artists that sold particularly well – until they appeared on the soundtrack. Considering soundtracks alone, I must consider 1986’s Pretty in Pink the winner.

The musical genre of this album is considered New Wave, and while there had been a few New Wave hits on the American charts, this musical genre had no real mainstream popularity, unlike it did in Europe where five of the tracks charted. I had some friends who tried their best to get me to listen to New Wave music like the Cure and Depeche Mode- all attempts failed. Other than a few hits like Don’t You Want Me by the Human League and Obsession by Animotion, I never really paid attention to any real New Wave music until this soundtrack. As good as this soundtrack is, it only had two Top 40 hits in the United States, those being If You Leave and Pretty in Pink.

Track Listing:

If You Leave – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (#4) – This is the monster hit that put both this soundtrack and, for a while, this band on the American pop music map. The video for this single featured both the band and plenty of clips from the film, and by this I mean plenty of clips that featured Molly Ringwald. This song is just plain good, not only making perfect sense in the movie, but also capturing an emotion that most of us have felt. The singer is pleading, “If you leave, don’t leave now / Please don’t take your heart away / Promise me just one more night, then we’ll go our separate ways.”

[Courtesy Of] EMI Music

Left of Center – Suzanne Vega – This great song represents an early appearance by Vega, before she hit it big with Luka and Tom’s Diner. She was not an unknown in England where her debut album reached #11. This album failed to reach the ears of most Americans, so this single was the first taste that most listeners has of Vega. It is a perfect fit for this film that features several characters who do not fit in with the rich, popular group. They can be found, “. . . left of center, off of the strip, in the outskirts, in the fringes, in the corner . . .”

Get to Know Ya – Jesse Johnson – Hit that bass drum and establish a beat- cue the synths – sing, “I had my eyes on your for such a long time” and you have a catchy song with a strong dance beat. Solid song.

Do Wot You Do – INXS – I had already bought and memorized INXS’s earlier album Listen Like Thieves. I really liked it, so when I was reading the track listing on back of the Pretty in Pink cassette and saw that the band had a song here, I was excited. I was pleased to hear it sounded just like the other songs on their album – strong rhythm guitars and great vocals by Michael Huchnence.

Pretty in Pink – The Psychedelic Furs (#41) – Title tracks should be good; most see them as inspirations for them film or vice versa. This song matches those expectations. This song has that clear guitar driven New Wave sound with clear keyboard support. The song was originally released in 1981 and re-recorded for this film. While the title has a clear connection to the film, lyrically there is not much connection.

Shellshock – New Order – I can’t quite explain why, but this is my favorite song on the soundtrack. I think it is the intro. I clearly remember the first time I listened to this song. I bought the cassette on the way home from school and waited until that evening to pop it into my walkman. I was really enjoying all of the songs, but this is the only one I stopped – rewound- and listened to a few times in a row (remember this was way more difficult than it is today with a CD or a digital player). The opening keyboards caught me right away. The song builds and maintains a great beat throughout. Even today, as I listen to the soundtrack again (and again), I eagerly anticipate this song and I am not let down- I still love it.

Round, Round – Belouis Some – “So I keep believing that you and I could change the world” – not a bad lead in to the chorus. This is a catchy tune with an upbeat tempo, an optimistic outlook, and a surprisingly addictive rhythm guitar – good song.

Wouldn’t It Be Good – Danny Hutton Hitters – I had accidentally become a pretty big Nik Kershaw fan (check out his albums Human Racing or The Riddle) and I am 50/50 on cover songs, but I really like this one. This version is faithful to the original even if the vocals do not quite live up to Kershaw’s. The sentiment of the song remains – a true lack of understanding what others struggle with and how they deal with it. This clearly fits into the film quite well: think Ducky. Besides, who has never felt like this: “I don’t want to be here no more”?

Bring on the Dancing Horses – Echo & the Bunnymen – This song has some of my favorite lyrics on the soundtrack: “Shiver and say the words of every lie you’ve heard / First I’m gonna make it, then I’m gonna break it / Till it falls apart / Hating all the faking / And shaking while I’m breaking your little heart”

Please Please Let Me Get What I Want – The Smiths – I honestly have never been a big fan of The Smiths- despite the urging of many friends. I have tried – really – but I just have not been able to get into them. I do like this song, though.

As I revisit the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, I am pleasantly reminded that there really are no bad songs. Each one stands on it’s own – with or without the film. It possesses the same motifs and themes of the classic John Hughes movie. It is at the same time haunting and uplifting leaving listeners with the uneasy feeling of needing to reconsider how we fit into the world we live in.

Soundtrack rating: 1. Pretty in Pink (by far) 2. Breakfast Club 3. Sixteen Candles

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