A time of big hair, shoulder pads and synthesizer-doused elevator music, the 1980s is a relic of a decade in which so much happened in the worlds of fashion, film and music. Legendary filmmaker John Hughes, complete with his back catalogue of movies, provides a perfect time capsule for late-generation-Y and beyond to take a pastel-tinted peek into the lives and times of the kids of the ‘80s. As a writer, producer and director with a career spanning just shy of 30 years, Hughes worked on a huge number of eclectic projects from comedy romp Planes, Trains and Automobiles to children’s classic Flubber, and then 101 Dalmatians later on in his career. It is his seminal coming-of-age movies, however, that really put Hughes in the cinematic hall of fame. One element musically linking this set of Hughes’s movies is the use of classic ‘80s pop and funk tunes that so often fall under pastiche by modern filmmakers but sit comfortably in the setting and make for some truly feel good movie moments.
The three most memorable of Hughes’s classics, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off , all have moments of sheer joy and an ecstatic, electric desperation which anyone who has been a teenager (so… that’s everyone) can relate to. The Breakfast Club’s unforgettable dance scene, where a group of seemingly unrelatable misfits put their differences apart and let all their anger out in such a positive energy, is sound tracked with Karla Devito’s We Are Not Alone. The angsty, stabbing guitar riffs and driving bass punch out with teenage rebellion and seeing the group rocking out in their own way, yet all together, is the ultimate in rebellion against social preconceptions, school, teachers, parents and anyone else who may dare to stand in their way.
Another classic dance break can be seen in 1986’s Pretty in Pink, this time featuring the endearingly desperate John Cryer as he takes the floor of the record store, miming and vogueing to Otis Redding’s classic Motown hit Try A Little Tenderness. Cryer encapsulates the anguish of an unrequited adoration and the despair of trying to make someone see how you feel. Redding’s pleading and powerful vocal offsets the masterfully performed comedy in the scene, as we see Cryer’s character tearing himself apart in front of the girl he loves, and getting nothing in return.
The most elating of these trademark film moments has to be from the much celebrated cult classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the young Matthew Broderick’s highjacking of the city parade. In a daring feat of teenage rebellion, Ferris hops aboard a parade float to treat the crowd to an ecstatically enthusiastic mime-along to The Beatles’ classic Twist and Shout. Not only one of the most joyous of Hughes’s cinematic gems, but maybe one of the most joyous moments in the history of high school cinema. If you haven’t seen this film, watch it. This scene is guaranteed to bring a smile from ear to ear every single time.
In a showcase of the sounds of the 1980s, Sixteen Candles follows the high school format of unrequited love across the popularity tables encased in a madcap comedy. From the very opening bars of the slap-bass soaked Kajagoogoo, performed by Kajagoogoo, which underscores the opening sequence of the film, the pulsing rhythm and sharp synths ooze with that unmistakable ‘80s sound, taking the viewer right back to the era and keeping them there until the film is done. The softer pop side of the decade is also showcased with the soft-edged If You Were Here by the Thompson Twins setting music to the romantic climax of the film – so much synth and so many strings score as the perfect sentimental snapshot of ‘80s love stories.
Perhaps the strangest and in turn one of the best of John Hughes’s films is the completely off-the-wall sci-fi comedy Weird Science in which two high school nerds create their perfect woman using (hilariously graphically imagined) computer programming. Once again, the foolproof combo of synthesizer and slap bass funk opens the film with Weird Science by Oingo Boingo, the US rock band fronted by film and television composer extraordinaire Danny Elfman; who also penned the song. The high neck guitar spikes and thumpingly tight horn section create a sense of disjointed intrigue and excitement which perfectly open up a very strange and interesting film.
While these films are but a mere snapshot of John Hughes’s full collection of cinematic works, the musical resonance of the teen and high school comedies and dramas always seems to ring true with the audience in some way. Whether it’s the familiar rebellion against the pressures of school and the search for popularity or the ability to revel in the joys of being young and irresponsible, there is always something in these films and their soundtracks which any viewer will relate to and take something from.