The high school films of John Hughes were some of the first to understand and define an entire generation in the 1980s. What makes them classics for the coming-of-age even to this day? Their soundtracks – from “Sixteen Candles” to “Some Kind of Wonderful”, John Hughes wrote films about and for real teenagers and was known for using music they were actually listening to. Blast back to the ’80s with our picks from the soundtracks that still sound like classic high school angst today.
1. Don’t You Forget About Me – Simple Minds
It may seem practically obligatory to open this playlist with this song, but the song that opened and closed “The Breakfast Club” (1984) and that is now inseparable from its legacy has earned it. Tell me you can listen to it and not think of John Bender punching his fist in the air, while Brian in voice-over tells the teacher that at the end of the day, they are just, “a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal”.
2. 16 – Kajagoogoo
An iconic opening to the film that began Hughes’ legacy in high school movies, this song introduces the world of high school in “Sixteen Candles”. It was even iconic enough to get used in this year’s “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before”.
3. Beat City – The Flowerpot Men
In “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, Ferris takes his friends on a tour of Chicago in a stolen Ferrari as this song plays. Its rollicking beat and high energy accompanies their building excitement at being liberated from the tyranny of high school for the day. At that moment, we all wanted to be Bueller instead of stuck in PE, too.
4. Thieves Like Us – New Order
This hit from New Order was the perfect way to accompany the scene in “Pretty in Pink” when Andie works to make her dress in preparation for the prom. It is perfect for the montage scene of all characters preparing to attend prom, in particular for Andie’s feelings going with Duckie despite the ridicule of rich kids and her pining for Blaine.
5. Bring on The Dancing Horses – Echo and the Bunnymen
This excellent track from Echo and the Bunnymen plays in “Pretty in Pink” when Blaine nervously approaches Andie in the music store and Duckie watches jealously. Written for the film along with “If You Were Here” (see below), it is one of the band’s best songs to date.
6. Try a Little Tenderness – Otis Redding
Already one of Redding’s most iconic, this song reached an undeniable status in pop culture in “Pretty in Pink” thanks to its use in the scene when Duckie dances in the music store, trying to impress Andie. Jon Cryer does deserve part of the credit for making it the moment it is.
7. Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want – The Smiths, The Dream Academy
This must have been a favorite of John Hughes, as it was used in both “Pretty in Pink” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, covered by two different bands. The Smiths’ mournful version is used to underscore Duckie’s unrequited pining for Andie in his bedroom in “Pretty in Pink”. Later in “Bueller,” the instrumental version of Dream Academy’s cover was used in one of Hughes most personal sequences as the kids explore the museum, and Cameron has an existential crisis staring at “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat.
8. Shellshock – New Order
A dark, synth-heavy song, “Shellshock” scores “Pretty in Pink”‘s inevitable midpoint breakup scene between Blaine and Andie. The song eventually hit No. 1 on the U.K. Indie Singles and peaked at No. 14 on the U.S. Billboard charts.
9. Can’t Help Falling in Love – Lick the Tins
Every John Hughes film has that climax song when the main couple finally realize they need to end up together. In “Some Kind of Wonderful” it’s this quirky cover of the Elvis Presley classic that’s playing during the final clinch, as Keith embraces Watts. An odd cover, but it perfectly fits the offbeat pair as they walk off together.
10. We Are Not Alone – Karla DeVito
Yes, “The Breakfast Club” has a dance sequence. As such, this song makes its own legacy as the film nears its conclusion and each of the characters let go of their previous inhibitions after having gotten closer than any of them expected. Cheesy? You bet. But it’s fun anyway.
11. Fire in the Twilight – Wang Chung
Another pop rocker from the soundtrack for “The Breakfast Club”, “Fire in the Twilight” helps build the momentum of the sequence when the kids are running through the high school avoiding Vernon. Not as well remembered as the band’s other hit “Everybody Have Fun Tonight”, it nonetheless fits the soundtrack perfectly as the kids find an unexpected connection in rebellion. It helps that every shot in this part is iconic.
12. If You Leave – Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark
In the halls of high school movie fame, this one occupies a special place in our hearts for the moment in “Pink” when Blaine ran after Andie to declare his love and gave us the climax we either wanted or just tolerated. Whether or not you were behind this resolution of the film’s love triangle, it was an unforgettable climax and song from OMD that dominated the radio and high school proms for years after.
13. If You Were Here – Thompson twins
“Sixteen Candles” may have defined the final clinch moment now considered necessary in every high school movie with this song, that creates the classic romantic climax. Jake Bradley comes to find Sam at the church, takes her home in his car and kisses her over that cake on that table, and we all collectively set unrealistic expectations for life from that moment on.
14. True – Spandau Ballet
Of course, this one ends up here. Thousands and thousands of teens have probably slow danced to this song by this point. It’s impossible not to feel the atmosphere of this one though, first appearing in “Sixteen Candles” when Samantha tearfully watches Jake dancing with his girlfriend. Naturally, it has made many appearances in shows and movies since and could be considered the theme song of ’80s high school nostalgia.
Natalie Hanson can be reached at [email protected] or @NatalieH_Orion on Twitter.