30 Years Ago: ‘Pretty in Pink’ Gives an Official Soundtrack to Teen Angst
Nearly 20 years before Zach Braff won an Oscar for curating the "life-changing" Garden State mixtape, director and screenwriter John Hughes infused music and melodrama in the quintessential teen angst soundtrack for his 1986 classic, Pretty in Pink.
By that time, Hughes was already recognized as the voice of ‘80s youth after coining his signature with his 1984 directorial debut Sixteen Candles and following suit with another Brat Pack high school comedy, The Breakfast Club, in 1985. For the following year’s Pretty in Pink, Hughes brought back the veritable face of the Brat Pack, Molly Ringwald (who also starred in Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club), as the charismatic lead, Andie: the daughter of a single, working-class father who makes her own clothes and, of course, works at an impossibly hip record store. Ringwald shares the screen with her haplessly smitten, Smiths-loving best friend Duckie but ultimately falls for the Steve Lawrence record-buying boy from the other side of the tracks Blane (portrayed by Jon Cryer and Andrew McCarthy, respectively). Naturally, prom looms over all the ensuing moral dilemmas.
Following the success of Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club – which were just as memorable for their moment-defining scenes as they were for the music that backed them – Hughes understood the power of underscoring all those teen hormones with the right soundtrack. So, Hughes convinced Pretty in Pink director Howard Deutch to incorporate a soundtrack predominantly comprised of dazzling synth-pop and moody post-punk instead of using a thematic score like Deutch originally intended. Between the movie’s built-in music scenes (namely a live performance from the Rave-Ups and Duckie’s admirable lip sync of Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness”), Hughes packs in a soundtrack to follow his latest cast of high school misfits in their romantic trials.
The title of the movie is pulled from the accompanying Psychedelic Furs song of the same name. The track originally appeared on the British post-punk outfit’s 1981 album Talk Talk Talk, but the band re-recorded an updated, shellacked version for the film. While the original reached No. 43 on the U.K. charts, its appearance in Pretty in Pink shot the movie version to Nos. 18 and 41 in the U.K. and U.S.
New Order also make several appearances in the movie. The dark, enormous “Shellshock” imbues the movie’s breakup scene with the necessary emotional gravity. The song eventually hit No. 1 on the U.K. Indie Singles and peaked at No. 14 on the U.S. Billboard charts. While “Shellshock” is the only one to make the official soundtrack, the band also contributed two instrumentals for the movie: a reworked version of “Thieves Like Us” sans vocals and “Elegia,” which went on to appear on New Order’s landmark third album Low-Life.
But no one does youthful despondency quite like Morrissey, so Hughes also threw in the Smiths’ “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” to back an appropriately brooding, dejected Duckie. Hughes revisited the song in his next movie, employing a Dream Academy cover for 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
With momentum from his previous films, Hughes was also able to commission a couple of songs for Pretty in Pink. Echo & the Bunnymen delivered “Bring on the Dancing Horses” specifically for the film, while Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark wrote their definitive hit “If You Leave” for the final scene. As was the case with the iconic closing scenes from Hughes' previous movies, the climax carried the song the film would become most associated with. For Sixteen Candles, it was the Thompson Twins’ “If You Were Here.” For The Breakfast Club, it was Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” And for Pretty in Pink, it was “If You Leave.” OMD recorded the woozy number in a pinch for Hughes after he decided to change the ending after test screenings. (Originally, Andie was supposed to end up with Duckie instead of the major appliance-named Blane.) “If You Leave” took on a life of its own following its inclusion in Pretty in Pink, scoring countless high school dances to come and effectively rectifying Duckie’s assertion, “They just don’t write love songs like they used to.”