Twenty-one years ago, if wasn’t just the kooky dialogue or fashion that stuck with me from Clueless. Its official soundtrack is equally as disarming.
Before the screen read “Clueless” in the packed movie theater I was in, The Muffs‘ “Kids in America”, a guitar-pop, contented jam, featuring the extremely crushed rocks vocals of its lead singer, Kim Shattuck, rolled in preparation of the California kids being California kids montage: hanging by the pool, driving in jeeps, going shopping. Normally, such a scene would’ve rendered as vapid to viewers. But here it streamed as unapologetic fun.
Music was central to Clueless and its become clearer in the years since the 1995 comedy has been christened a ’90s classic and a glittering gem of 20th-century film. (Written and directed by Amy Heckerling, who also scribed 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, she oddly went on to have a low profile in Hollywood. Having occasionally directed television episodes and smaller films, she’s currently involved in the musical adaptation of her aforementioned “existential” showpiece).
Some of Clueless’ funniest scenes were introduced by or included familiar tunes. Such as when Murray, played by Donald Faison, nearly strutted towards his girlfriend Dionne (Stacey Dash) and her bestie Cher (Alicia Silverstone) in baggy jeans to Salt-N-Pepa‘s “Shoop, shoop de doop, shoop de doop…” Or before that, when Cher selected clothes through a computer program that contained pictures of her entire wardrobe, in addition to a revolving bar within her closet (most likely a tribute to the 1985 film Girls Just Wanna Have Fun in which this futuristic manner of picking out the outfit of the day originally occurred for Girls’ character Natalie Sands). And as the Beverly Hills teen settled on the now time-honored yellow, black, and white plaid skirt set, David Bowie‘s “Fashion” quietly approved in the background. The most emblematic scene, involving music, was when the very missed Brittany Murphy, as Tai, gleefully shook herself at a party “in the Valley” to Coolio‘s “Rolling With The Homies.”
A majority of the music I heard in Clueless, I still haven’t heard anywhere else. And I treasure that about the soundtrack. The hilarious scenarios and the music are defined by each other and great movie soundtracks do just that. You don’t play a song off of Saturday Night Fever without thinking of John Travolta in that grungy dance studio or the local club in his polyester suit in Brooklyn. And it’s because of Pretty Woman, “King of Wishful Thinking” by Go West is forever ingrained in my category of fantastically cheesy, so damn good pop songs. The list goes on. “Don’t You Forget About Me.” “I Will Always Love You.” “Iris.” “Kiss From A Rose.” “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” I think the first soundtrack I personally regarded was Grease. Today, packaged soundtracks aren’t as big at all. Up until at least the year 2002, consumers were as eager to cop the latest movie soundtracks as they were regular releases by top and just about to blow acts. But that was also because these compilations were good. Even if you hated the film it was attached to. I despised Garden State (though I commended Zach Braff‘s filmmaking debut effort). But I’m sure glad he included Frou Frou‘s “Let Go” in it. Music is still created with a film in mind, such as Lady Gaga‘s “Til It Happens To You”, but usually released as singles.
This year, I finally bought the Clueless soundtrack, now accredited as “cult” for its surprisingly well put together mix of jocose throwbacks, delirious dance tracks and rock acoustics. Instead of getting the standard compact disc, I chose to make the most out of one of my top childhood memories and bought the special edition vinyl. Sides 1 and 2 are covered in a picture disc of yellow plaid, similar to Cher’s ensemble. (And this particular vinyl was exclusively manufactured for Urban Outfitters. Naturally). That rainy night when returned home with it, I immediately placed it in the record player, ready for it to be 1995 again. And I’m always ready for it to be 1995. (Though in retrospect, it was all about the CD player back then).
In 2015, blogs eagerly wrote introspective reviews of the fourteen set track list in commemoration of Clueless‘ 20th anniversary. For Stereogum, their writer figured that the soundtrack: “For older fans, it’s a throwback, and for younger ones like myself, it encapsulates an era that we missed out on.” (Girl, let me confirm the phenomenon of the mini backpack for you). Billboard uncovered that there were covers of tracks from the 1960s and ’70s. Like Flamin’ Groovies “Shake Some Action” that was inflated with alternative rock but held the same Venice Beach vibes, by the group Cracker. “All the Young Dudes” was written by Bowie (very evident in the original) and sung by Mott the Hoople in 1974. But for ’95, it became glorified grunge with an amplified chorus through the band World Party. (In the film, it perfectly played right at the start of Cher’s diatribe on not understanding “how guys dress today.”)
The soundtrack remains a highly good time. “Here (Squirmel Mix)” is an underrated, firecracker track by the undervalued trio of Luscious Jackson. It was a fantastic find by Clueless‘ main music supervisor Karyn Rachtman. Another major score was Radiohead‘s “Fake Plastic Trees“, and Clueless presented the purely acoustic version of the group’s original song from their acclaimed album The Bends. It’s subtle bad-ass coolness at its ’90s finest when one of the most revered bands found its way onto the musical platform of a deliciously campy movie. Thankfully, it was also queued up effectively when Cher came to a crossroads.
“Change” by Lightning Seeds ran for literally a minute but was hard to forget. Charged up when Cher reached queendom at Bronson Alcott High School, the lyrics celebrated individuality and freedom. I especially loved the lyric of: “You’re never going to be like all those fools. You’re coming out tonight.” The lyrics were sung with great bliss by lead singer Ian Broudie. The track is rivaled by the flagrantly euphoric “Alright”, performed by Supergrass.
There are some underwhelming selections too and I’m referencing “Mullet Head” by the Beastie Boys and “Need You Around” by Smoking Popes. “My Forgotten Favorite” by Velocity Girl is good but I myself forget about it unless I’m listening to the soundtrack. Same goes for Counting Crows‘ “The Ghost In You” which is also satisfying enough.
Clueless gave viewers a jolt of big ass trumpeted ska music with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. The band played themselves as the headliners at a party Cher and her sort of boyfriend Christian went to. Formed in Boston, the Bosstones had been making music since 1983. Their time had come when Heckerling yearned for them to record for the soundtrack (“Where’d You Go”) and also make a cameo. “Where’d You Go” was from their 1991 EP of the same title. Pumped up for its 1995 rebirth, the results were a blast.
Heckerling recently joked that “Supermodel” may had “been the death” of Jill Sobule‘s career. Sobule was notable (and still so) for her song “I Kissed A Girl” (The original sentiment was later masked by Katy Perry‘s own 2008 interpretation. But Perry was a lot more gratuitous than thoughtful). And similar to that unexpected hit, “Supermodel” was bouncy. In the film, it played during a pivotal point: the dawn of Cher and Dionne’s “project” of transforming Tai from awkward stoner to a Contempo Casuals Betty. The lyrics were like a parody of every other young woman’s dream of being beautiful and coddled because of it. But it was additionally sincere in its wishes of: “I’m going to be a supermodel. Every one is going to dress like me. Just and see.” It was a clear reflection of the supermodel influence, then in 1995 at its height, and ruled by the glamazonian likes of Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, and icon for the ages, Kate Moss.
And the one song missing from the official soundtrack listing?
Watching it now, No Doubt‘s “Just A Girl” doesn’t escape the ears. It’s on as Cher drove herself to Dionne’s house before school in one of the beginning clips. But at the time of Clueless’ filming in 1994, the band were unknown, their debut had flopped, and they had completed their sophomore disc Tragic Kingdom.
Rachtman discovered No Doubt during her time as VP of soundtracks at Capitol Records, the same label the Southern California fivesome-cum-quartet were on. As revealed during an interview with Flavorwire, while the head of Capitol, Gary Gersh, approved of “Just a Girl” in the film, he refused to have it be on the official track list. Clueless was released in theaters in July 1995. “Just a Girl ” two months later. Tragic Kingdom went on to place No Doubt on the musical map and has gone diamond in sales, aka, ten million records sold, in the U.S. alone.
For years, I’ve also wondered why General Public‘s “Tenderness” was nowhere to be found on the tracklist. The 1984 song was chosen for the ending credits. I have yet to forget its dreamy composition. I still play it from time to time on repeat. I now however see that the soundtrack, though paid homage to the decades before, especially the 70s, aimed to be fitted for the 1990s.
The Clueless soundtrack embodied the ’90s colorful era of music that was both hard and soft. The songs are timeless not because they can compete against Purple Rain or A Hard’s Day Night. The fourteen tracks have stood the test of time twenty-one years later because they are true to the film’s indisputable quirkiness. And the remixing of said tracks from rock’s past are unique. For fans, their emotional ties to the bygone days of plaid skirts, The Cranberries on MTV, and when cell phones were still a just some creative’s crazy idea of communication, are the days all of us wish we could still come back for.
And here’s hoping it never says “R.S.V.P.” on the Statue of Liberty.”