written by C. Shardae Jobson
I’m so late.
I’m so late.
I’m so late!
Last week, I listened to the entire Pretty In Pink soundtrack. And months ago, I finally watched the movie on HBO Go. (For awhile, VH1 played it all the time. But I never could catch it at the beginning).
All that I’ve heard about how good the ’80s teen movie and soundtrack was were correct. The soundtrack is reserved as an impressive anthology of ’80s new wave, with magazines like Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly regularly including it in their “Best Of” soundtracks list. I purely knew of Pretty In Pink because of its cast, John Hughes, and perpetual adulation for its music for years. This summer, I finally joined the fandom.
My infatuation was sparked by it being the 30th anniversary of its release this past February. It’s already been unfathomable for me to gather that 2016 marks 20 years of Arthur, Sublime, and The Fugees‘ The Score. But wow. 30 years of Pretty In Pink. It was 1986 then. The last year (after all the research I’ve done about the ’80s, and will continue to do) in that true neon decadence reigned in popular culture. That’s because heavy-hearted acknowledgment of tragic circumstances like AIDS, poverty, and the crack cocaine epidemic became more intro focus.
But I also shouldn’t imply that the good times had stopped rolling, pop culture or music-wise. Following 1986, music was maybe more of a smorgasbord than the motley of synth pop-rock and post-disco during the early half of the decade.
New Jack Swing and young adult R&B rose higher in 1988 (think: New Edition with new member Johnny Gill, former member Bobby Brown‘s solo Don’t Be Cruel, and Karyn White). Hair metal was reaching its zenith with groups like Poison and Whitesnake, (and a documentary was made in the process about this spectrum of rock’s hedonism, through Penelope Spheeris‘ Decline of Western Civilization: The Metal Years) as awoken bands like R.E.M.and U2 were delivered pensive alternative. Starting in 1987, hip-hop began releasing, even more, albums, singles, and artists that would be legendary in the years to come like Paid In Full by Eric B. and Rakim, Public Enemy‘s debut Yo! Bumrush the Show and Salt-N-Pepa. And warm, cheesy pop continued as epic moments for women in music wrapped up 1989 with Madonna‘s Like A Prayer and Janet Jackson‘s Rhythm Nation 1814.
Pretty In Pink was the end of Molly Ringwald and John Hughes’ collaborative filmmaking. For three years, with Hughes’ screenwriting talent and stab at directing, and Ringwald playing one of his lead characters, together they re-shaped the teen market with Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), and Pretty In Pink. There were the over-sexed comedies like Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Class, and Porky’s. Then there were Hughes’ films.
As an adult creator (amongst Hughes’ other screenwriting credits include Home Alone 1 and 2, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Some Kind of Wonderful), Hughes was young at heart. He was fully engaged into wanting to understand why at just no more than eighteen years of age, and as young as twelve, why adolescents treated heartbreak as gutwrenching as an adult. And failure or disappointment as the end of the world when they had a good thirty more years of experiencing flaky people and situations that will be categorically afflictive. Hughes tread teen life extremely tender footed. The Judy Blume of mainstream cinema.
What may had been most thrilling for Hughes as a writer was exploring the unique personalities he gave his imaginary friends. He gave underdogs and burn-outs their day, as arch nemeses were usually rich brats and good for nothing airheads. (Though Ringwald played a popular girl–who grew up in a span of Saturday detention–in The Breakfast Club, as did Lea Thompson in Some Kind of Wonderful. That role was originally offered to Ringwald).
The lead of Andie Walsh in Pretty In Pink is canonized as the demigoddess of “weirdo”, art school, “different” type girls everywhere. Loosely based on Ringwald herself, who stood out as the only teen queen with her distinguished red hair in the ’80s, Andie is creative, a music fiend, and total fashion plate. Though her kind of fashion get-ups are cavalier with the mixing of textures and flamboyant accessories; of course, most of her peers don’t get it. But any viewer of Pretty In Pink cognizes Andie as a true original. Same for her friend Duckie (played by Jon Cryer, who was resurrected on television through Two and A Half Men). He wore John Lennon sunglasses and a fedora with Converses.
At the core of Pretty In Pink is the story of how privileged Blane McDonough (played by Andrew McCarthy, who, sidenote, looks more wildly handsome now than he did during his “Brat Pack” days) takes a liking to Andie. And while the attraction is mutual, because both carry the factors of their opposing worlds in an Illinois neighborhood (blue-collar, wealthy; underground, standard; unique style, basic AF), peer pressure and insecurities threaten to keep them apart.
That’s all I’m going to say about the film for now for those who haven’t seen it (watch it please). But there have been shades of Pink in movies and shows since 1986 like 2009’s 500 Days Of Summer (that also prominently featured a Smiths‘ song. More on the band later in my soundtrack review below) and The O.C.
The first track off the official soundtrack is the most known of the set, “If You Leave” by the Orchestral Manoeuvres of the Dark. I think even those that recall when Pink was in theaters can’t recite the band’s name correctly. But this song is the “Don’t You Forget About Me” of the album. Kinda broody, sentimental, but instilled with a kind of “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me Yet” tortured charisma. You’d be colored a little cold-hearted to not like it “If You Leave.”
“Left of Center” by Suzanne Vega featuring Joe Jackson is terrifically cynical. As a ’90s kid, I can’t help but think of this as a godmother track to Fiona Apple and the whole Lilith Fair movement.
By far, the track I’ve repeated the most is “Get To Know Ya” by Jesse Johnson. I didn’t even know there was R&B on the soundtrack because since otherwise encircled by nine New Wave songs, those nine were all critics talked about when discussing Pretty In Pink‘s music.
Instantly I loved “Get To Know Ya.” It’s like R&B new wave. That smoky Minneapolis sound with lyrics like: “You’re not aware, but you’re part of my charade.” How did Johnson’s song go virtually unnoticed these last 30 years? I’m telling you. All reviews I’ve come across online failed to mention “Get To Know Ya” and it’s a shame. If it was good enough to make the Hughes cut, it’s good enough for all of us.
Johnson is an underrated talent of ’80s R&B himself. He was a member of The Time and in 1985 he released his solo debut Jesse Johnson’s Revue. He also produced and wrote for other artists of the decade such as Vanity‘s “Undress” for the film Action Jackson she starred in.
He remains a musician today and out of the songs I’ve heard from his catalog, “Get To Know Ya” is one of his best. In Pretty In Pink, it played for a 30 seconds in a house party scene. That was lame. But at least the full cut is on the official album.
Hughes was clearly a fan of Johnson too because he had appeared the year before on the official track list for The Breakfast Club.
“Do Wat U Do” by INXS is jukebox rock and anything with the late Michael Hutchence is a go. The fifth track is where the title was lifted from, “Pretty In Pink” by The Psychedelic Furs. The song originally came out 1981 and was on their album Talk Talk Talk. Ringwald was a fan of the band and brought this to Hughes’ attention who liked what he heard while in pre-production of the movie it would inspire.
The Furs re-recorded and remixed it for the 1986 soundtrack. During an interview with MTV, for a Pretty In Pink premiere special, Hughes commented that they were a band that didn’t compromise. In his opinion, their outlook or way of music making was “harder and harder” to find in that, at the time, day and age. Can you believe that was said in 1986! So much good–great–music was still being released and about to be (If Erasure‘s The Innocents hadn’t been released until 1988, they certainly would’ve made the soundtrack cut). The music of the 1980s, in any genre, still rock any playlist or party today. Hughes’ opinion is more applicable thirty years later.
“Shell Shock” by New Order rockets with the band’s classic sense of astral goth pop. The repeated words of “It’s never enough” just seep into your brain until you realize the song is over. I’ll be honest in that the song initially felt like it nine minutes when I first heard it.
Belouis Some contributed “Round Round” and that is followed by my second favorite song off the soundtrack: “Wouldn’t It Be Good” by the Danny Hutton Hitters. I always lose my words when my ears come across a fantastic song. Just like “Get To Know Ya”, this one was just hitting all the musical spots. Because I listened to this on YouTube, I discovered that the version for Pretty In Pink was actually a remake of Nik Kershaw’s original 1984 release. They’re both great.
A favorite band of the outsider kids of the ’80s, Echo & The Bunnymen offered their beautiful “Bring on the Dancing Horses” and it was specifically written for Pretty In Pink.
The Smiths’ “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” is the finale. It’s as heartbreaking as it sounds. Lead singer Morrissey is a lot of things that can be boxed as irascible. But dammit, that guy sure knows how to evoke and encapsulate pain from the inside out with his vocals and songwriting. It’s even more effective in being under two minutes.
I was willing to purchase the anniversary edition of Pretty In Pink on vinyl. It’s selling point was that the music was remastered onto a gorgeous pink picture disc. But I headed over to the always dependable Cheap Thrills record store in Dedham, Massachusetts instead to get the original analog pressing for that true blue 1986 feel.
I recently had the pleasure of talking about the impact of Pretty In Pink with Tim, an employee of another amazing record and vinyl shop, Mystery Train, in Gloucester, Massachusetts. We got on the subject because I was looking for The Breakfast Club soundtrack and he recalled not seeing it for a few weeks in Train, but that he had preferred Pink‘s music over it. He excitedly disclosed that the film meant a great deal to him and that it introduced and guided him to the music he still loves today because of its New Wave strong tunes. He also co-signed my belief that “Get To Know Ya” is absurdly overlooked and that Johnson is an awesome talent.
I thought it was very telling that as a guy, who was a teen when Pink was released, treasured a film and soundtrack with a red-haired girl as the protagonist and inspiration. Tim confirmed how iconic and lasting Pretty In Pink is. We all can somehow see ourselves in characters like Andie, Duckie, and maybe even Blane. And with such a great soundtrack alongside these characters, Pretty In Pink is a rarity package of teen honesty in which an adult can appreciate years later.
“The music in Pretty In Pink was not an afterthought. The tracks on this album and in this film are there because Howie Deutch and I believe in the artists, respect the artists and are proud to be in league with them. Endless thanks to them all and to David Anderle, the best friend and ally anyone venturing into the blur of film music could ever have.” -John Hughes, 1986
Today, August 6, marks seven years since Hughes passed away, of a heart attack, in 2009. Pretty In Pink remains a classic in its own bright right.
Let’s continue honoring it in making sure “they” *DJ Khaled voice* know that they didn’t break us.