Today we remember a talented writer who was for some years a big mover & shaker in Hollywood. Wait… isn’t this still a music blog? Yes it is, but when you’re talking about John Hughes, music was a part of everything. The writer/director/producer was born this day in 1950.
Although a star in the motion picture field, he once told MTV “I’d rather make music if I had the talent.” He said that as a youth his heroes were “Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Picasso because they each moved their particular medium forward.” He was actually born and spent his early years in Michigan, but his family moved to Chicago (setting of almost all his movies) when he was in Grade 7. He felt awkward and alone…”until the Beatles came along. Changed my whole life. And then Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home came out and really changed me.” Presumably it was here he developed his eye and feel for teenage alienation…and the essential part music played in their lives, all of which flowed through his iconic movies like The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
He came about his career rather haphazardly, beginning writing ad copy and some jokes for comedians like Rodney Dangerfield. That got him a spot on the National Lampoon magazine staff as a writer, which in time allowed him a shot at writing movie scripts. Their Class Reunion. From there he began a whirlwind of activity through the ’80s, writing and at times directing and producing films including the aforementioned ones, Sixteen Candles, She’s Having a Baby, Some Kind of Wonderful and by the following decade box office smashes like Home Alone. If one common thread that seemed to run through most of them was young people struggling with the pressures of growing up, another even more pervasive one was the great use of music through them.
Marilyn Vance, who was part of the film crew for a number of his films remembers that. “The music he chose, especially for Pretty In Pink…just altered everything…the character in the script, it just brought it to life. He’d say ‘I’m going to drop in this music into there and he’d play it and it was incredible!” He concurs. “To have a song work for the movie, it can’t just be written apart and shoved in. It’s got to come out of the action. It’s got to talk about the characters. I don’t look at the album as a marketing tool, because if you do that, then you’re going to fail.”
He must’ve been on to something as his soundtracks live on long after the ones for bigger box office smashes have been relegated to dusty closets and 50 cent yard sale bins. The first significant teen movie he made with his ingenue, Molly Ringwald, 16 Candles came out with a five-song EP. But three of those tunes were popular – the existing “Gloria” by Patti Smith plus the title track performed by the Stray Cats and “If You Were Here” by the Thompson Twins. The movie itself featured new or almost new tracks from the likes of Paul Young (“Love of the Common People”), Spandau Ballet (“True”), Stevie Ray Vaughan and Nick Heyward’s brilliant “Whistle Down the Wind” as well .
He upped the game with Pretty in Pink – the title coming from a Psychedelic Furs tune they re-recorded for his soundtrack – with it producing new hits from New Order (“Shellshock”) , Suzanne Vega with Joe Jackson (“Left of Center”) and Echo & the Bunnymen (“Bring on the Dancing Horses”) as well as returning the Furs to the charts with the title track. For many Americans, it was their first introduction to them and Echo. Recently Huffington Post listed it among the “15 Film Music Compilations That’ll Change Your Life.” As to what the Furs thought about all the attention, Richard Butler, the singer, said Hughes “God rest his soul” misinterpreted the song. “He got the wrong end of the stick. He made it literally about a girl that was wearing a pink dress and it wasn’t about that at all…me saying ‘pretty in pink’ meant somebody who is naked! Given that, the movie did us a lot of good.”
He didn’t put as much new music into the Saturday-in-school hit The Breakfast Club, what he did caught our attention. “Simple Minds worked for the Breakfast Club,” Hughes said later, “in the context of the film. Even if you never bought the record. We didn’t put that song on there to sell records. We put that song on there because it was a part of the movie. You couldn’t take that song out of that movie.” Well, unless it was perhaps to play it on the radio. It blew the Scottish band’s career into the stratosphere going to #1 in North America (in the U.S. they’d never even had a chart hit before that) and earning them platinum discs in Canada and Britain. Fittingly, Don’t You Forget About Me is the title used for a documentary about Hughes and a book of essays about his movies.
Sadly, Hughes died of an unexpected heart attack while out for a walk in 2009. He was 59. But thanks to characters like Ferris Bueller, Andie and Ducky, Claire and Bender and moreover thanks to songs like “Pretty in Pink” “If You Leave”, “Whistle Down the Wind” and “This Woman’s Work” (from his 1988 movie She’s Having A Baby) living on, rest assured… we won’t forget about you, John.