John Hughes‘ films like The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pretty in Pink helped define ’80s pop culture, from fashion to humor and the way people talked. He also had a huge influence on music, filling his soundtracks not with US Top 40 songs but with new wave artists from the UK, including Simple Minds, New Order, The Smiths, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Thompson Twins, The Psychedelic Furs, OMD, The Dream Academy and more. It’s not hard to argue that the soundtracks have aged better than some of his films — though they are also bits of ’80s amber — and music may be his biggest legacy.
One of the more frustrating things about John Hughes movies was that often the best songs in them didn’t actually end up on the official soundtrack albums. Or in the case of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, they never released a soundtrack at all, despite saying there was one in the film’s end credits. (There was a belated, incomplete soundtrack release in 2016.)
That’s what makes the just-announced Life Moves Pretty Fast – The John Hughes Mixtapes box set so welcome. Working with John Hughes’ son, James Hughes, and music supervisor Tarquin Gotch, the 6-LP / 4-CD set collects 74 of the best, most-wanted songs from John Hughes’ ’80s films, both the ones he directed (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Planes Trains & Automobiles, She’s Having A Baby) and ones he wrote (Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, National Lampoon’s Vacation, The Great Outdoors, more). It’s not 100% complete, though, and there may be a few songs diehard John Hughes fans wish were here, like The Beatles’ version of “Twist and Shout” that was so memorably used in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and was probably too expensive to obtain (it’s also not exactly rare).
With all that in mind, here’s a short list of the most welcome inclusions on Life Moves Pretty Fast – The John Hughes Mixtapes. None of these selections were on the original soundtrack albums. We also picked a few omissions too. Head below for that list.
The Flowerpot Men – “Beat City” (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
The only official release from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off at the time was a 7″ single sent to members of the John Hughes Fan Club containing two songs recorded for the film: The Flowerpot Men’s “Beat City” and Blue Room’s “I’m Afraid.” The latter is pretty forgettable, but “Beat City” is awesome, somewhere between ’80s goth and surf, with a twangy riff, a driving traincar beat, and melodramatic vocals. Almost the whole song gets used in the film, soundtracking Ferris, Cameron and Sloane’s drive to Chicago in Cameron’s father’s ’60s Ferrari. This song was never released anywhere else.
FX/Hulu series The Bear, which is set in Chicago, paid tribute to John Hughes by using “Beat City” in the Season 1 finale.
The Dream Academy – “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want (Instrumental): (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
Best known for their 1985 orch-pop hit “Life in a Northern Town,” The Dream Academy had two songs in Ferris Bueller: “The Edge of Forever” and an instrumental cover of The Smiths’ “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want.” (The Smiths’ version is in Pretty in Pink.) They had released a vocal version of “Please Please Please” as a single, but the instrumental version on the b-side is so much better and plays over the film’s most affecting montage, set at the Chicago Art Institute where Cameron gets lost in George Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.”
The Revillos – “Rev Up”
Scottish new wave band The Rezillos pulled from ’50s and ’60s rock n’ roll, surf and garage rock by way of The B-52’s, with a huge love of sci-fi and trash cinema worked into their aesthetic. They broke up in 1978, but some of the members immediately formed the very similar named, similar sounding The Revillos. “Rev Up” can be seen as their signature song, and it’s one of their best, most infectious tunes that all but demands you ’80s-style dance to it. It was used early in the party sequence at Jake’s house in Sixteen Candles, but didn’t make it onto the soundtrack. Not much did: for a movie absolutely packed with great songs (Oingo Boingo, The Specials, Spandau Ballet), the album only had five stracks.
Propaganda – “Abuse [Here]” (Some Kind of Wonderful)
The official singles from Some Kind of Wonderful were Flesh for Lulu’s “I Go Crazy” and Lick the Tins’ Celtic cover of “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” but arguably the most memorable music in the film is this instrumental version of German arty synthpop band Propaganda’s 1984 debut single, “Dr Mabuse.” Produced by Trevor Horn (ABC, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Seal), it sounds absolutely massive with its thundering drums and hooky synth bassline. It gives Some Kind of Wonderful (which was essentially a role-reversed Pretty in Pink) a darker edge. While very, very ’80s, “Abuse [Here]” still sounds amazing.
The Rave-Ups – “Positively Lost Me” (Pretty in Pink)
L.A. band The Rave-Ups came to the John Hughes universe via frequent star Molly Ringwald, whose sister Beth was dating frontman Jimmer Podrasky. In Sixteen Candles she has “RAVE-UPS RULE” scrawled on her Trapper Keeper, and then she got the band to appear in Pretty in Pink at the club she, Jon Cryer and Annie Potts go to. (The bouncer is Andrew Dice Clay.) They perform “Positively Lost Me,” their best known single and one of the lost alt-rock hits of the ’80s. It’s the most glaring omission on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack.
The Beat – “March Of The Swivelheads” (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is absolutely packed with memorable montages soundtracked to very cool, hard-to-find songs. The end sequence, with Ferris racing home through his neighborhood’s backyards, trying sneak back in bed before his parents arrive, is one of the funniest sequences in the film, and much of its madcap energy is supplied by this dub version of The (English) Beat’s “Rotating Head” (from their 1982 album Special Beat Service). The manic horns and shouts of “OWW” could not be more perfect for Ferris bouncing via trampoline over his neighbor’s fence.
And here are a few songs not on The John Hughes Mixtapes that should’ve been:
General Public – “Taking the Day Off” (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
The (English) Beat were one of John Hughes’ favorite bands, and when they broke up, he continued to use the two splinter groups — General Public and Fine Young Cannibals — in his films. Life Moves Pretty Fast does include General Public’s classic 1984 single “Tenderness” (used in Weird Science), but leaves out the defacto theme music they recorded for Ferris Bueller, which is used when the gang are chilling in Cameron’s pool near the end of the film. Synthy and slight, It’s admittedly not the strongest piece of music in the film, but it should’ve been included.
E.T.A. ft Steve Martin & John Candy – “I Can Take Anything (Love Theme From Planes, Trains And Automobiles)”
Meanwhile, Hughes got Fine Young Cannibals’ Andy Cox & David Steele to record music for Planes, Trains and Automobiles. “I Can Take Anything,” which did appear on the film’s official soundtrack, uses samples of Steve Martin and John Candy’s dialogue from the film and mashes them into electro jam of big beats, big riffs and sampled scratching. It’s fun and a lot like what they did with their FYC-offshoot Two Men, A Drum Machine & A Trumpet.
New Order – “Thieves Like Us (Instrumental)” (Pretty in Pink)
The Pretty in Pink Soundtrack is loaded with classics from some of ’80s alt-rock’s biggest groups (The Smiths, Echo & the Bunnymen, OMD, Psychedelic Furs), but New Order’s contribution, “Shell Shock,” was not the band’s finest hour. (It’s not a bad single, but it’s no “If You Leave” or “Bring on the Dancing Horses.”) But it was one of three of their songs Hughes used in the film. The other two were instrumentals: the amazing Morricone homage, “Elegia,” which makes it onto this box set, and the instrumental version of their single “Thieves Like Us,” which does not. The latter, which is equal to the vocal version and is powered by Peter Hook’s melodic bass, soundtracks the scene where Andie (Molly Ringwald) takes two lovely prom dresses and frankensteins them together into one new (in my opinion) terrible dress. “Elegia” is fantastic, but “Thieves Like Us” would’ve fit the box better.
Ira Newborn & the Geeks – “Geek Boogie” (Sixteen Candles)
Ira Newborn was the composer on most of John Hughes films, bringing a playful ’80s edge to his scores. “Geek Boogie” was his theme for Farmer Ted, Anthony Michael Hall’s character in Sixteen Candles, and is one of the most memorable pieces of music in the movie, mixing new wave and boogie woogie. None of Ira Newborn’s music appears on the Life Moves Pretty Fast box set, which is a shame, and if there had been one that should’ve it’s this.
Check out the full Life Moves Pretty Fast: The John Hughes Mixtapes tracklist here, and watch a trailer for it below: