Take your seats, class: It’s time to get schooled in pop culture by the staff of Entertainment Weekly! This week, we continue looking at the role of music in seminal coming-of-age films. Check out yesterday’s class, featuring Saturday Night Fever and Almost Famous, or skip ahead and see how you score on our final exam. Stick around all summer long for future EW University courses on Lost, Harry Potter and more.
What would a John Hughes teen comedy be without a shimmering Brit ballad to accompany two unlikely lovebirds’ budding romance? The Chicago-based chronicler of under-twentydom easily could have his own college course in soundtrack bliss, whether it be Sixteen Candles’ sweet birthday-cake kiss between Molly Ringwald and Michael Schoeffling to the Thompson Twins’ “If You Were Here,” the post-prom finale smooch between Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy in Pretty in Pink (OMD’s “If You Leave”), or the parking-lot embrace between (yep!) Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club (Simple Minds, “Don’t You Forget About Me”). But don’t you forget about the non-ballads: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’s infamous bom-bom chicka-chicka (a.k.a. Yello’s “Oh Yeah” ) and Weird Science’s well, “Weird Science” (by Oingo Boingo, featuring the future film-composing maestro Danny Elfman) among them.
A much rougher, scrappier version of teen life was depicted in 1983’s Valley Girl — and introduced not only a then-18-year-old Nicolas Cage, but a hostof new-wave hits, including Josie Cotton’s controversial “Johnny AreYou Queer” and the Plimsouls’ “A Million Miles Away.” 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High,meanwhile, tapped a more suburban SoCal rock vibe, with tracks fromJackson Browne, Stevie Nicks, and various members of the Eagles.
And did you think we’d forget two of the decade’s biggest hit generators? Dancer-with-a-dream classics Footloose and Flashdance not only captured the youthquake zeitgeist of the time but offered a spring-loaded soundtrack to express it to. Whether it be each film’s indelible title song (by Kenny Loggins and Irene Cara, respectively), the former’s defiant “Holding Out for a Hero” (Bonnie Tyler) or the latter’s urgent, dizzying “Maniac” (Michael Sembello), both weren’t just a conduit for hit songs, but testaments to the power of music to transcend limiting situations (hick town with McCarthy-era dancing rules, working-class Steeltown roots).
For reference: Jackson Browne, “Somebody’s Baby”; Simple Minds, “Don’t You Forget About Me”; Shandi, “He’s a Dream”; Deniece Williams, “Let’s Hear it for the Boy”; The Psychedelic Furs, “Love My Way.”
Extra credit viewing: Some Kind of Wonderful, St. Elmo’s Fire, Say Anything (John Cusack + Peter Gabriel + boom box = teen swoons 4ever)
For discussion: Footloose, Flashdance, Top Gun, Dirty Dancing … the choices are endless, but is there one definitive soundtrack that captures the decade?
Class is dismissed. Your homework? Check out some of the tracks listed above. And come back tomorrow, when we look at the best teen-film soundtracks of the 1990s.
More on coming-of-age film soundtracks from EW University:
At the Hop:Mid-Century Nostalgia
Closerto Groovy: Cruising into the ’70s
The1990s: Rocking Out in the Irony Age
TheIndie Aughties: “This song will change your life”
HappyAnachronisms: These soundtracks mix classic and contemporary hits
Final exam:Test your knowledge of teen angst anthems