Some people claim to do their best work under pressure, and while that may not always ring true for Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, the U.K. synth-pop group did manage to create one of their most popular tracks in 24 hours. Tapped by John Hughes to contribute a track to Pretty in Pink‘s soundtrack, Andy McCluskey and his bandmates got to work on a song that’d be suitable for the 1986 film’s final scene, in which Andie (Molly Ringwald) ends up with pretty boy Blane (Andy McCarthy) instead of best friend Duckie (Jon Cryer). They came up with the now-classic tune, “If You Leave.”
But as diehard Pretty in Pink fans know, the original ending intended for the leading lady to end up with her BFF. “We were about to start a long tour, only to be informed that they’d tested the movie and the test audience didn’t like the ending, and now our song made no sense,” McCluskey tells EW. “So they asked if could we write then another one tomorrow.”
Fortunately for OMD, the original track “Goddess of Love” ended up on the studio album they released later that year. But the last minute change left the Brits with the task of whipping up a brand new song overnight. “We went in the studio and completely off the top of our heads did the song, which I think we finished the rough demo of at about 3 o’clock in the morning,” McCluskey says. “We just got together a piece of music that seemed like it made sense for that sort of coming to the end of high school moment.”
They had no idea how Hughes would feel about what they pulled together, but OMD ended up back in the studio the next day to finish the track.
“If You Leave” became the lead single off the Pretty In Pink soundtrack and the second single from their studio album. Because of the change of plans, the cut remains OMD’s best-known song to Americans, having peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.
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“‘Secret’ probably would’ve been a bigger hit if it wasn’t for ‘If You Leave’ being released in it’s place,” McCluskey admits, name checking the 1985 song off Crush. “Obviously it turned out to be a massive hit so were not complaining. The whole thing was really flying by the seat of our pants.”
But that success hit a snag when the band saw how their song ultimately fit into the movie. “The only thing they specified to us was, can the song be at 120 beats per minutes, because we filmed the prom scene using ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ [from The Breakfast Club] as the song everybody was dancing to,” the 56-year-old artist explains. “The first time we see the song in the movie, and I mean it goes on for 5 minutes, everybody is totally out of time with the track.
“It’s one of those moments you just have to laugh.”
Still, McCluskey calls the group’s time working on Pretty in Pink a “wonderful experience,” and understands why both the Pretty in Pink and “If You Leave” continue to resonate 30 years later.
“There’s something amazing about that movie and that song combined,” he says. “It speaks to something that all Americans know. They enjoyed or enjoy the end of high school, the big prom, all the pressures all the worries, the dating — everybody resonates with that scene and that song.”
And fans can expect to hear “If You Leave” when OMD hit the road with Howard Jones and the Barenaked Ladies this summer. “It’ll be a broad audience because of the different age groups,” McCluskey says, “but you know when we hit that drumroll to that song, the whole audience will just go, ‘Ah, it’s that song.'”