Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) finally gets her birthday wish
Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) finally gets her birthday wish
Sixteen Candles (1984) / Universal Pictures

The 16 Songs That Make John Hughes' Movies the Universal Teen Soundtrack

By the mid-'80s, America was experiencing the most expensive (and dopey) existential crisis in history; Ronald Reagan was halfway through two terms in office, greed was good, and the Valley Girl turned the Sherman Oaks Galleria into the epicenter of her sweater-boot wearing universe. But then John Hughes, a Midwesterner with a knack for the sardonic portrayal of grown-ups, took the materialistic excess of the 1980s and turned it into fine art.

Like a great pop songwriter, Hughes plucked our heartstrings through the combination of music and images, beginning with Sixteen Candles in 1984. Hughes' run of teen movie masterpieces ended in 1987 with Some Kind of Wonderful, but in just three years, via six very special films, he documented teen angst through a kaleidoscope of MTV-style vignettes that turned the suburbs into Neverland: a place where powerless parents were overrun by teenagers listening to British new wave.

Hughes' obsession with new wave gave teenagers a lasting soundtrack of memories. Thirty years after his first teen movie, we decided to excavate his canon and identify the best moments—a sweet 16 of songs that celebrate the 30-year anniversary of when Jake Ryan told Samantha Baker, over a Thompson Twins ballad, to make a wish.

Max (Robert Rusler), Ian (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Lisa (Kelly LeBrock) leaving the mallEXPAND
Max (Robert Rusler), Ian (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Lisa (Kelly LeBrock) leaving the mall
Weird Science (1985) / Universal Pictures

16. Van Halen — "(Oh) Pretty Woman" (Originally by Roy Orbison)
Weird Science (1985), Theatrical Version

In the '80s, first dates happened at the mall—a form of show-and-tell that was the byproduct of Reagan-era consumerism. So after two geeks hack the government mainframe to create a bodacious centerfold, they naturally take her underwear shopping. As if uppers were being pumped through the mall's air vents, Van Halen's version of "(Oh) Pretty Woman" turns two bullies gawking over Kelly LeBrock's Jaggeresque lips into an adrenaline-fueled chase scene that ends in the parking lot—where the bullies are ditched for two geeks in a Porsche. 

Samantha (Molly Ringwald) picks Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling)EXPAND
Samantha (Molly Ringwald) picks Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling)
Sixteen Candles (1984) / Universal Pictures

15. Altered Images — "Happy Birthday"
Sixteen Candles (1984)

All Samantha Baker wants for her birthday is a black Trans Am and bigger boobs. But when Samantha's parents forget her sweet sixteen, she goes to school with her upper-middle-class expectations shattered like an expensive vase. Feeling vulnerable during her Child Development class, Samantha jots down a confidential sex survey as Altered Images' snotty-sounding "Happy Birthday" plays in the background. Little does she know that Jake Ryan, the popular hunk she has a crush on, discovers the note. That's when Jake realizes Samantha wants to "do it" with him; her secret birthday wish, the first plot twist in the Hughes teenage storybook.

Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson) realizes Keith is back
Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson) realizes Keith is back
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) / Paramount Pictures

14. Lick the Tins — "Can't Help Falling in Love" (Originally by Elvis)
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
Mary Stuart Masterson's "Watts" is a John Hughes female iconoclast: a vulnerable punk with a Sex Pistols poster and wicked drum kit. She also loves Keith (Eric Stoltz) enough to chauffeur him around with popular rich girl Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson). But when Keith realizes he's in love with Watts, giving her the diamond earrings he spent his college money on, he delivers the most utterly superficial yet syrupy-sweet line from any Hughes film: "You look good wearing my future." Then, a Celtic-folk sounding flute and drum beat echoes through the suburban streets; it's a Lick the Tins cover of Elvis' "Can't Help Falling in Love," which has you falling in love with Watts under the moonlit sky, entwined in Keith's arms...finally

Ferris (Matthew Broderick) talking about socialism in the showerEXPAND
Ferris (Matthew Broderick) talking about socialism in the shower
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) / Paramount Pictures

13. Sigue Sigue Sputnik — "Love Missile F1-11"
Ferris Bueller's Day Off  (1986)
"Life moves pretty fast," says schemer Ferris Bueller, walking around in his swanky bathrobe to the sci-fi bass synth on Sigue Sigue Sputnik's "Love Missile F1-11." He continues, "if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." His hair shampooed into a Mohawk, Ferris continues his daily routine (a step-by-step guide on faking an illness), followed by a philosophical discussion about "isms," quoting John Lennon, and letting you know he's the John Hughes version of a teenage gang leader—who uses adults for target practice. 

Iona (Annie Potts) decorating Trax
Iona (Annie Potts) decorating Trax
Pretty in Pink (1986) - Paramount Pictures

12. Danny Hutton Hitters — "Wouldn't It Be Good"  (Originally by Nik Kershaw)
Pretty in Pink (1986)
The first time we see Trax record store, we're treated to a classic '80s vignette: a busy street corner crowded with colorful shirts and skateboarders with two-button sport coats. Inside we see Iona (Annie Potts), pinning vinyl to the ceiling to make things more "modern." Andie's mentor is the embodiment of the uncool grown-up, dressed like a U.K. punk in an age when kids are already buying knock-off Stephen Sprouse to look more like Madonna. Like an advertising jingle for new wave, the Danny Hutton Hitters' cover of "Wouldn't It Be Good" reminds us of how the Roland Jupiter-8 and MTV helped finish off punk, which by 1986, was as popular as Communism.

Andrew (Emilio Estevez) ripping an air guitar soloEXPAND
Andrew (Emilio Estevez) ripping an air guitar solo
The Breakfast Club (1985) - Universal Pictures

11. Karla DeVito — "We Are Not Alone"
Breakfast Club (1985)
After Brian, the geek played by Anthony Michael Hall, cries because he got an F and almost blew his head off with a flare gun, the group breaks out into a Footloose-evoking dance to Karla DeVito's "We Are Not Alone." The jock does a macho air guitar solo, the beauty does her Dancing in the Dark move, the brain has a series of spasms, the recluse gets lost in a hurricane of dandruff and the rebel is headbanging like he's at an AC/DC show. It's as if Hughes is using a choreographed dance to tell us what he's been telling us all along: here look, they're different, but they're the same.

Running through the halls of Shermer HighEXPAND
Running through the halls of Shermer High
The Breakfast Club (1985) - Universal Pictures

10. Wang Chung — "Fire in the Twilight" 
Breakfast Club (1985)
Principal Vernon (Paul Gleason) is the archetype of an overbearing prick with power. "I'm gonna knock your dick in the dirt," he tells the street-smart John Bender (Judd Nelson), who martyrs himself after leading the pack out of the library to get the doobage from his locker. The montage is highlighted by Wang Chung's "Fire in the Twilight," a song written for the film that perfectly captures the hallway scramble led by Bender—the rebellious youth, Brando with flaring nostrils. "Fire in the Twilight" might as well be his rebel yell. 

Cameron (Alan Ruck), Sloane (Mia Sara), and Ferris visit the Art Institute of ChicagoEXPAND
Cameron (Alan Ruck), Sloane (Mia Sara), and Ferris visit the Art Institute of Chicago
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) / Paramount Pictures

9. The Dream Academy — "Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" (Originally by the Smiths)
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
"You don't have any idea what you've made until you step back from it," John Hughes once said, striking an analogy between his creative process and that moment at the Art Institute of Chicago, when Cameron, played depressingly well by Alan Ruck, stares hopelessly at Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. The pointillist piece illustrates Cameron's existential crisis and infinite uncertainty. The Dream Academy's soothing instrumental of the Smiths' "Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" scores the scene, which features some of Hughes' favorite works, including Marc Chagall's America Windows—the moody backdrop for Ferris and Sloane's tender kissing scene. 

The geek (Anthony Michael Hall) goes for a joyride with Caroline (Haviland Morris)EXPAND
The geek (Anthony Michael Hall) goes for a joyride with Caroline (Haviland Morris)
Sixteen Candles (1984) / Universal Pictures

8. Billy Idol — "Rebel Yell" 
Sixteen Candles (1984)
By 1984, Billy Idol was the poster boy for rebellion: a fist-pumping bad boy with spiked tips, a snarling upper lip, and enough attitude to pull off "Eyes Without a Face" and still look punk. In St. Elmo's Fire, his giant mug covers a pink wall in Jules' posh apartment. In Sixteen Candles, his MTV-popularized "Rebel Yell" plays on the radio as the geek violates the drugged rich girl in another richie's Rolls-Royce, swerving around the streets of Chicago on a quest to lose his virginity, pronto.

It's alive! (Kelly LeBrock)EXPAND
It's alive! (Kelly LeBrock)
Weird Science (1985) / Universal Pictures

7. Oingo Boingo — "Weird Science"
Weird Science (1985)
In 1985, Danny Elfman composed the haunting suburban-circus theme for Pee-wee's Big Adventure. Then as the frontman of Oingo Boingo, he gave us the eternally quirky, campy Frankenstein-inspired theme for Weird Science—with its slinky electronic bass and ghoulish synth that sounds like a last boss battle in a Nintendo game. It's erratic and goofy, an electrical storm of sound effects and camp. It diverges from the sentimentality of the usual Hughes formula, fitting perfectly within the disconnectedness of Weird Science. 

Jake (Michael Schoeffling) surprises SamanthaEXPAND
Jake (Michael Schoeffling) surprises Samantha
Sixteen Candles (1984) / Universal Pictures

6. Thompson Twins — "If You Were Here"
Sixteen Candles (1984)

It's the '80s teen movie equivalent of the final scene in The Graduate, where a disheveled Benjamin ditches his Alfa Romeo, barricades a crowd of wedding-goers into a church, and escapes with the bride on a bus. But in the '80s, the popular kid never looks scruffy, he never ditches his Porsche, and even though he thinks Samantha is getting married, Jake Ryan is calm enough to keep his a-little-bit Matt Dillon facial features intact without breaking a sweat. Paul Simon scores the final scene in the The Graduate, which is filled with grit and faux leather bus seats. In Sixteen Candles, Hughes uses Thompson Twins' "If You Were Here" to show Samantha and Jake sharing a kiss over 16 perfectly placed candles, atop a glass table that's as glossy as the '80s. 

Samantha realizes Jake is smiling at her
Samantha realizes Jake is smiling at her
Sixteen Candles (1984) / Universal Pictures

5. Spandau Ballet — "True"
Sixteen Candles (1984)
The business-suit-wearing Spandau Ballet released "True," with its swooning Al Green-tinged falsetto in 1983. The song was immediately a hit, especially on urban radio stations. But when it was used as the backdrop for the school dance scene in Sixteen Candles, it crossed over into the permanent teenage scrapbook: The moment where Samantha goggles at Jake, mesmerized as "Ha-ha-ha, ha-ah-hi" floats over a funky guitar riff that sounds like sex in the '80s. It's a quickie—the whole moment lasts less than a minute—but that song with that look was what landed Molly Ringwald the cover of Time. (And in the '80s, that still meant something.)

Andie's High School
Andie's High School
Pretty in Pink (1986) - Paramount Pictures

4. The Psychedelic Furs — "Pretty in Pink" (Theatrical Version)
Pretty in Pink (1986)
At first, the Psychedelic Furs could easily be confused with just another Bowie copycat in a decade that embraced his style like a white fox coat over a sports bra. But their song "Pretty in Pink," released five years prior to the Hughes-penned, Howard Deutch-directed film with the same title, was in fact an inspiration for the film—not some tasteless record label cash grab. Its E Steet Band-sounding sax intro (recorded for the film version) personifies Andie—a working-class teen who falls for a preppie named Blaine—played way-too-relaxed by Andrew McCarthy. The song also reflects the nursery colors that ruled the decade's color palette.

The 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California, owned by Cameron's dadEXPAND
The 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California, owned by Cameron's dad
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) / Paramount Pictures

3. Yello — "Oh Yeah"
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

When Yello's “chik-chika-chika” bounces off the polished red Ferrari, Hughes transports Ferris and Cameron into a Madison Avenue car commercial, like a perfectly crafted, geometrically precise presentation of automotive porn. The slow-motion vocalizing of "OH YEAH" and "BEAUTIFUL" slowly marinates the moment where Cameron shows off his dad's shiny toy (which Ferris aims to "borrow"). Yello's "Oh Yeah" sounds like teenage hormones manifesting themselves into the ubiquitous moment of ecstasy when every teen, at one point, realizes the power of a sexy sports car.

John Bender (Judd Nelson) is victorious after leaving detentionEXPAND
John Bender (Judd Nelson) is victorious after leaving detention
Breakfast Club (1985) / Universal Pictures

2. Simple Minds — "Don't You (Forget About Me)"
Breakfast Club (1985)
Scotland's Simple Minds began as a '70s punk band. But by 1985, they had recorded the catchy theme to Hughes' masterpiece, The Breakfast Club. "Don't You (Forget About Me)" opens like a shock-and-awe of "hey-hey-hey-hey," leading with a lithe, funky guitar, icy synthesizer, and a "la-la-la-la" closing as irreverent as high school and as unforgettable as Hughes' magnum opus. It's the bang that shatters the glass on the Bowie quote (revealing Shermer High at 7 a.m.), where a brain, jock, recluse, beauty and rebel would come together for a social experiment in teenage melodrama. 

Andie (Molly Ringwald) hugging Duckie (Jon Cryer) during prom
Andie (Molly Ringwald) hugging Duckie (Jon Cryer) during prom
Pretty in Pink (1986) / Paramount Pictures

1. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) — "If You Leave"
Pretty in Pink (1986)
"I always believed in you, I just didn't believe in me. I love you...always," Andrew McCarthy's final line in the climatic prom scene in Pretty in Pink, scored from start to finish by OMD's "If You Leave." As the song plays throughout the scene, Duckie (still in love with Andie) delivers the film's finest moment, a testament to Hughes' ability to craft dialogue that has the power to make you laugh and cry at the same time. "If you don't go to him now," says Duckie, realizing he finally must let Andie go, "I'm never going to take you to another prom ever again." 

Blaine (Andrew McCarthy) and Andie (Molly Ringwald) reunite, at last
Blaine (Andrew McCarthy) and Andie (Molly Ringwald) reunite, at last
Pretty in Pink (1986) / Paramount Pictures

OMD's singer Andy McCluskey sounds like he's reading a diary passage by Blaine, yearning for Andie to take him back. "Promise me, just one more night, and we'll go our separate ways," sings McCluskey, followed by Andie and Blaine kissing—their futures uncertain, but their differences set aside for the moment where Hughes seamlessly bridges the gap between the outsider and popular kid, the geek and the prom queen, the BMW and the rusty Karman Ghia. It's what he does better than anyone else. The big prom scene in Pretty in Pink is when he does it all in one scene—the teenage experience of the 1980s, in just four minutes.

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