From an early age, music has provided the soundtrack to my life. Even now, in my mid-40s, hearing the first few bars of a particular song will bring memories flooding back in the mental equivalent of ultra-HD.
So I’m starting what will hopefully be a weekly(-ish) series of posts casting my mind back to memorable songs from my mental catalogue that go beyond just being great tunes.
I’m kicking off with what was, on its original 1981 release, a relatively obscure single by post-punk rockers The Psychedelic Furs – hands down one of the best band names ever – that didn’t even make the top 40.
However, five years later it provided the title for Pretty in Pink, one of the most successful of John Hughes’ Brat Pack films. The band re-recorded a softer version of the song for the soundtrack and while it barely scraped into the top 20, it endures in the memories of 1980s teens.
I was one such individual. I turned 16 a few weeks after the release of Pretty in Pink. John Hughes’ films were to my generation what The Hunger Games or the Divergent series are to today’s teens and young adults. Starring members of the Hollywood ‘Brat Pack’ of young actors which included Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Andrew McCarthy, James Spader, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall and Robert Downey Jr, these movies all revolved around coming-of-age themes and spoke to an era of kids growing up disaffected by the threat of the Cold War, the emergence of AIDS and the decline of British mining and manufacturing.
The soundtracks are as memorable as the films themselves. Think of The Breakfast Club and you cannot help but hear the thumping intro of Simple Minds’ Don’t You (Forget About Me). St Elmo’s Fire (not a Hughes film but certainly a Brat Pack one) is as much about John Parr’s eponymous anthem as it is about what is, in truth, a pretty mediocre screenplay. Less Than Zero? The Bangles’ cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s Hazy Shade of Winter. And so on.
Each of these songs speaks with a combination of a yearning for identity and recognition, a youthful defiance and a desire for something better at a time of change and uncertainty. Universal themes one and all.
Don’t You (Forget About Me) is probably the first song that springs to mind when you mention Brat Pack films but Pretty in Pink has the greater resonance for me. The gravel and weariness in the vocals of lead singer Richard Butler – if Johnny Rotten had a five-years-younger new-wave sibling, it would have been him – perfectly matches lyrics and a film that speak to recognising those individuals who don’t conform to the norms of the in-crowd.
This is a theme I’ve written about on a number of occasions in the past, particularly with respect to Isaac’s gender stereotype-busting, preschool-age love of all things pink. I’ve even recorded my own parody version of the song.
Growing up, I was never one of the in-crowd. I was one of those shy, bookish kids who kept his head down, never got into fights and was decidedly uncool. And while I recognise my own flaws (there are plenty of them!), I’m proud of the person I eventually became. I am a little bit different – hey, I’m a dad blogger for starters! – but I’m okay with that and I want my kids to grow up knowing that it’s better to be an individual than a sheep, whether that means being pretty in pink or otherwise.