Why the ‘Pretty in Pink’ Soundtrack Still Matters
Pretty in Pink landed in theaters on Feb. 28, 1986. Directed by Howard Deutch and written and co-executive-produced by John Hughes, the movie stars Molly Ringwald as Andie, an ambitious teenager trying to take care of her dad (the late Harry Dean Stanton) while navigating her class-obsessed high school and planning for college.
Luckily, she has a solid support system: irreverent best friend Duckie (Jon Cryer); her boss, the quirky record-store owner Iona (Annie Potts); and a preppy dreamboat crush named Blane (Andrew McCarthy). Her star-crossed romantic adventures also had a great soundtrack.
As with other Hughes movies, Pretty in Pink featured songs by artists on the cutting-edge of cool, including INXS, Psychedelic Furs, the Smiths, and Echo & the Bunnymen. Unlike some other Hughes-associated movies, however, these songs were compiled into a commercially available full-length soundtrack, which was released on A&M Records several weeks before the Pretty in Pink film opened. (Despite using an abundance of then-contemporary songs, the soundtrack for 1984's Sixteen Candles was a five-song EP, while 1986's Ferris Bueller's Day Off didn't even have an official soundtrack released.)
"The great thing about this soundtrack is that it really sounds like a legitimate album, not a compilation," A&M's director of film music, David Anderle, told the Los Angeles Times in 1986. "It holds together so well that you almost get the feeling that it could be all songs by one band, just with a lot of different lead singers."
This cohesion is in large part because the Pretty in Pink soundtrack has a decidedly British bent. In addition to tunes from the acts noted above, the LP features London-based Belouis Some (who contributed the Bernard Edwards-produced "Round, Round") and Manchester's New Order ("Shellshock" was produced by John Robie, who had also remixed the band's 1985 single "Sub-culture").
However, Pretty in Pink was also a showcase for a broader cross-section of '80s pop. For example, Three Dog Night vocalist Danny Hutton covered Nik Kershaw's "Wouldn't It Be Good," while Jesse Johnson, former lead guitarist of Minneapolis funk icons the Time, is featured with the red-hot "Get to Know You."
The movie Pretty in Pink was named after a 1981 song by Psychedelic Furs. For the film, the Richard Butler-led group cut a new version of the song that put saxophone higher in the mix and added production polish; it became the band's then-biggest U.S. hit, just missing the top 40.
The song's lyrics ("Isn't she pretty in pink?") seem to match Andie's character to a tee: In a memorable scene, she makes her own pink prom dress. But Butler told Sky News in 2020 that Hughes, "God rest his soul, kind of got the wrong end of the stick with that song," in that he misinterpreted the original intent.
"He made it to be literally about a girl that was wearing a pink dress and it wasn't about that at all," Butler added. "It was about a rather unfortunate girl. Me saying 'pretty in pink' meant somebody who is naked. It was a metaphor."
Watch the Psychedelic Furs Perform 'Pretty in Pink'
Echo & the Bunnymen also recorded the shimmering "Bring on the Dancing Horses" specifically for the Pretty in Pink soundtrack — but, in a weird twist of timing, the song was released months before the soundtrack, on the band's fall 1985 compilation Songs to Learn & Sing. "Bring on the Dancing Horses" too wasn't necessarily analogous to the movie's plot.
"It's about the way people would sooner look at statues than themselves," frontman Ian McCulloch told Songfacts in 2018. "We revere things that tell us about ourselves. It's that thing of how we think art is very important. A life without art, who knows what that would be like? We think the Mona Lisa is this thing that's valuable, when something else isn't."
Perhaps the most well-known song from Pretty in Pink was Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's romantic ballad "If You Leave." Played during the movie's pivotal ending, the song became the band's biggest U.S. hit, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, and is one of new wave's most indelible love songs.
"We got the script from John Hughes, and he said, 'Okay, write a song for this bit,'" OMD's Paul Humphreys said in a 2016 interview. "So we did, and we spent two months agonizing over it."
The band polished off a song, and had a two-inch tape ready for mixing in L.A. However, then things started going awry. "We get off the plane in L.A., and we have a message from John Hughes: 'Please contact us immediately,'" Humphreys recalled. "We spoke to John, and he said, 'Listen, guys, I hate to tell you this, but I’ve changed the whole end of the film. I’ve reshot it, and your song doesn’t work. Have you got another one we can have?'"
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark didn't have a spare. More than that, timing was also an issue: They were due to start a U.S. tour with the Thompson Twins in two days. "We said, 'John, we’re going on tour for two months, and we’ve only got two days!'" Humphreys says. "And he said, 'Don’t worry. I’ll book you into one of the best studios in L.A.' Our equipment was being shipped to San Francisco, so we didn’t have any instruments either. And he said 'Don’t worry, I’ll hire you stuff. Just go into the studio and see what you come up with.'"
To add even more stress, A&M Records were building a promo campaign around OMD having a presence on the soundtrack, "and all of a sudden we didn’t have a song," Humphreys says with a laugh. "So [bandmate] Andy [McCluskey] and I basically sat in this studio for 24 hours straight. I was on piano and Andy was scribbling words, and we were working out tunes together. And we wrote 'If You Leave' in 24 hours. We did a quick demo of it, stuck the cassette in a cab, sent it to John and went to bed."
Luckily, Hughes liked "If You Leave." In fact, he called Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark two hours after being sent the song and told the group to record the song ASAP. The band headed into the studio the following day — and the rest was history.
"I have no idea how we did it," Humphreys added. "I barely even remember writing it, to be honest. It was such a high-pressure situation. But I was so thankful for it, because 'If You Leave' was better than the song we did that didn’t end up in the film. When you’re young, there’s that little bit of pressure — you just run on adrenaline and do it. Totally. We were so on adrenaline for two days."
Watch Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark Perform 'If You Leave'
In hindsight, the Pretty in Pink soundtrack uncannily predicted where popular music was going in the future.
OMD not only gained momentum, scoring two more Top 20 hits in the coming years, but the Psychedelic Furs earned their biggest U.S. chart hit ("Heartbreak Beat" reached No. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1987) and Echo & the Bunnymen released a 1987 self-titled album that included one of their most enduring songs, "Lips Like Sugar."
As Pretty in Pink was released, INXS were also on the precipice of their biggest U.S. hit to date: "What You Need," from 1985's Listen Like Thieves, reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in April 1986. The Australian band would soon become massive global superstars thanks to 1987's Kick, which spawned the No. 1 U.S. hit "Need You Tonight."
On Pretty in Pink, INXS checked in with the upbeat "Do Wot You Do," an open-hearted tune with affectionate lyrics and soulful grooves. "There was an immediacy about that song," multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Andrew Farriss tells UCR.
Farriss co-wrote "Do Wot You Do" with late INXS frontman Michael Hutchence, a common musical configuration for the band then. "[Michael] wrote the lyric for the song, which is a pretty typical kind of thing that we used to do, where I would write the music, and often the arrangement as well," Farris says.
"It's kind of light and bouncy as a song. It's really up, a bit poppy-sounding. And I think that really suited that part of that soundtrack. We weren't being too emo or in our heads. It was just very in the moment, that song."
Listen to INXS Perform 'Do Wot You Do'
Farriss notes that the contemporary and exciting vibe matched where INXS were in their career, not only because of their burgeoning success of "What You Need" and a few other hits, but because they were working with Chris Thomas.
"Where I really got excited — we all did — is having a record producer that's had that kind of experience," Farriss says. "[It] was just incredible. It's like getting out of a beat-up old wreck of a car into a Tesla or something. You're like, 'Wow, this thing's interesting.' That was what it was like working with Chris Thomas. He had such a wealth of knowledge, and he really understood the songwriting relationship between myself and Michael."
In "Do Wot You Do," Farriss also hears echoes of where INXS would go on Kick – and beyond.
"I can hear the funky guitar parts that were beginning to come around the corner in that track, you know, that we had already started with Nile Rodgers back in The Swing, with [1984 hit] 'Original Sin,' [which] Nile produced with us," Farriss says.
"We were really still experimenting. This is the mid-'80s. The funk thing had come out in the '70s with disco, and everyone was all, 'I don't know about disco anymore.' A lot of recordings had to be straight down the middle — eighths, sixteenths, even fourths.
"And we were like, 'Well, why is that? Why don't we be funky? Let's get some funky music happening here.' I can hear that in that recording. And we worked a lot like that later on again."
Watch Suzanne Vega Perform 'Left of Center'
For the New York-based folk artist Suzanne Vega, who was just launching her national career, the Pretty in Pink soundtrack provided a major boost, as her song "Left of Center" (co-written with the producer/musician Steve Addabbo) made the cut.
Vega had released her self-titled debut LP in 1985 and her label, A&M Records, asked her to submit a song for soundtrack consideration. "I had been given the script for Pretty in Pink by A&M," she tells UCR. "So I remember being on tour reading the script and thinking, 'Oh, yeah, I can do this.' I had imagined it as being from the character's perspective, as played by Molly Ringwald."
As with OMD's experience, the recording timeline for this song was quick: Addabbo recalls the group was on tour in an RV in California and had only a few days to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles, where they were booked into A&M Studios. The trip to L.A. was fruitful, however.
"We're on the RV, and we took the path over the mountains and the thing's overheating," Addabbo tells UCR. "And, finally, we got there. But she showed me her notebook, and in it she had some scribbles, and down in the corner I saw 'left of center.' I said, 'That's kind of a cool idea. Why don't you develop that a little bit?'"
Once they settled in, the creative work began. "I went down to her room and brought my guitar, and I started playing that guitar lick," Addabbo says. "And she started coming up with the rest of the words. And we basically wrote it in, like, two hours in an afternoon. I didn't have the chords to the bridge really figured out. … We went into the studio and recorded a really rough version of it. I don't know where that version is. I'd love to hear it, because I know I was scrambling to find chords at that point."
Still, the demo passed muster, and the group had a label green light to record "Left of Center" at a later point in New York. The British singer-songwriter Joe Jackson, who was also on A&M Records, was recruited to add piano during these sessions – "which to me was a thrill," Addabbo adds. "Here I had written a song — and now I'm gonna have Joe Jackson playing on it. I was a big fan of his.
"At this point, I had one album under my belt – Suzanne's record – as a producer," he continues. "I didn't have a track record; I was not that experienced. I mean, Joe Jackson walking into a session? It was like, 'This is a little scary.'"
But before "Left of Center" was completely finalized, there was one last step: an Arthur Baker remix.
"They had asked for a folk song," Vega says. "Steve came up with the riff on an acoustic guitar, and we did the vocals. And I remember asking Lucy Kaplansky, who was my friend, to sing the backup vocals. And then suddenly they changed their minds completely, and they said, 'No, no, we're going to have Arthur Baker remix this. It's going to sound really new wave.' And I was like, 'Huh?' So they did this drastic remix, and I approved it." Adds Addabbo: "[Baker] came in and did another overlay of some drums and synths. He was very nice and working with me, and I went to this final mix and did it with him. And that was the track that actually wound up in the movie and on the soundtrack."
As it turns out, however, "Left of Center" didn't have a very big presence in the movie. "I had imagined it as being, like, coming over the final credits – you know, something huge like that. Which, of course, they did not use it that way at all," Vega says with a laugh. "You can barely hear it in the movie. In fact, it's coming out of the radio while the people are talking over it."
Still, "Left of Center" became a modest chart hit for Vega in the U.K. and Australia, and set the stage for her 1987 pop hit "Luka," which was nominated for multiple Grammys. "It was, in some ways, a breakthrough," Vega says of "Left of Center." "It was my breakthrough before 'Luka,' so I was grateful for that."
Listen to Echo & the Bunnymen Perform 'Bring on the Dancing Horses'
The Pretty in Pink soundtrack was a commercial success: It peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard albums chart and was certified gold.
The impact for bands on the soundtrack varied. "The movie did us a lot of good," Psychedelic Furs frontman Richard Butler told Sky News. "It was a double-edged sword, because it increased our audience but a lot of people that were the darker set of our fans thought: 'It's a brat-pack movie scene now, and we are not really into that.'"
For Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, "If You Leave" permanently changed their fortunes in the U.S. then and now. "At our American shows, we notice that a lot of younger people are coming to see us because they’ve discovered that film. They liked the song. They want to come and see us play it live, and that song has introduced them to our whole catalog of OMD albums," Humphreys said. "The film has helped to bring a whole younger generation."
Vega too has discovered long-term affection for "Left of Center," she shares. "I hear from little kids who have heard it on the radio, and they think, 'That's my song.' There's this one boy in the Chicago area who for years brought his mother to, like, every show I would do in the area because of 'Left of Center.' So it's become this little anthem for outsiders – which I get, and I really like it."
And as for Farriss, he sees in hindsight how "Do Wot You Do" helped INXS. "I think it was great for INXS to be part of such a successful movie," he says. "And obviously, the soundtrack has to be a part of that. It put us into a league of people that we really wanted to be a part of, too. We liked all those bands and other artists [on the soundtrack], and we listened to them."
Finding a place where you belong has always been powerful, and it's clear that the sentiments that made the movie so memorable also permeated the music. Decades later, Pretty in Pink's soundtrack is still remembered fondly, reflecting its timeless nature and the care taken in assembling these songs.
"The music in Pretty in Pink was not an afterthought," John Hughes is quoted as saying on the soundtrack album's back cover. "The tracks on this album and in this film are there because Howie Deutch and I believe in the artists, respect the artists, and are proud to be in league with them."