Top Songs Featured in John Hughes Films

John Hughes movies rely significantly on pop music to help tell stories that blend comedy and drama arguably as well as Hollywood cinema has ever done. But Hughes was also no one-trick pony, employing music in often disparate ways to help make every cinematic experience feel rather new. The filmmaker's premature death during the summer of 2009 saddened many admirers, but it has also served as a reminder of the permanence of Hughes' output, especially when music and narrative worked together as a team. Here's a chronological look at some of the songs that have helped make so many of these films unforgettable.

01
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Lindsey Buckingham - "Holiday Road," from 'National Lampoon's Vacation'

National Lampoon's Vacation
DVD Cover Image Courtesy of Warner Home Video

Hughes' first major success as a screenwriter came with, a broad but quirky comedy represented quite well by this brief, perky solo track from the longtime Fleetwood Mac lead guitarist. A bouncy, spirited tune that reflects the light-hearted, fun-focused tone of the movie, it also features characteristically inventive guitar work from Buckingham and manages to work equally well as a stand-alone pop song and appealing soundtrack theme. Hughes would provide in his later films - particularly the ones he directed as well as wrote - a much more intricate marriage of pop music and film narrative, but this is an early example of the smooth, cooperative relationship between music and cinema that often fueled his work.

02
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Thompson Twins - "If You Were Here," from 'Sixteen Candles'

Sixteen Candles
DVD Cover Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Within a couple of years, Hughes would perfect his trademark of placing memorable synth pop and new wave tunes in pivotal scenes at romantic high points of his films. That uncanny sense of selectivity first makes its presence known here, at the end of his directorial debut in a scene between Jake Ryan and Samantha (Molly Ringwald) where the lead female protagonist realizes for the first time that she might actually get the seemingly unattainable guy she's been pining for. This would be a memorable moment no matter the soundtrack, but Hughes gives the scene even greater heft by using atmospheric pop to maintain the fragile balance of a film that so skillfully blends teen angst and romantic growing pains with elements of screwball comedy.

03
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Simple Minds - "Don't You (Forget About Me)," from 'The Breakfast Club'

Simple Minds
DVD Cover Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Yeah, I know, it's not like this one hasn't been discussed more than enough already, but I think it's probably impossible to omit. Aside from being a prefabricated soundtrack tune performed by an artist less than enthusiastic about recording someone else's song, this tune did become a No. 1 pop hit and one of 1985's most-heard songs. In addition, it functions as a sturdy foundation for the film through its instrumental appearances as the film's theme even before the famous Judd Nelson walk-off scene that precedes the credits. Even if written especially for the film, the song works organically as an appropriate accompaniment for the film's universal coming-of-age themes and Hughes' signature blend of comedy and ultimately inspirational drama.

04
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Killing Joke - "Eighties," from 'Weird Science'

Weird Science
DVD Cover Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Up until his untimely August 2009 death, Hughes made a practice of keeping his personal life obscure and instead revealing himself through his film work and music choices. Thus, he may not be on record pontificating about the merits of post-punk and early alternative music, but selections like this one speak volumes regarding his ability to influence filmgoers' impressions of music as well as music lovers' taste in film narrative. This punchy guitar nugget and intriguing herky-jerky document of the times may not set a scene or mood in the manner of other Hughes offerings, but its presence within the decade's key retro playlist owes several distinct pop culture threads to its inclusion on the soundtrack.

05
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Psychedelic Furs - "Pretty in Pink," from 'Pretty in Pink'

Pretty in Pink
DVD Cover Image Courtesy of Paramount

When the title of a film comes from a pop song, one can be fairly certain that the narrative of the movie in question will share a tight symbiotic link with music akin to a vine's dependence on the sturdy branch it wraps around. As such, neither the Psychedelic Furs' moody and excellent signature track nor the stylish, romantic film of the same name would have had and continue to have their depth of impact if not for Hughes' steady hand in combining the two forms. Ringwald once again serves as female protagonist and muse for writer Hughes, and the individuality of her multi-dimensional, quirky but very human character uncannily fits the hard-to-categorize Furs and a song that deftly blends horns with Richard Butler's shadowy croon.

06
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Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - "If You Leave," from 'Pretty in Pink'

Pretty in Pink
DVD Cover Image Courtesy of Paramount

Some critics of synth pop have frequently argued that the style of music can suffer from an over-mechanized, passionless approach. But Hughes took one of the genre's foremost creative influences, OMD, and successfully attached a deeply emotional yet optimally commercial song to his film's pivotal romantic scene. There are many reasons why this tune became a pop hit, including its impeccable melody and affecting vocal performance, but when combined with the resolution of the Duckie-Andi-Blane love triangle at the prom - the teen film milieu of absolute necessity - this music becomes something transcendent. Hughes' notion that true love has the occasional potential to neutralize class warfare becomes more viable to the strains of OMD.

07
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Yello - "Oh Yeah," from 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off'

'Ferris Bueller's Day Off
DVD Cover Image Courtesy of Paramount

Sometimes an otherwise useless, silly novelty song can benefit from a filmmaker's careful placement in a movie, but in the case of this goofy example, Hughes actually transforms a musical trifle into a reliable cinematic commentary on the excess of the carnal or material variety. Once "Oh Yeah" introduced the unattainable, dangerous flash of Cameron's dad's prized Ferrari within the film's narrative, it pretty much instantly became the music du jour of the era for any film situation requiring lascivious or hedonistic accompaniment. To become an evergreen thread in the pop culture tapestry is never an easy thing to do, but Hughes performed the feat multiple times in his films, with the aid of pop music elevated by its narrative use.

08
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Furniture - "Brilliant Mind," from 'Some Kind of Wonderful'

Some Kind of Wonderful
DVD Cover Image Courtesy of Paramount

Hughes was nothing short of a full-tilt advocate for '80s British pop during his peak era, and even though he wrote but did not direct this 1987 classic, the film and its musical selections stand among Hughes' most transcendent cinematic achievements. Eric Stoltz and Mary Stuart Masterson confidently take their place among the best of the filmmaker's romantic heroes, as the magic of Hughes' musical touch and his deft writing hand manage to say something new about the classic love triangle. This particular song speaks volumes because it's used in a relatively quiet scene involving Craig Sheffer's villainous Hardy, and yet it adds so much to the story's sense of longing so earnestly transmitted (if ultimately misdirected) by Stoltz's Keith.

09
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Stephen Duffy - "She Loves Me," from 'Some Kind of Wonderful'

Some Kind of Wonderful
DVD Cover Image Courtesy of Paramount

All of Hughes' teen films up to this point skated rather innocently around the idea of sex, but the scene in during which Watts takes Keith through a dress rehearsal kiss in preparation for his date with Amanda Jones contains plenty of passion and heat that goes well beyond the merely emotional. The scene's success has plenty to do with the actors' chemistry, but it also benefits greatly from the background sounds supplied by this song's instrumental, never-overwhelming initial presence. That way, at the scene's payoff, when Watts wraps her legs around Keith during the practice kiss, it's an even stronger moment and the appropriate time for the gem of a song to come in at full volume. Wake up anytime now, Keith!

10
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Kate Bush - "This Woman's Work," from 'She's Having a Baby'

She's Having a Baby
DVD Cover Image Courtesy of Paramount

Many of us who grew up on the teen films may have mixed feelings about Hughes' attempts to make more adult-themed movies as the decade came to a close, but as writer and director of this 1988 feature, the man certainly proved once again he would never lose his knack for marrying scenes to music and vice-versa. As an accompaniment for Jake's (Kevin Bacon) defining, life-before-his-eyes moment while waiting for news about his wife's dicey delivery, Bush's stark rendition of a tune she wrote for the film works wonders in communicating the helplessness and pathos such a moment would inevitably inspire. Hughes' turn toward the serious ultimately failed to connect with a large audience, but the music certainly plays its part characteristically well.