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Simple fairy tales

You hadn't a hope in hell of forgetting about Simple Minds in 1985. Don't You (Forget About Me) was the single of that year, propelled into the stratosphere by its presence on one of the year's smash-hit movies, The Breakfast Club.

The movie starred a handful of what would become the Brat Pack's leading lights: Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson and the low-wattage Anthony Michael Hall. Bratty, self-absorbed teens, they discover a common bond when forced to spend a Saturday together in detention. Written by John Hughes, the movie ends with the pounding synths of Simple Minds and the request that we don't forget about them.

But what were Scotland's finest U2 impersonators doing on the soundtrack to a movie about angsty American teens?

John Hughes directed Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science and Ferris Bueller's Day Off in the space of three years from 1984 to 1986, while also finding time to write Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful, each one a bona fide '80s teen classic.

By the time Jim Kerr and friends got to serenade the teens of The Breakfast Club, Hughes had established his Brit-oriented form when it came to soundtrack music.

Where the first Brit invasion of the US had been led by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who in the mid-1960s, the second Brit invasion of the mid-1980s was a more modest affair that featured the likes of Duran Duran and OMD.

In creating teen-friendly movies that starred actual teens and dealt with teen issues, John Hughes was already surfing the zeitgeist. The second Brit invasion provided the bells and whistles.

Sixteen Candles (1984), which found Molly Ringwald pouting her way through the angst of having no one remember her birthday, featured musical offerings from Altered Images, Kajagoogoo, Paul Young, Spandau Ballet, Nick Heyward and Wham.

Oddly, and despite how integral the soundtrack was to the success of Sixteen Candles, Hughes reined back on the soundtrack for The Breakfast Club (1985).

Hughes left the directing of his script to Howard Deutch for Pretty in Pink (1986), instead taking on the role of executive producer. His musical fingerprints, however, are all over the movie. Not only were the bands overwhelmingly British, they were decidedly left of centre, particularly to an American ear. New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Psychedelic Furs, OMD and The Smiths all featured heavily, all of them a million miles from the bombastic stadium rawk that dominated American playlists of the time.

It made for a cleverly poignant blend. The kids John Hughes created were floundering through their teenage years, unable to make sense of the world around them or indeed their own hormones. What better way to exploit audience empathy than to bombard its ears with the exotic sounds of a literate British pop sound that was kicking against the pricks of the rawk'n'roll brigade?

Meanwhile, the confusion was no less mesmerising on this side of the Atlantic. In Pretty in Pink, Molly Ringwald plays Andie, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who meets rich boy Blane, played by Andrew McCarthy. Andie's father is an unemployable alcoholic, and motherless Andie is so poor she has to -- gasp! -- make her own clothes. Dire straits indeed -- although Andie isn't so poor she can't drive her dinky convertible to high school every day.

This side of the pond, in a recession-hit UK and Ireland dominated by Thatcher, Haughey and the ongoing Troubles, the John Hughes movies had the vivid, vibrant unbelievability of fairy tales.

Hughes took that fairy tale quality a step further with Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), in which Ferris, played by Matthew Broderick, decides to take the day off. The fact that all the effort and planning he puts into his skiving was roughly quadruple what it would have taken him to simply endure another day of school was irrelevant. Ferris rang rings around the adults, charmed an entire city and broke down the fourth wall by regularly engaging the audience with conversations straight to camera. It was subversive and challenging stuff, albeit painted in lurid colours and heavily sprinkled with pixie dust.

The soundtrack, meanwhile, went into John Hughes overload: Yello and Sigue Sigue Sputnik; the Dream Academy reprising The Smiths' Please, Please Please Let Me Get What I Want from Pretty in Pink; a rousing version of The Beatles' Twist and Shout; The Beat, Wayne Newton and Big Audio Dynamite.

As in Pretty in Pink, the movie is studded with musical iconography: the posters in Ferris's room, for example, are of Bryan Ferry, the Sex Pistols, Simple Minds and Cabaret Voltaire.

Whether John Hughes was genuinely a fan of the Brit-Pop invasion or simply exploiting it for the sake of its off-beat cachet is irrelevant. The blend of Brit-Pop tunes and All-American teens was irresistible, and created a kind of magic that very few filmmakers since have been able to recapture. Yes, the movies are painfully naive now, and their stories simplistic, but then the best fairy tales have always been just as naive and simplistic, and enduring.

All together now: "Don't you/ Forget about me . . ."


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