The 90 Minute Guide: The Lost Soundtrack to ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’

Back when I was in junior high and high school, some of my favorite records were the eclectic, hip and cutting edge soundtracks from the films of John Hughes. His first famous teen comedy romp was Sixteen Candles, in which he combined archival music such as the “Peter Gunn Theme,” “The Love Theme from The Godfather” and the themes from The Twilight Zone and Dragnet with new tracks from the Thompson Twins, Wham!, Billy Idol, Oingo Boingo and Spandau Ballet. The Breakfast Club continued Hughes’ success with the teen market in both film and music. Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me” was one of the biggest hits of 1985, mostly due to the effect of The Breakfast Club. However, other than a few extra pop tracks, the rest of the album and soundtrack was disappointingly filled with incidental instrumental tracks. Later, those tracks would serve as a major inspiration for M83 and his album, Saturdays=Youth.

Weird Science would bring back the idea of soundtrack as mixtape, fronted by the returning Oingo Boingo’s title track, and rounded out by OMD and the debut of General Public. But Hughes’ biggest and bestselling soundtrack was yet to come. Pretty in Pink was arguably the best soundtrack album of the ’80s, a compilation that truly embraced and celebrated the emerging alternative and college radio format. OMD went from fringe electronic artists to heavyweights on the pop charts with the romantic “If You Leave.” The Psychedelic Furs song already existed, with the film’s title inspired by the song, but appearances by other up and coming artists would make the album a smash. INXS, New Order, the Smiths and Echo & the Bunnymen all either broke into the mainstream or solidified their status with appearances on the record. Pretty in Pink was released the same year as a film Hughes threw together in anticipation of a possible writer’s strike, one that would go down in comedy and cult history, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

The film was a commercial hit, one that still remains in the forefront of popular culture, homaged, parodied, and featured in several `Best’ lists over the years. Ferris Bueller is also one of those films that is heavily quotable, with several of Matthew Broderick’s `fourth wall’ speeches able to be recited verbatim. “Let my Cameron go,” “Nine times,” and “Abe Froman, sausage king of Chicago” are easily tabbed as Bueller-isms. On top of that, the meeting of music and image was never quite as harmonious as it was with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Unbelievably, a soundtrack album was never released, despite having some of the most memorable movie music in history. While movie studio Paramount wanted a soundtrack album release, Hughes felt the songs were too diverse to hold together in a soundtrack format. To that I say: Hogwash! Shenanigans! Hooey! Here, now, is the 90-Minute Guide to the lost soundtrack for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

(Author’s Note: Those of you sticklers on the mathematical side of things will note that this 90 minute guide not only doesn’t reach the actual 90 minute limit, but also features songs that aren’t even played in the film. Because of the popularity of this film and its music, I’ve seen several sites that have compiled surrogate soundtracks. Like those, in order to round out the extra time, you can either insert audio clips from your favorite scenes, or you can add alternate versions of particular songs (I will make a notation when that is possible), but I find the latter a big cheat. And really, who wants to hear two different versions of the same song on a soundtrack? Frankly, I’d rather hear what I’ve done, which is glean information from Ferris’ room, surroundings and speeches to extrapolate on what might be in Ferris’ record collection. I’ll notate these as well.) Now let’s get to the complete Ferris Bueller’s Day Off soundtrack.

Side One:

MTV Theme

MTV was still in its golden years in 1986, serving as the last year for the original five VJ’s, Alan Hunter, Nina Blackwood, J.J. Jackson, Mark Goodman and that cute little fireball, Martha Quinn. The fantastic and sorely missed show 120 Minutes debuted in this year. So, MTV was certainly ascending to its cultural peak, and 1986 was still before that peak slid down into the gutter of all reality television. The MTV theme is the first music you hear in the movie, just after Ferris’ declaration of “They bought it.”

Love Missile F1-11” by Sigue Sigue Sputnik

This track will forever be associated with the film due to it being the song that plays throughout Ferris’ entire opening monologue about faking out the parents, while he takes a shower, gets ready, etc. This punk / electro / new wave hybrid fits perfectly with the film, foreshadowing the synthesizer Ferris uses to feign sickness and the unpredictable zaniness of the day.

*”Sensoria” by Cabaret Voltaire

You’ll see a star next to this song title, as this is one of the songs that is not actually featured in the film. We can, however, assume that Ferris digs the track since he has a huge Cabaret Voltaire poster, featuring the album cover of Micro-Phonies in the corner of his room. “Sensoria” is one of the big indie singles from the album and a good introduction to the band and their sound.

I Dream of Jeannie” by Hugo Montenegro

“Never had one lesson,” is what Ferris says after mangling a tune on the clarinet. And we all know that the clarinet is the instrument of comedy. Either that or the banjo. Anyway, Ferris dances around to this lush Esquivel-esque lounge television theme song that simply illustrates his knack for playfulness and stylish hats.

*”Slave to Love” by Bryan Ferry

Directly behind Ferris Bueller’s bed we see a massive poster for the 12-inch single of “Slave to Love,” Bryan Ferry’s hit single from the previous year. The song was made famous by its appearance in 9 1/2 Weeks, and its singer must be a favorite of Hughes’ as he reemploys Ferry for his excellent She’s Having a Baby soundtrack, for which he does a cover of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.” You can also see a Bryan Ferry album leaning against his stereo as he adjusts the levels for his ultimate escape.

*”Up on the Catwalk” by Simple Minds

Aside from the aforementioned posters, there is also one for Simple Minds’ album, Sparkle in the Rain. Despite the fact that the year before saw the release of the Simple Minds single, “Don’t You Forget About Me” for the Hughes penned and directed The Breakfast Club, Hughes chose to highlight this previous album, an underrated pop gem. My favorite track on the album is the kinetic “Up on the Catwalk,” and I’d like to think it’d be a favorite of Bueller’s as well.

*Medley: “God” by John Lennon and “I am the Walrus” by the Beatles

These songs don’t so much come from a poster as they do a quotation. Ferris quotes Lennon’s “God” in the shower as he says “I don’t believe in Beatles. I just believe in me.” He then goes on to say, “Good point there. After all, he was the Walrus. I could be the Walrus. I’d still have to bum rides off people.” It seems that Ferris forgets that the other lyrics in “God” go on to say that John is not the Walrus. Oh well.

Beat City” by the Flowerpot Men

I had never heard of the Flowerpot Men before seeing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and have certainly never heard from them since. Truly defining the term one-hit wonder, if you can even call “Beat City” a hit, this British new wave band will at least be remembered for the song that plays when our heroic trio head into Chicago in their `borrowed’ Ferrari 250 GT California.

Bad” by Big Audio Dynamite

Mick Jones’ outfit after the Clash disbanded was an eclectic hybrid of dance, punk, pop and new wave with “Bad” representing an album cut (and the initials of the band) from the band’s debut album, This is Big Audio Dynamite. Though never a huge success, at least in comparison to Jones’ previous band, the outfit did go on for nearly 12 years. This song is heard in somewhat incidental fashion on the radio as the trio pulls into the Chicago parking garage with our two shady attendants.

Star Wars Theme” by John Williams

…and the attendants take off and put miles and miles and miles on the Ferrari. The opening shot of the rebel ship fleeing the Star Destroyer is perfectly parodied with the underside of the Ferrari looming over the frame. And, if you didn’t know it before, the greasy looking attendant is the great Richard Edson, who has also appeared in Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, as the personification of `risk’ in the recent Travelers Insurance ads, and most interestingly, was the original drummer for Sonic Youth. Wow.

Side Two:

Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want (Instrumental)” by the Dream Academy

We start the second half of our 90 minutes from a more mellow perspective. The Smiths’ “Please Please Please” has always been one of my melancholy favorites, and the Dream Academy not only do justice to it, but the instrumental version of the song is just as moving as Morrissey’s as it plays during the famous museum scene. Cameron stares into Seurat’s “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” as the song plays, with the camera alternating between close-up shots of Cameron’s eye and the painting. *(If you wanted, you could also add the at-one-time more attainable version with vocals, or the original Smiths version)

Danke Schoen” by Wayne Newton

“Ladies and gentlemen, you are such a wonderful crowd, we’d like to play a little tune for you. It’s one of my personal favorites and I’d like to dedicate it to a young man who doesn’t think he’s seen anything good today. Cameron Frye, this one’s for you.” Classic. Plus, if you keep track, you’ll notice that three different characters sing the song at times other than this huge parade sequence. Ferris sings it in the shower, Rooney hums the song outside Ferris’ door and Jeannie sings it in the police station after bonding with Charlie Sheen.

Twist & Shout” by the Beatles

One of the best songs ever recorded. The great track, with John’s voice going hoarse and sounding all the better for it, is made even cooler with the choreographed craziness of downtown Chicago. You might notice that the dancers on the steps do moves from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. This parade float scene is one of the truly iconic moments in movie history.

Radio People” by Zapp

This great funk gem is another one where if you blink you’ll miss it. After Ferris and the gang pick up the Ferrari from the garage, they head down the crowded city street before Ferris discovers the mileage discrepancy. This is the song playing on the radio. If you haven’t heard Zapp, you have to listen to “More Bounce to the Ounce.” It’s a good one to bounce your hydraulics to. Woot.

I’m Afraid” by the Blue Room

Again, another unknown band, and the music is again incidental, as it is barely heard as Ferris and Sloane try to comfort Cameron on the lakeshore. There’s not much to say about this song. It’s not as recognizable, and most people would forget about it, but it is featured in the movie, so there you go.

Taking the Day Off” by General Public

After the success of using “Tenderness” in Weird Science, Hughes looked to Dave Wakeling to write a song specifically for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. He ended up with an instrumental track that plays while Cameron sits in the deck chair on the pool’s diving board while Ferris and Sloane eat Oreos and drink Pepsi in the Jacuzzi. Product placement, anyone?

The Edge of Forever” by the Dream Academy

One of my favorite tracks from the film is another one by the Dream Academy. This, of course, is the one that plays when the three have to say their goodbyes, Ferris gives Sloane a kiss, and Sloane utters the phrase, “He’s going to marry me.” The Dream Academy is one of those really underrated bands from the mid-’80s, dismissed as a one-hit wonder for the superb “Life in a Northern Town” despite two other great songs that featured in this film.

March of the Swivelheads” by the English Beat

How can you ever forget this song? This is the upbeat dancehall track that plays during Ferris’ mad dash home in order to get there before his parents, his sister, and Principal Rooney. The song is an instrumental remix version of the original “Rotating Head” from the album, Special Beat Service. But to get that feeling of impending danger, or if you simply want to plug into your iPod and start running through people’s yards, this is the version you want.

Oh Yeah” by Yello

And thus we end up with the song that is probably most associated with the movie, Yello’s dance hit, “Oh Yeah.” Playing during the closing credits, the song was both immediately accessible on its own merits, and forever remembered with the images of Rooney slowly scanning the bus for “Save Ferris” graffiti, and being offered warm gummy bears.



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