SoundTreks | The Never-Released Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Soundtrack
The story goes that director John Hughes, whose teen comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off turned 30 on June 11th, didn’t want to release a soundtrack record. Although the film featured numerous pop hits, covers, and notable musical interludes, Hughes felt that kids wouldn’t be interested; who, he figured, would want to own a soundtrack with both Wayne Newton and the Swiss one-hit wonder Yello on it?
Instead of an official soundtrack release, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off offered a $30 two-song single that could be mailed exclusively to members of the film’s fan club by Hughes personally. The two songs on that record were “Beat City” and another that Hughes couldn’t remember. That 7″ is likely worth a chunk of change.
So, like Highlander before it, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was never granted a proper soundtrack record. This, despite the number of great songs featured in the film, and the weird place those songs occupy in the minds of Generation Y kids everywhere. Resourceful fans have, thankfully, been making their own bootlegs of the soundtrack for years, and we are able to speculate with relative confidence what would have been included. All the fan playlists are, you may find, variations of the below compilation.
SoundTreks, dear reader, in a fit of fan passion, has assembled the Ferris Bueller playlist, all for you. We feel that this is a seminal teen movie, and the time has come, on its 30th birthday, to consider the possible greatness that might have been.
Track 1. “Love Missile F1-11 (Extended Version)” – Sigue Sigue Sputnik
Sigue Sigue Sputnik are a British New Wave band formed by one of the members of Generation X, although you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a Devo side project, perhaps remixed by Art of Noise. The electronic beat and talk of spacecraft seems very very much like an idea from everyone’s favorite spudboys. “Love Missile” is aggressively playful and playfully aggressive. It’s upbeat and great. Here in America, people’s knowledge of Sigue Sigue Sputnik begins and ends here, and this particular track wasn’t even a big hit, ensuring that the single rests in that obscurity sweet spot.
This sort of extended remix (especially with movie dialogue and sound effects mixed in) was barely becoming mainstream in 1986. Today, it’s pretty much all pop music. These guys were, like a few of their enterprising New Wave peers, on the forefront of the electronic dance sound that would come to dominate everything. I imagine you could play this mix in any dance club and still get people moving.
Track 2. “Beat City” – The Flowerpot Men
I understand John Hughes’ two-track soundtrack contained only the songs he owned the rights to, but I still find it odd that this track was meant to be the representative track of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. This is a punkish New Wave track – and a rocking one – that doesn’t seem to contain the youthful prankster-ish attitude of the movie. The movie had a nod and a wink. This track is more assertive in its need for speed and want for disorder. Ferris Bueller was a flip yuppie kid who had a permanent wink. His punk was puckish. This track isn’t playful. It’s earnest.
I like it a lot.
Track 3. “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” – The Dream Academy
The Smiths’ version of “Please, Please, Please” is one of the groups better-known songs, and has popped its head up in numerous hip movies including Hughes’ own Pretty in Pink (I guess Hughes was a big Smiths fan), as well as (500) Days of Summer. Covers are plentiful. The Dream Academy’s version seems to out-mood even The Smiths, playing as more wistfully romantic than achingly melancholy. The “What I want” of the title is love this time.
Track 4. “Danke Schoen” – Wayne Newton
Wayne Newton’s 1963 version of “Danke Shoen” is a lounge standard of the highest order, perhaps known by every American by genetic memory, perhaps thanks to Ferris Bueller. It was originally a German song, and there was initially a lyric-free version called “Candlelight Cafe,” but Newton’s version has overtaken any original by a handy margin. In the context of the film, Bueller uses this song – and the next one – as a way of displaying his playful attitude in a very public place; i.e. he lip-synchs the song in the middle of a parade, entreating the public to join him.
Why “Danke Shoen?” In 1986, this would have been the squarest possible song for a teenager to sing. This is what the uncool parents listened to. This was a child of Lawrence Welk, not rock and roll. It was likely selected because 1) it’s a song most people know the lyrics to and can sing along with, and 2) irony. Ferris Bueller is a humorous guy. We likely knew he was singing a song for the most L7 of people, and he applied the music with his tongue in his cheek. A use of youthful satire, and a great song, all making for a memorable movie moment. Well done.
Track 5. “Twist and Shout” – The Beatles
Unlike “Danke Shoen” – “Twist and Shout” is cool. It may have a similar vintage as “Danke Shoen,” and Wayne Newton is the same age as The Beatles, but when you compare the two, they are from different planets entirely.
But are they? By 1986, this was an “oldie.” It was comfort food for the parents of people Ferris Bueller’s age. Oldies are, functionally speaking, comfort food for people over a certain age. They’re all about nostalgia, even if their original intention may have been to piss off the squares and celebrate youth. For someone Bueller’s age, these songs would have been a bold “taking back” of nostalgia. The Beatles are universal, and now, in this moment, thanks to Ferris Bueller, it belongs to Generation X as well. That would be the actual generation and not the band.
Track 6. “Radio People” – Zapp
Although this is also an electronic-infused dance hit, the inclusion of Zapp hits you a little sideways. Technically, Zapp was a funk band that formed as early as 1966, and who hit their stride in the 1970s. They worked with Bootsy Collins and George Clinton. These people are not just funk. They are deep-down funk. Odd to consider this track was released in 1985. Zapp is even more of an outlier than Wayne Newton.
Fun bit of trivia: The guy from Zapp sang the hook to “California Love.”
Track 7. “I’m Afraid” – Blue Room
Although the bulk of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is playful and cheery, there is, especially at the film’s end, a sadness. There’s an acknowledgment that for Ferris, things are going to change very soon, and he seems to know his youthful playfulness is nearing a conclusion. For his best friend Cameron, things must change if he is to escape the emotionally oppressive yoke of his off-screen father. The soundtrack seems to be carrying the weight of that sadness, that sense of impending finality. Blue Room’s “I’m Afraid” is very much about that very thing: Being afraid. The future is coming, kid. Be ready.
Track 8. “Taking the Day Off” – General Public
General Public was a supergroup formed of members of The Beat, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, The Clash, and The Specials. This upbeat instrumental bears the markings of New Wave and post-punk, but could easily have come from the film’s score. It’s more indicative of the film’s actual tone than any of the other tracks so far.
Track 9. “The Edge of Forever” – The Dream Academy
Like their cover of “Please, Please, Please,” this song by The Dream Academy is wistful. If this was a soundtrack record in the proper sense, it would seem to be leading us to that painful letting go that comes with growing up. Hughes was making a brad comedy with silly gags, slapstick moments, and a wild chase, but ultimately, he wanted to declare Ferris Bueller to be something of a hero. There is an ephemeral element to people like Ferris Bueller, and the film seems to be very much about Bueller’s peaceful and mature acknowledgment of his own impeding maturity.
Track 10. “March of the Swivelheads” – The (English) Beat
“March of the Swivelheads” is a remix of The (English) Beat’s own “Rotating Heads.” The track plays during the film’s climax, when Ferris, on foot, is attempting to get back home to his sick-in-bed masquerade before his spiteful sister can drive there with their oblivious mother in tow. In the context of the film, this track is so perfectly suited to a chase, I merely assumed it was part of the score by Ira Newborn. This is the first time I’ve heard the full version, and I can now appreciate the track’s experimental nature.
Track 11. “Oh Yeah” – Yello
Yello was a Swiss experimental collective that has been turning out records pretty steadily since 1980, and actually released a record as recently as this year. They are, like some of the tracks above, a group that focuses on electronic beats, buzzy bass grooves, upbeat melodies, and a lot of samples. “Oh Yeah’s” vocals were a distorted reading by Dieter Meier. I’m finding I dig this kind of stuff. I like Art of Noise. I like that “Frontier Psychiatrist” video more than I should. And I like Sigue sigue Sputnik. There is a deconstructive quality to these groups. They are digging through pop music to find what lurks beneath the surface, but they’re still poppy and fun.
Also, everyone knows this damn track. It was featured in several movies, TV commercials, and episodes of The Simpsons. It’s a party anthem while simultaneously a bonkers European art project. It may be overplayed.
Track 12. “BAD” – Big Audio Dynamite
Big Audio Dynamite is a post-punk/electronic band formed by Mick Jones of The Clash. Just listen. Because this is pretty effing awesome stuff.
Which is Better: The Unreleased Soundtrack or the Movie?
Although I love the movie as much as the next old man my age, and experienced it as one of the more important teen comedies of my youth, I have to say that, had this record ever been compiled, it would have beaten the movie. There is more tonal texture in the record and a better landscape of emotional experiences. And it just sounds cool. All the odd electronic experiments are most certainly of their time, but this was not a sound that hung into the present. The soundtrack to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is not the usual litany of one-hit wonders and well-worn ’80s pop hits. Hughes was assembling something more deeply entwined, and, by making something so specific, managed to make something more dynamic and universal.
The film is great. This record, however, with some tweaking, re-ordering, and perhaps the inclusion of some other bizarre songs from the film (the film also included, for instance, that famous Boccherini piece and the theme song to I Dream of Jeannie) may become something amazing. It may be one of the hippest damn things to come out of 1986.
Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.