Can we be blunt? Nobody remembers the instrumental score for Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Why? Because this is a John Hughes movie, dude. From the '80s. And John Hughes's '80s movies are legendary for their soundtracks, handpicked by Hughes himself.
"I'd rather make music if I had the talent," John Hughes once confessed to MTV News (source). Sadly, Hughes had to settle for being a beloved writer, director, and musical tastemaker: His soundtrack choices, featuring synth pop, funk, and post-punk, were responsible for some of the biggest hits of the '80s.
The Soundtrack to 80s Teens' Lives (and Regrettable Haircuts)
"More than any other filmmaker—except, arguably, Quentin Tarantino," writes Luke Lewis of NME, "Hughes understood pop's function as an emotional shortcut: where the script was sometimes lacking, a song could fill in the gaps." Hughes didn't let the soundtrack cuts do all of the writing for him, though. More often he used songs to accentuate already-potent moments.
Take the introduction of Cameron's dad's "choice" Ferrari, for example, which Hughes pairs with Yello's "Oh Yeah." Writes Art Tavana of L.A. Weekly: "When Yello's 'chik-chika-chika' bounces off the polished red Ferrari, Hughes transports Ferris and Cameron into a Madison Avenue car commercial, like a perfectly crafted, geometrically precise presentation of automotive porn." This is intentional. Hughes carefully deployed the dance track, with its minimalist lyrics consisting primarily of "oh yeah" and "beautiful" to punctuate the boy's lust for the car (source). It also became a trusty film and TV anthem for hijinks for the next twenty-five years.
"To have a song work for the movie, it can't just be written apart and shoved in," Hughes once explained. "It's got to come out of the action. It's got to talk about the characters, not the story, it has to augment that action" (source). This is true of the use of The Beatles' "Twist and Shout" during the massive dance party that Ferris leads in the Chicago Loop. In fact, that scene is so iconic that it launched the song back into the pop singles chart twenty-three years after it was first released (source). We're sure Paul McCartney wasn't exactly hurting for revenue, but that's still pretty cool.
Nobody Plays the "Air Oboe"
Hughes's soundtrack for Ferris Bueller's Day Off, as with all of his '80s teen films, gives attention to artists who the writer-director thought were underrated. English sophisti-pop band Dream Academy—who, conveniently, were managed at the time by the film's music director, Tarquin Gotch—nabs not one, but two spots on the film's soundtrack, including a haunting cover of The Smiths' "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want" that adds heft to the teens trip to the Art Institute (source). The song later entered the U.K. Singles chart where it modestly peaked at #83 (source). Not bad for a pop band with an oboe player.
No matter how beloved Hughes's soundtracks became—both by movie fans and record industry bigwigs—Hughes kept his focus on quality tunes. This was no small feat given that the popularity of Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Hughes's other teen films coincided with the rise of MTV, back when it used to showcase cutting edge music videos instead of Teen Mom marathons. Hughes never picked what was hot; Hughes picked what fit the film.
You're Never Getting the Ferris Bueller's Day Off Soundtrack for Christmas
As a testament to Hughes's focus on musical merit, there is no official soundtrack for Ferris Bueller's Day Off. You can cobble together your own, of course—and good luck finding a digital copy of The Flowerpot Men's "Beat City"—but Hughes never allowed an official one to be released because he felt that the tracks lacked a common thread and would make for a weak listening experience when rounded up in a playlist (source). As a tastemaker, Hughes never sold out.
And so what if you can't download the Ferris Bueller's Day Off soundtrack to your phone? Maybe Hughes would appreciate that. As L.A. Times music blogger Todd Martens claims, "If the Boomers had Woodstock, Generation X had John Hughes." And Generation X is the generation of audiocassettes and compact discs. Just ask your uncle in the Sigue Sigue Sputnik T-shirt who still has a cassette deck in his Saab and a glove box full of carefully curated mixtapes.