Classic Songs of My Youth Revisited #24

Thompson Twins – If You Were Here

I could write a dozen of these about songs from John Hughes’ movies, and I just might by the time I hang up my, uh, . . . keyboard? Or digital pen? Fingers? Anyway, let’s start with this one, the first song – and film – that made me realize that Hughes was a genius at integrating pop music and teen comedy.

This wasn’t a hit, and it wasn’t even released as a single, which is a bit of a surprise, since the non-Twins hit number 3 the same month the film was released with “Hold Me Now” (worthy of its own write up, for sure). It could be record label shenanigans – it was a track from two albums ago, and maybe they didn’t want any focus taken off the current release. Or maybe they thought it wasn’t a worthy single, which is (1) completely stupid and (2) irrelevant. The streaming era has its flaws, but one good thing is that record labels – and artists for that matter – have little say about what becomes a hit. The listener decides which tracks to stream and which to skip, and the charts reflect that. And “If You Were Here” found its audience – it’s one of the band’s most popular tracks on Spotify.

So, no single, so you only heard this song if you were already a fan of the band or saw the movie or bought the soundtrack, which you likely would only have done if you, you know, saw the movie. I don’t remember why I went to see this, but I was already a massive Hughes fan thanks to some of his truly demented writings in National Lampoon during the 1970s. It was summer 1984, and after crashing out of university in spectacular fashion (I think I changed majors four times in five months then just stopped attending classes entirely – yeah, direction I did not have), then wallowing in my failure in Cape Breton for three months (including a horrendous fishing trip on my father’s boat), I returned to St. Catharines – the scene of my academic washout – and secured a job with the catering company at the university, where I had previously worked part-time. And, most importantly, rented a room in the house where my friend Serge was living.

My friendship with Serge ended in spectacular fashion, but before it all went south, that summer might just have been the best of my life. On one of those nights, with nothing better to do, Serge and I jumped in his car with a case of beer and went to the drive-in to see “Sixteen Candles” and some other film whose identity has been lost to time.

I wish I could say I was really focused on the film, but when two or more young men get together and alcohol is involved, there’s usually as much screwing around as paying attention to any nominal focal point like a movie or whatever bullshit your girlfriend is complaining about. So it wasn’t until 6 or 9 months later when it showed up on The Movie Network that I appreciated what a great – albeit juvenile, sexually inappropriate and racially insensitive – film it was. But the music? Yeah, that caught me right away.

There are a ton of great songs in this film, and just seeing the titles takes me in my mind to the accompanying scene. It of course helps that I’ve probably watched it all the way through a dozen times, and can’t help but watch for 10 or 15 minutes if I come across it while channel surfing. It’s my favourite Hughes film – for all it’s inappropriateness, there is also a strange innocence to the film, and, yes, I am of the school that Farmer Ted is a complete gentleman who doesn’t take advantage of Caroline, and so that kiss is romantic, not creepy. The teens are not Ferris Bueller cool, they have issues: Ted hides his insecurity with bravado, Jake feels unappreciated, Sam’s whole family forgets her 16th birthday. Real teen trauma. Yeah, I know that’s a bit thick – it’s a movie. But I really love it.

And a big reason why it’s stuck with me is this song. After an entire film of misfortune – including having her story stolen out from under her by Anthony Michael Hall as Ted – Molly Ringwald’s Sam, emerging from the church after her sister’s wedding, watches the crowd disperse only to see dreamboat Michael Schoeffling’s Jake waiting for her. As the song’s opening plays under the scene, Sam and Jake navigate some miscommunication to come to the realization that both want the same thing: to be together. (I’m not crying, you’re crying.) (Also, pair this with “Breaking Away” for a double feature of Paul Dooley playing great dads.) And the film ends with their first kiss over her birthday cake, the end of an unexpectedly perfect day – just a day later than Sam had been hoping for, but far better than she ever imagined it could be.

It sounds like I love the song because of the movie but it goes both ways – the song helps me love the movie, too. It’s a perfect early ‘80s pop confection, all atmospheric synth and Tom Bailey’s whispery vocal and perfectly placed percussion from Joe Leeway. Despite the romantic context in the film, it’s about a dying love, not a blossoming one – the word “deceive” is not sung by accident. But the vibe of the song is completely New Romantic, and it sweeps you up.

Leeway left the band in 1986, and while it’s probably coincidental (no disrespect intended), they never had another major hit. But they left behind some great pop tunes – “King for a Day” is another personal favourite – and a couple of classic albums that probably don’t get played enough these days. The music of the early ‘80s was fun, and there isn’t nearly enough of that in the world today, or in music for that matter. It’s well worth spending some time with those records.

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