Top 40 Smash Near Misses — “Pretty in Pink”

These posts are about the songs that just barely failed to cross the key line of chart success, entering the Billboard Top 40. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 41.


For college rock bands in the nineteen-eighties, landing a track on the soundtrack to a John Hughes movie was the equivalent of buying a lottery ticket with half the numbers guaranteed to hit. Riches weren’t an automatic outcome, but the odds were pretty good. And if Hughes went so far as to adopt the band’s song title as the name of the film in question, surely even the most cantankerous budding rock star would find their head aswirl with lavish possibilities.

The story of how “Pretty in Pink,” the 1981 single from the Psychedelic Furs, became an integral part of the 1986 film Pretty in Pink is full of conflicting testimony. The most commonly repeated lore insists that Molly Ringwald, star of Hughes’s Sixteeen Candles and The Breakfast Club, brought the song to the filmmaker’s attention, suggesting it could serve as inspiration for a new screenplay. But even Ringwald disputes that version of events.

“I have heard that I did, but I can’t imagine that he hadn’t heard it already,” Ringwald told Susannah Gora, author of You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and Their Impact on a Generation. “I think maybe I reintroduced him to it, or maybe he heard it in a different way when I played it for him.”

However it occurred to Hughes to use “Pretty in Pink” as the ostensible foundation for a story, he dashed off a script and gave it to Howard Deutch to direct. Also serving as a producer on the film, Hughes was deeply involved with selecting the pop songs that formed the emotional spine of the story. Working with music supervisor David Anderle, the production secured songs from the likes of INXS, New Order, and the Smiths, with Hughes sometimes making direct suggestions to Deutch about how specifically they could be used in the film.

Of course, it was practically a certainty that “Pretty in Pink” would be featured. The only question was whether the original recording, as included on the Psychedelic Furs album Talk Talk Talk, would serve the purpose. Again, there are disputing narratives about the situation. Richard Butler, frontman for the Psychedelic Furs, insists the record label was happy to lend the song to the movie, but, according to Anderle, the rights weren’t available. Either way, the Psychedelic Furs wound up making a fresh recording of “Pretty in Pink,” refining the sound in an attempt to make it more palatable a mainstream audience.

Released as a single, the new “Pretty in Pink” predictably became the Psychedelic Furs’ biggest hit to that point in the U.S. It also fell well short of the smash standard for a song from a Hughes-overseen soundtrack set the previous year by Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” from The Breakfast Club. “Pretty in Pink” stalled out at #41. Another song from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack wound up approaching pop sensation status. “If You Leave,” written and recorded hastily by synth-pop band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark after Hughes changed the ending of the film, made it into the Billboard Top 5 and undoubtedly onto the moody playlists of high school proms coast to coast.



Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Top 40 Smash Near Misses” tag.

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