FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF – Ira Newborn
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
If you ask anyone who grew up in the 1980s to name the sausage king of Chicago, chances are they will immediately reply Abe Froman, such is the enduring legacy of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. A raucous comedy written and directed by John Hughes – hot off the success of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Weird Science – the film stars Matthew Broderick as the eponymous hero, a smart-mouthed high school slacker who fakes an illness to take a day off school; after convincing his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and his uptight best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) to join him, they take Cameron’s father’s beloved Ferrari into Chicago for a day of mischief. However, high school teacher Mr. Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) is wise to Ferris’s antics, and is determined to put a stop to his delinquency once and for all. The film was an enormous critical and popular success, raking in millions of dollars at the box office over the summer of 1986, and making a star of its charismatic young leading man, while many of the film’s scenes and catchphrases became cultural touchstones for American kids. Personally, however, I have never been a huge fan of the film; I always found Ferris and his antics to be annoyingly egotistical, completely oblivious to the genuine protestations of his friends regarding his behavior, although I do find some of the set-pieces and one liners to be pretty amusing.
One of the other most popular aspects of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was its soundtrack, which makes it all the more surprising that one was never released in any format – until now. La-La Land Records and producers Neil S. Bulk and Dan Goldwasser have assembled a magnificent collection of music from the film, comprising a number of songs, the full original score, and various alternates and source cues. It is beautifully presented in an extensive collector’s edition album which was mastered in stereo from original vault elements by Stephen Marsh, and features in-depth liner notes by writer Tim Greiving including extensive interview comments from the film’s original music supervisor Tarquin Gotch, the film’s editor Paul Hirsch, and John Hughes’ son, James. Fans of the film and its music will find this album to be a wonderfully nostalgic treasure trove that transports them back thirty years; unfortunately, I am not one of those fans, and from a purely musical perspective Ferris remains, for me, a bit of a bust.
The score for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is by composer Ira Newborn, who in the 1980s and early 1990s enjoyed a series of successes scoring popular theatrical comedies such as Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, Planes Trains and Automobiles, Dragnet, Uncle Buck, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, and all three films in the Naked Gun franchise. His 20 minutes of score for Ferris Bueller is amongst his most popular and – until recently – most sought-after work, but I find that it suffers from the affliction that often curses scores with dominant pop song soundtracks, in that it is very bitty and disjointed, and stylistically all over the place. It veers from soft, lyrical orchestral pieces to big band jazz, comedy caper music, and dream-like electronic textures, sometimes within the same cue, which makes developing a consistent tone difficult. Taken at individual face value the music is generally good, but the overwhelming prominence of the songs in the soundtrack results in Newborn having to play second fiddle, composing around them when he can.
Newborn’s music for Ferris and his family is soft and sentimental orchestral scoring, written mainly for a string wash augmented by warm romantic pianos and woodwinds. Cues such as “Ferris in Bed,” “Mom Checks on Ferris,” “Jeannie Turns Ugly,” and the conclusive “Mom, Dad and Ferris” adopt this pretty style, but it’s actually quite subversive in context. Ferris’s parents think he is a sweet, innocent little boy, incapable of the mayhem he creates on a regular basis, and the music speaks to that double standard in ironic juxtaposition.
The music for Ferris’s best friend Cameron is much more heavily synth-based, redolent of the 1980s style of a Tangerine Dream or a Vangelis, with sometimes quite harsh pulsating ideas, unusual oceanic chords, and haunted dream-like ambiences. It first appears in “Cameron in Bed/Ferris Goes Hawaiian,” a cue which blends Cameron’s theme with flashes of Hawaiian guitar luau music, and even a choir singing “Let My Cameron Go” in the style of a Paul Robeson negro spiritual. Later cues such as “I’ll Go,” “Going to Take a Stand,” and “Cameron Takes the Heat” revisit the style with an occasional variation; “Going to Take a Stand” features some more prominent bluesy guitar textures, while “Cameron Takes the Heat” introduces a determined sounding synth theme, like a defiant rock instrumental, speaking to the film’s one dramatic revelation regarding Cameron’s relationship with his father.
Ferris’s interactions with his superiors at school briefly embrace orchestral militarism in “Nurse,” but then move into new territory in the 8-second “Bueller, Ferris Bueller,” and the much longer “Rooney on Patrol.” Here, Newborn revisits the finger-snapping bluesy-jazz that he first wrote for the comedy series Police Squad in 1982, and which he would later use so successfully in his Naked Gun scores. Here sultry saxophones, stand up basses, brushed snares, tapped cymbals, squealing trumpet solos, and rolling pianos are the order of the day, and although the inspiration is clearly Henry Mancini, the sound is superb, depicting Rooney as a bumbling man on a mission. It’s the best cue on the album, for me.
This style then bleeds through into a handful of action/caper cues, some of which are clear parodies of other works. “Ferris on Line 2” is an obvious homage to the suspense style of Bernard Herrmann’s 1962 score Cape Fear. Both “Save It, Ferris” and “Rooney Sneaks Around” feature comedy caper music, with pizzicato strings, hooting woodwinds, and xylophone runs – although the latter bizarrely segues into a cover of the famous Star Wars main title. The John Williams references return in the penultimate cue, “Dog Food Rooney/Ferris Goes to Bed,” which opens with some Carl Stalling style orchestral cartoon music, but then somehow manages to veer off into some strident Williams-esque orchestral action with more than a hint of Jaws.
If this all sounds very un-focused and scattershot, you’d be right. As I said, taken at face value, each cue has some musical worth, but it just never gels together as a coherent soundtrack experience. With just a couple of exceptions the cues never last long enough to actually go anywhere or develop anything, and it jumps from style to style so quickly that the overall feeling is akin to listening to selections from four different scores altogether. With the exception of one cue, “Mom Checks on Ferris,” which mixes Ferris’s family theme with some orchestral suspense music, there’s no bleed-through between any of the four styles, no musical co-operation, and nothing that indicates that they are all part of the same whole. I understand that Newborn was limited by the placement of the songs, but the lack of any sort of co-operation between the four styles still feels like a missed opportunity.
In terms of the songs, the soundtrack features nine of them. The most famous, of course, is “Oh Yeah” by the Swiss synthpop group Yello, espousing the sexiness of Cameron’s father’s red Ferrari. Chicka chicka! Other important songs include “Love Missile F1-11” by Sigue Sigue Sputnik, which underscores the opening montage of Ferris completing his morning ablutions; “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want,” written by Johnny Marr and Morrissey of The Smiths, which plays under the montage sequence where the intrepid trio visit the Art Institute of Chicago; and “Danke Schoen” by Wayne Newton, which is the song which Ferris lip-syncs to in the Von Steuben Day Parade, and which irritates me immensely with it’s incorrect pronunciation of the German word ‘schoen’ as ‘shane’. Unfortunately, due to licensing restrictions, the iconic renditions of “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles, “Taking The Day Off” by General Public, and “March of the Swivelheads” by The English Beat are not included on La-La Land’s album, but are available elsewhere.
I really wish I was able to give Ferris Bueller’s Day Off more of a recommendation than this. Judging by the mainstream coverage it has received, this soundtrack is clearly one which large numbers of people have been dreaming about for decades, especially those rabid Bueller fans who have kept the fanatical fires of this film burning since 1986. I also feel a little bad for the good folks at La-La Land Records, who have clearly put a lot of work and effort into producing a genuinely excellent product, lavish and comprehensive. But, for me, the bottom line is always the music itself, and unfortunately on those terms it just doesn’t cut the mustard. Some of the songs are classics, and it’s fun to hear a different variation on Newborn’s superb Naked Gun big bad jazz, but other than that, and unless this is one of your favorite films and you have been clamoring for a musical souvenir for the past 30 years, it’s easy to skip it.
Buy the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Love Missile F1-11 (Ultraviolence Mix) (written by Anthony James, Martin Degville and Neal Whitmore, performed by Sigue Sigue Sputnik) (6:58)
- Oh Yeah (written by Boris Blank and Dieter Meier, performed by Yello) (3:08)
- Beat City (written by Ben Watkins and Adam Peters, performed by The Flowerpot Men) (3:37)
- B.A.D. (written by Mick Jones and Don Letts, performed by Big Audio Dynamite) (5:47)
- Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want (written by Johnny Marr and Steven Morrissey, performed by The Dream Academy) (3:09)
- Danke Schoen (written by Bert Kaempfert, Kurt Schwabach, and Milt Gabler, performed by Wayne Newton) (2:35)
- Radio People (written by Larry Troutman and Zapp Troutman, performed by Zapp) (5:40)
- I’m Afraid (written by David Joyner and Paul Mansfield, performed by Blue Room) (4:51)
- The Edge of Forever (written by Nick Laird-Clowes and Gilbert Gabrel, performed by The Dream Academy) (4:21)
- Ferris in Bed (0:57)
- Cameron in Bed/Ferris Goes Hawaiian (1:44)
- I’ll Go (1:02)
- Nurse (0:11)
- Ferris on Line 2 (0:43)
- Bueller, Ferris Bueller (0:08)
- Mom Checks on Ferris (1:40)
- Jeannie Turns Ugly (0:34)
- Rooney on Patrol (1:26)
- Save It, Ferris (0:40)
- Rooney Sneaks Around/Star Wars Main Title (2:25)
- Going to Take a Stand (3:30)
- Cameron Takes the Heat (0:55)
- Oh Shauna Jeannie (0:46)
- He’s Gonna Marry Me (1:22)
- Dog Food Rooney/Ferris Goes to Bed (0:59)
- Mom, Dad and Ferris (1:34)
- Ferris on Line 2 [Alternate] (0:41)
- Theme from Star Trek (0:30)
- Cameron Takes the Heat [Alternate] (0:57)
- Coughlin Bros. Mortuary [Source Music] (0:27)
- String Quintet in E Major, Op.11, No.5 – The Celebrated Minuet (written by Luigi Boccherini) (1:37)
- Ballpark Baloney [Source Music] (1:10)
- Polka Medley [Source Music] (3:18)
- I’m Afraid (Instrumental Film Version) (written by David Joyner and Paul Mansfield) (4:51) [BONUS]
- Twist and Shout (Marching Band Overlay) (written by Bert Berns and Phil Medley) (2:35) [BONUS]
Running Time: 76 minutes 47 seconds
La-La-Land Records LLLCD-1391 (1986/2016)
Music composed by Ira Newborn. Orchestrations by Alf Clausen and Don Nemitz. Star Wars Main Title written by John Williams. Theme from Star Trek written by Alexander Courage. Recorded and mixed by Gary Ladinsky. Edited by Richard Stone. Score produced by Ira Newborn. Album produced by Neil S. Bulk and Dan Goldwasser.