PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED – John Barry
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Although he is best known for his epic gangster Godfather trilogy, and for the classic war movie Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola has made many other movies in his career, and some of them are much less dramatic and shocking. One of those is the 1986 film Peggy Sue Got Married, a romantic comedy-drama wish fulfillment-fantasy written by husband and wife team Jerry Leichtling and Arlene Sarner. Kathleen Turner stars as Peggy Sue Bodell, who attends her 25-year high school reunion shortly after separating from her unfaithful husband Charlie (Nicolas Cage), her former high school sweetheart. Peggy Sue regrets many of the decisions she made in her life, such as getting pregnant by Charlie in high school, and feels that her circumstances would be different if she had the chance to do it over again. Peggy Sue faints at the reunion, and when she wakes up she magically finds herself in 1960, back in high school, and with the chance to right the wrongs of the past. The film, which co-starred Barry Miller, Catherine Hicks, Joan Allen, and a 24-year-old Jim Carrey, was both a commercial and a critical success, and was nominated for three Academy Awards, including one for Turner as Best Actress. The film also features an original score by the legendary John Barry, the second and last of his collaborations with Coppola after The Cotton Club in 1984.
Of all the composers working in the 1980s, John Barry was perhaps only ever rivaled by Georges Delerue as the creator of the most heart-melting romantic themes. Of course, other composers wrote many gorgeous love themes, but very few did it with such grace, effortlessness, or frequency as Barry. The score for Peggy Sue Got Married is up there with the likes of Somewhere in Time, Body Heat (another, albeit very different, Kathleen Turner vehicle), and Until September, in terms of sheer romantic musical poetry. Appropriately, considering the film’s subject matter, the score has a sense of quixotic wistfulness and regret to it too, somehow simultaneously capturing Peggy Sue’s notions of a wasted life, but balancing it with her boundless optimism that she can still have something better, if only she had the chance to make it so.
The four cues on Varese Sarabande’s original 1986 album run for just under 15 minutes, but the quality of the music contained within them is superb. Building on Barry’s seemingly endless capacity for melody, the score contains no less than four themes, all of which are presented sequentially, and all of which are stunningly attractive. In “Peggy Sue’s Homecoming” Barry opens with searching strings and piano chords in slow waltz time, which melt into glorious aching romance after 30 seconds with cascading sheets of strings, cellos over violas over violins, and the merest hint of a harp. The pacing is as steady and measured as it always is, and fans of the Englishman’s iconic, slightly melancholy romantic writing will fall in love in an instant. The second theme is introduced at 1:48 and is lighter, more playful, and perhaps a little child-like, almost like a tune from a music box. The way it grows, and picks up a whisper of a choral accent, is just lovely.
“Charlie’s Unplayed Guitar” introduces the third new theme, which is carried by an electric guitar playing a simple motif repeated over a rolling, sentimental string wash. The contrapuntal writing switches from flutes to strings to warm horns and back in a soothing, sentimental way, almost like a hypnotic romantic dream. The subsequent “Did We Break Up?” is slightly more nervous, with worried-sounding flutes, and tense trills from a harpsichord, which segues into a bluesy/jazzy theme with a prominent soprano saxophone and little piano accents, adding a sense of dejection that stands at odds with the more sunny, optimistic music elsewhere. Barry’s jazz writing has been exceptional since the earliest years of his career in the 1960s, and this shows he never lost the touch.
The conclusive “Charlie, I Had The Strangest Experience” presents several variations on the main themes, including a lighter version of the Break Up theme for flute and strings that has a greater sense of warmth and tenderness to it. Finally, soft, mellifluous horns usher in a return to the pretty Music Box theme, this time with an added saxophone component that dances back and forth between statements in the strings until its gently sentimental close. The piece is filled with lovely textures for woodwinds and strings that drip with Barry’s personal stylistics, and anyone who has a fondness for any of the other Barry scores I mentioned, or subsequent works like Dances With Wolves, Indecent Proposal, My Life, and The Scarlet Letter, will find the harmonic and orchestral similarities in this score to be to their liking.
The rest of the album comprises period rock and roll songs, including the iconic title track from Buddy Holly, two classic doo-wop songs by Dion & The Belmonts including the wonderful “Teenager In Love,” and even Nicolas Cage himself singing a cover of Jerry Butler’s “He Will Break Your Heart,” re-titled “He Don’t Love You Like I Love You”.
For many years, this brief taste was all that was available of John Barry’s score for Peggy Sue Got Married; this was rectified in 2014 when Varese Sarabande released a deluxe edition of the soundtrack featuring 30 minutes of additional music, and re-mastered sound which removed some of the crackles and imperfections heard on the original album. The additional cues are, for the most part, expansions and variations on the quartet of themes heard in the original album, but the music is consistently delightful. Despite being a composer whose love themes are almost legendary in film music circles, Peggy Sue Got Married somehow managed to slip through the cracks for a long time, and is underappreciated by many. This is something that should be rectified; although the melodies are not as famous as those from Out of Africa or Dances With Wolves, they contain the same amounts of heart, warmth, and poignant musicality, and should not be overlooked.
Buy the Peggy Sue Got Married soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Peggy Sue’s Homecoming (3:27)
- Charlie’s Unplayed Guitar (2:36)
- Did We Break Up? (3:17)
- Charlie, I Had The Strangest Experience (6:13)
- Peggy Sue Got Married (written and performed by Buddy Holly) (1:51)
- I Wonder Why (written by Maxwell Anderson and Ricardo Weeks, performed by Dion & The Belmonts) (2:22)
- He Don’t Love You Like I Love You (written by Curtis Mayfield, Calvin Carter and Jerry Butler, performed by Nicolas Cage with Pride & Joy) (3:26)
- Teenager In Love (written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, performed by Dion & The Belmonts) (2:39)
- You Belong To Me (written by Chilton Price, Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart, performed by The Marshall Crenshaw Band) (2:37)
Running Time: 28 minutes 28 seconds
Varese Sarabande VCD-47275 (1986)
Music composed and conducted by John Barry. Recorded and mixed by Ed Rak and Joel Moss. Edited by George Craig. Album produced by John Barry, Tom Null and Richard Kraft.