The recurring German pop song in ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’


(Credit: Paramount Pictures)


Music played an iconic role in the classic John Hughes film in 1986 Ferris Bueller’s day off. Whether it was Yello’s “Oh Yeah” illustrating the excess and inimitable cool of a Ferrari 250 or Ferris single-handedly invading the streets of Chicago with a rousing performance of the Beatles song “Twist and Shout”, Hughes had a remarkable ability to grasp what kind of message he wanted to communicate, often finding the perfect piece of music to accompany the scene.

We would probably call these “needle drops” in today’s vernacular, but in Hughes’ heyday they literally dropped needles onto records instead of just pressing digital play buttons. All of Hughes’ films use his love of music, with “Don’t You Forget About Me” in The breakfast club and the title song of Oingo Boingo for Strange sciences being notable examples, and they almost always made whatever the character did onscreen look cooler.

But what about when Hughes wanted the opposite effect? Well, that’s when he rummaged through his record collection to find one of his less all-time favorite songs: ‘Danke Schoen’, the German pop standard made famous by Vegas crooner Wayne Newton in 1963. Hughes’ sordid personal history with the song inspired its use in the film. “‘Danke Schoen’ was the most horrible song of my youth,” Hughes recalled in the film’s director’s commentary. “Whenever that happened, I just wanted to scream, scratch my face. I was taking German in high school, which meant we were listening to it in school. I couldn’t do without it.”

However, the adolescent connection to the song clearly rubbed off on Hughes, and the song became a running feature of the film. Characters like Ferris, his sister Jeanie, and even the evil Edward Rooney hum the familiar chorus of the song throughout the film. Matthew Broderick needed some time to learn the song, and one of his workouts was while they were recording the shower scene.

“Although it was only because of the brilliance of John’s decision that I was to sing ‘Danke Schoen’ on the parade float, I had never heard the song before,” Broderick explained to Vanity Fair in 2020. “I was learning it for the parade scene. So we do the shower scene and I was like, “Well, I can do a little rehearsal.” And I did something with my hair to make this Mohawk. And you know what good directors do: they say, “Stop! Wait until we are driving. And John put that stuff in there ”.

Almost in contrast to the sleek modernity of “Oh Yeah” and the classic rowdy of “Twist and Shout” came “Danke Schoen”: refined, classy, ​​twee and definitely not cool. But because it was Ferris Bueller singing the song, it automatically became a cinematic touchstone. Although Hughes hated the song, he single-handedly elevated it to a cultural legend.

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