Pretty In Pink

Album: Talk Talk Talk (1981)
Charted: 18 41

Songfacts®:

  • On the surface, this song is a tender ode to a lovely girl, but a closer listen to the lyric reveals this is not the case:

    The one who insists he was the first in the line
    Is the last to remember her name


    In a Songfacts interview with lead singer Richard Butler, he explained the meaning: "The song is about a girl who sleeps around a lot and thinks that she's popular because of it. It makes her feel empowered somehow and popular, and in fact, the people that she's sleeping with are laughing about her behind her back and talking about her."
  • The song was first released in 1981 and included on the group's second album, Talk Talk Talk. It was revived in 1986 when the director John Hughes named his 1986 movie after this song. Starring Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, and Jon Cryer, Hughes wrote the plot around the song's lyrics, but according to The Psychedelic Furs, he muffed the meaning.

    Richard Butler recalled to Mojo how this song got co-opted onto the Pretty In Pink movie: "We did the song and were very pleased with it. It wasn't that we were disappointed it wasn't a hit to begin with - at that point, we didn't know what was going on, or whether any of them were singles or whether we were that kind of band. A few years later, Molly Ringwald took it to John Hughes and said, 'I love this song, we should use it for a movie.' He took it away, listened to it, and wrote Pretty In Pink, which totally got the whole thing wrong. It was nothing like the spirit of the song at all. It's really hard to say whether it was damaging for us. I suppose we got tied in with the story of the film, and if that's what people thought the story was about, and didn't look much further than that, they were getting a very false impression."

    It's possible John Hughes heard this song from Molly Ringwald, but a more likely connection is Keith Forsey, who co-wrote the song "Don't You (Forget About Me)" for Hughes' 1985 movie The Breakfast Club. Forsey produced the 1984 Psychedelic Furs album Mirror Moves.
  • The group recorded a new version of this song for the movie with producer Chris Kimsey. This version was re-released with the film in 1986 - five years after the original.

    When the song was first issued in 1981, it hit #43 in the UK and did not chart in the US; the re-release charted at #41 US and #18 UK, but its American impact was far greater as the movie became a classic of the generation.

    This new version was mixed to make the song more appealing to a pop music audience. The original includes much rougher, edgier guitar riffs, and the closing, barely audible lines are muttered by Furs lead singer Richard Butler as though he's ruminating in stream-of-consciousness style about Caroline while he's in a drunken haze. The remix has more polished, more upbeats riffs, and while the same lines are included in the trail-off, a louder riff plays over them to make them even less audible and make the overall effect more pop and less bitter. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    S.D. - Denver, CO
  • The girl in this song was inspired by two women Richard Butler knew when he was living in the Muswell Hill neighborhood of London. One was the friend of his girlfriend, the other frequented the same pub.
  • As Aerosmith pointed out, pink is the color of passion. In this song, being "pretty in pink" is a metaphor for being naked.
  • The band was a six-piece when they recorded this song, and all six members got a songwriting credit on the track, which ended up being a big deal when it was used in the film and re-released. Here's the lineup:

    John Ashton - guitar
    Richard Butler - vocals
    Tim Butler - bass
    Vince Ely - drums
    Duncan Kilburn - saxophone
    Roger Morris - guitar

    As for how the song came together, Tim Butler told Songfacts: "We were in a studio for three weeks writing Talk Talk Talk. Some of the band had gone home; it was later in the day and I think Duncan and Roger, because they lived in the same area, they'd gone. It was just me, Richard, Vince and John. We were just messing around, and the initial riff of it came up. Usually, we'd play an initial riff and Richard would say, 'Wow, that's cool! Carry on. Do something else.' We would just work round and round it and experiment. That one came pretty quickly."
  • This was one of the first "new wave" hits of the '80s. The term was first used in a musical sense for the Talking Heads as a way to dissociate them from punk. It ended up as a genre mostly occupied by British bands like The Pet Shop Boys, New Order, and Bananarama that relied on a synthesizer sound that was catching on in the US.
  • This was the Psychedelic Furs' biggest hit in the UK. In the US, their only Top 40 was "Heartbreak Beat," which hit #26 that year.

    When the song was released in 1981, the entire band was living in England; in 1983, Richard and Tim Butler moved to America, which became the group's home base. They hoped to make it big there with their 1984 album Mirror Moves, but it didn't break through. "Pretty In Pink" became by far their best-known song in the US after it was used in the movie, and they played it at every show. After a few years, they got strung out from touring and playing the same songs over an over, and in 1991 they broke up. They returned in 2000 with a new passion for their old songs. In 2020, they released their first new music in 29 years with the album Made Of Rain.
  • Near the end of the song, Richard Butler sings some lyrics that are very hard to understand, on purpose. He made sure they were buried in the mix, forcing fans to listen over and over on their hi-fis to try to make out what he's saying.

    The point was for listeners to develop their own interpretations, which they did. Butler heard stories from fans who thought he was referring to classic literature or mythology, and ascribed deep meaning behind it.

    On the single version, we can make out something like this:

    All their favorite rags are worn
    And other kinds of uniforms
    That kid you are really free
    Like individuality
    You are what you want to be
    Until tomorrow


    On the original album version, this part is different. Here's how we hear it:

    Caroline's on the table screaming
    Confidence is intimacy
    And all their favorite rags are worn
    Another kind of uniform
    They kid you you're really free
    And you know what you want to be
    Chasing individuality
    Until tomorrow

    And everything you are you'll see
    In pure shiny buttons
    They put you in this gear
    And driveways broken
    Doorbell sings in chimes
    It plays "Anything Goes"
    They all talk in rhymes
  • The group made a video for this song in 1981 around the same time MTV went on the air. The network gave it some play, but favored offerings from other British new wavers like A Flock Of Seagulls and Haircut 100. Unusually for the Psychedelic Furs, we see the girl in the video, albeit fleetingly. It takes place in a room with red walls, a checkerboard floor, odd perspectives and creepy artwork. An unclothed mannequin and shots of a pink dress hint at what's going on in the song.

    The 1986 version got a new video directed by Wayne Isham that incorporates footage from the movie.
  • After the movie came out, the alliterative and now-familiar phrase "pretty in pink" showed up in many fashion magazines, which freaked out Richard Butler a bit. "To have coined a phrase that has gone into public use is very odd," he said.
  • The girl in this song has a name: Caroline, which is a mismatch with the movie, where Molly Ringwald's character is named Andie. According to Richard Butler, the name Caroline wasn't culled from anyone in particular - he just liked how it sounds (Neil Diamond gave various explanations as to where his Caroline came from). Caroline also shows up in the song "India," from the Psychedelic Furs' first album.
  • The original version was produced by Steve Lillywhite and mixed by future Cure producer and pop songwriter Phil Thornalley, who gave Songfacts his opinion of the later mix: "I thought the later one was great. The main thing was that they finally had some worldwide success. I worked on the first two Psychedelic Furs albums, and I just didn't really ever imagine that they would achieve that kind of breakthrough to that type of success - it was a very arty kind of band. That new version of 'Pretty in Pink' probably did them really well in terms of making a living."

Comments: 16

  • Jose Arce from P.r.Pretty in pink,top 10 in the u.s.
  • Jonny B from Sunny LondonSo he says it's about a woman who sleeps around but is getting used. What he fails to mention is 'she' was called Leslie; he was in a relationship with her; she got pregnant; she aborted his child; she dumped him...he wrote the song. She later had children but sadly died in her early 40's due to pancreatic cancer brought on by too much alcohol for too long.
  • Paul S. from Pittsburgh, Pa.I wonder if maybe they just borrowed the name Caroline from Lou Reeds anti-heroine from his Berlin album, of course maybe not and they just came up with it. Anyway yeah, the original blows the remake away though I was glad somebody besides me and the friends I played the albums for got to know who The Psychedelic Furs were.
  • Jon from Enumclaw , WaWhere the HELL is Love My Way!!! Thats there best song! This is an awesome tune as well.
  • Elizabeth Schafer from West Long Branch, Njwho was caroline? I"m pretty sure she was beloved by the band or the writer of the song. She was a friend and her death was a painfull loss. Was caroline transgender? pretty in pink.
  • Mike from Matawan, NjUgh. Put the FIRST version of this song on the site please. This version is AWFUL. It has none of the great, raw feel that the original has. The sax adds NOTHING to the song. It sounds too polished. I have to go strangle a budgie now because of hearing this. I agree with Scott, where the hell is LOVE MY WAY on this site????
  • Ross from Leicester, United KingdomI've read that the song is about one night stands (see also "I Just Wanna Sleep With you" and "Into You Like A Train" also on the "Talk Talk Talk" album)which seems to make sense - she's "pretty in pink" because she's naked, "these cars collide" a metaphor for a passing sexual encounter. Whatever, I think we all agree the film was wide of the mark!!!
  • Billy from Albany, Gathe lyrics are incomplete. Does anyone know the lyrics over the ending?
  • Scott from Baton Rouge, LaLove the Furs.Quintessential 80's song from a quintessential 80's band.By the way,where the heck is "Love My Way" on here ?
  • Michael from Wallington, NjI understood that this song was written about a popular transexual prostitute living in London during the late seventies.
  • Maria from Philadelphia, PaMolly Ringwald was a huge Furs fan, and she listened to them a lot on the set while filming Sixteen Candles. She played the song for her director, John Hughes, and it inspired him to write the movie.
  • Stacey from St.petersburg, FlI think its about this girl who dies in a car crash and the guys who she slept with wear hear clothes that are pink.
  • Stacey from St.petersburg, FlI love the song and I think its about this girl that dies and the boys sleep with and I think she dies in a car crash cause the last line in the 6th verse is "These cars collide".
  • Michael from Memphis, TnThe song may have a darker side as Jade suggests. Richard Butler said that "pink" meant, "naked," and the song was about being, "naked." He may have meant that Carline was au naturel. The scene sounds like a brothel or bordello, and she sounds like a prostitute, but the lyrics are more likely to be influenced by William Burroughs' cut-up style of writing. Richard Butler always mentions Burroughs as his greatest influence. His other lyrics certainly deserve to be covered by Song Facts, as he is one of the most original songwriters of the New Wave era.

  • Rob from Santa Monica, CaThe remade version that accompanied the film had additional horns in the mix. The original is more guitar driven (and far superior, I'd say). Some of these lyrics are unforgettable: "The one who insists he was first in the line is the last to remember her name"
  • Jade from Sterling Heights, MiThis song is about a girl that this group of boys all used to have sex with. One day, she commites suicide wearing a white dress (that turns pink from the blood), and they all take turns wearing the dress.
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