What If the Theme to “The Breakfast Club” Had Been Done by Billy Idol?

“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” is one of the most indelible rock anthems of the 1980s. The song was so effective it was used in the opening and closing credits to the 1985 John Hughes film The Breakfast Club. Written by Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff and performed by Simple Minds, it tapped into a lot of the emotional vulnerability that high school students feel. It also became that group’s biggest hit, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and helping to boost sales of their seventh album Once Upon A Time which arrived later that year.

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As lore has it, Forsey wrote the song for the punk rocker Billy Idol and approached him about it, but the producer said he has no recollection of that. The song, he said, was intended for Simple Minds, who originally passed on it because they did not want to record someone else’s song. Further, back on June 23, 2013, Idol tweeted: “In the Pitch Perfect movie they say i turned down ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’. My producer wrote it 4 Simple Minds it was never offered 2 me.” Forsey produced all of Idol’s albums up through 1990’s Charmed Life.

Different Recollections

For a retrospective feature on the song for Spin in 2015, different parties involved had different recollections of how this ‘80s classic was eventually recorded by Simple Minds. 

Forsey, who was the composer and music supervisor on The Breakfast Club, denied he wrote the song for Idol. “I don’t know, especially with the movie … I was just nervous that the personalities wouldn’t fit, so I kind of left it out of Billy’s realm,” the producer said. “It might have done well if we’d done it.”

“Oh yeah, I remember offering the song to Billy Idol,” The Breakfast Club co-producer Michelle Manning asserted. “He didn’t understand. I think a lot of people that passed will never say they passed. ‘Cause we had the movie, and that demo which was literally just like the final song with Keith. And people were just shutting us down.”

Multiple offers, few takers

Different artists were offered the song – first Simple Minds, then Bryan Ferry—although it may have been the reverse, by some accounts—and then Idol. The idea of Corey Hart was floated but rejected by Forsey. The Pretenders’ frontwoman Chrissie Hynde was interested but pregnant at the time, so she wouldn’t be able to do a video. She then suggested to her then-husband, Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr, that his band do it. Full circle, if indeed it actually came to her after his band initially rejected it. Manning believes A&M Records, Simple Minds’ label, pushed the band to do it. Kerr confirmed that when they got into the studio with Forsey the musical magic happened then.

Regardless of it came to play, the stars finally aligned and Simple Minds gave it a shot. The song became the biggest hit of their career and one of the most revered hits of the ‘80s, going No. 1 in America and Top 10 in several countries.

The Scottish rock band made the tune their own. While they didn’t include the song on their next album Once Upon a Time, it raised the group’s American profile significantly and they went Top 10 with that release, selling 500,000 copies. They also went to No. 3 with the single “Alive and Kicking,” and then No. 18 with “Sanctify Yourself.” The group is still very popular overseas, as in arena-level successful.

An Idol Version Exists

While Idol does not recall being offered “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” he later recorded a version that appeared on his Greatest Hits in 2001. His crooning style worked fluidly in the verses, and the Hey hey hey hey part of the chorus became more raucous. The song also featured harmonica. No one can deny Simple Minds made it their trademark song—Kerr’s singing and the band’s performance is far more understated yet very emotive—but hearing Idol’s version is fun because it’s angsty in a different way.

This was not the only time Idol would have a near-miss movie connection. He was actually set to play the villainous T-1000 in the second Terminator movie, but his disastrous motorcycle accident in 1990 curtailed those plans. It would have been wild to see him in Terminator mode; however, for his 1993 video for “Shock to the System,” fans got to see a more low-budget version of him as an out-of-control cyborg.

During the ‘90s, Idol acted in The Doors, Mad Dog Time, and as himself in a hilarious extended cameo in The Wedding Singer. His music has been used in dozens of other movie soundtracks, including The Legend of Billie Jean, Sixteen Candles, The Wraith, Big, Days of Thunder, and perhaps most memorably, his title track to the 1994 Keanu Reeves actioner Speed that plays over its end credits. It was the perfectly amped-up track to closer out that high-energy flick.

It’s fine Idol’s version of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” did not get recorded for The Breakfast Club. Certainly no one has forgotten about him, and his career is still going strong four decades later.

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Photo by Ethan Miller/WireImage

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