Soundtrack Studies: ‘Clueless’

Tuesday, June 3 by
For all the virgins out there that can't even drive.  

Amy Heckerling demonstrated in her direction of Fast Times at RidgemontHigh (a film that, bafflingly, isn’t known at all for its soundtrack) that she is able to take a snapshot of youth at a very specific time period, and nail the intricacies of that moment in time, all while conveying a story that endures far beyond the plaid skirts, tight jeans, malls, and Jeeps.

Revisiting the Clueless soundtrack, which was a favorite of mine at the time of its release, which coincided with my foray into high school, I remembered why I liked it almost instantly. Despite being somewhat “edgy,” it never strays from its pleasantness. The same can be said for the film, but not so much for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which dives into darker subject matter.

So when we accompany Alicia Silverstone, Breckin Meyer, Brittany Murphy, Jeremy Sisto, and Paul Rudd (PAUL RUDD!) on this ambling little tale, we’re bombarded with cuteness that helps sell the humor, rather than undermine it. For instance, Cher’s “date” with her gay classmate could have been painful, but instead of focusing on the issue at hand, we’re myopically focused on Cher trying to overachieve on her date, failing every step of the way, then walking away from it baffled.

The cuteness (Cher’s over-the-top effort) combined with the mild, mild edge (a gay teenager in 1995) lifts Clueless into a relatable teenage experience, but much more fun. And in Beverly Hills.

So what we get to accompany that logline musically is a soundtrack that contains at least one song to satisfy everyone at the party. However, as I mentioned in the Judgment Night write-up, trying to make everyone happy with one album is normally a great way to piss everyone off. However, just as with the film, the edge is sanded down so that the shape remains the same, just with no sharp corners.

Here’s the track listing for this cuddly little soundtrack:

The whole thing really makes you want to dance. Even the acoustic version of Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead. Though that makes me dance because I’m elated by the fact that Radiohead was once a band trying to make it, and appearing on soundtracks to Alicia Silverstone movies. But mostly, the bubble gumminess of it all is the charm. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones are playing a warehouse party in the film with the imminently sing-along-able “Where Did You Go?” The Muffs take on the breezy “Kids in America.” The Counting Crows doing whatever the hell it was that they did in the 90’s. Supergrass continuing to confuse me with a band name too similar to Superdrag. Etc.

And a Coolio song as a minor plot point in the film. Even bands that don’t make an appearance on the OST manage to make an appearance, as with Elton’s adorably dated “I left my Cranberries CD in the quad.”

Whatever, Elton. GOD!

"Rollin' with the homies"

There isn’t some grand thesis underlying this soundtrack. I remember it fondly and wanted to revisit it. So I did, and was relieved to find it still held up as well as I hoped it would.

Even though Radiohead was still a hungry band at this point, before they started giving away their albums for “whatever people felt like paying,” they had still demonstrated taste and talent with Pablo Honey and The Bends. So unless you think you’re better than fuckin’ Radiohead, you should give the Clueless soundtrack a re-listen.

If you’re still considering whether or not you’re better than Radiohead, let me accelerate the process. You’re not. You’re far, far worse than Radiohead, and you always will be.

Thanks for your time.

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