amy heckerling, anthony edwards, breakfast club, cameron crowe, cars, d.w. brown, eric stoltz, fast times at ridgemont high, hamm's, jackson browne, jeff spicoli, jennifer jason leigh, judge reinhold, mark ratner, mike damone, moving in stereo, nicolas cage, phoebe cates, Ridgemont High, robert romanus, Ron Johnson, sean penn, simple minds, somebody's baby, stacy hamilton
Some movies are inseparable from songs that appear in them. Think “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds from The Breakfast Club – when anyone in my generation (and those that come after me I would presume) hears that song, I would guess that they immediately think of this. The song is almost completely inseparable from the film. In the same vein, it’s hard to separate Jackson Browne‘s “Somebody’s Baby” and the essential role it plays in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. For those of you who don’t know what the film is about, it follows the trials and tribulations of a set of early 1980s high schoolers at Ridgemont High in Ridgemont, California, as they navigate life situations. Somewhat centered on brother and sister combo Brad (Judge Reinhold) and Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) Hamilton, we see their peaks and valleys as the cast of splendid characters swirl around them, floating in and out of their lives. With arguably the most memorable stoner role of all-time, Sean Penn absolutely shines as surfer and general nuisance Jeff Spicoli. With all-star cast that has some of the first appearances in film by people like Nicolas Cage, Eric Stoltz, and Anthony Edwards, this film is hard to forget. That it was the first film (based on his own novel) written by Cameron Crowe makes it all the better.
“Somebody’s Baby” plays a fairly crucial role in this film and applies almost exclusively to Stacy Hamilton. A freshman, Stacy is intent on learning the ways of beguiling boys. Under the tutelage of her best friend Linda (the unforgettable Phoebe Cates), Stacy sets forth on a mission to not only secure a boyfriend, but to lose her virginity and blossom into a fully operational sexual being as well. It all starts while working at the most hopping pizza place in the Ridgemont Mall, Perry’s, a hot customer named Ron Johnson (D.W. Brown) comes in. The girls at Perry’s fight over who gets to be his waitress. It’s Stacy’s section, so she’s the one. Being the slimy kind of guy he is, Ron immediately hits on her and of course gets her phone number (she’s 15 even though she tells him she’s 19 and he’s 26). So when they make a date for later, what can they actually do together? Ron immediately suggests going to “The Point.” One knows from so many other teen movies that any place called “The Point” can only lead to one thing – SEX. He clearly had one thing on his mind from the outset. And that’s precisely what happens – Stacy loses her virginity that night. To a 26-year old. In a little league baseball dugout. But here’s the first time we hear Browne‘s “Somebody’s Baby,” which was written specifically for the film.
This song immediately becomes the cue for us to know Stacy is going to get freaky. And this scene with Ron basically plays out over the course of the song: “‘Cause when the cars and the signs and the street lights light up the town/She’s got to be somebody’s baby/She must be somebody’s baby/She’s got to be somebody’s baby.” To me, this covers their trip motoring to “The Point” in Ron’s cherry Datsun (pre-Nissan) 300zx, which was hot stuff back in 1982, cars passing, streets lights illuminating their way. At the first appearance of the chorus, Browne tells us: “She’s probably somebody’s only light. Gonna shine tonight/Yeah, she’s probably somebody’s baby, all right. She might well have been his only light…for that night, and she certainly shined. Of course neither she nor we ever see Ron again, the closest thing being some roses he sends Stacy afterwards. Who says chivalry is dead?
In the scene where Stacy and Linda discuss sex and other variables when they are at the lunch table being surreptitiously listened to by a table full of guys, it’s easy to see where these lyrics came from: “I heard her talkin’ with her friend when she thought nobody else was around/She said she’s got to be somebody’s baby/She must be somebody’s baby.” So it’s plain to see this song is incredibly integrated into the fabric of the movie.
So when Stacy starts giving signs to her exceedingly shy biology nerd classmate Mark Ratner (Brian Backer) that she is interested, we expect something similar to happen. These lyrics clearly outline Ratner’s feelings for Stacy (he tells Damone that he’s already in love with her, but he doesn’t even know her name): “I try to shut my eyes, but I can’t get her outta my sight/I know I’m gonna know her, but I gotta get over my fright/We’ll, I’m just gonna walk up to her/I’m gonna talk to her tonight.” Stacy now occupies the role of the experienced one and has somewhat of an appetite for sex (once again encouraged by Linda). However, Mark is timid and doesn’t want to be the guy only out for sex.
He wants a relationship and the two seem to connect when Ratner finally gets the stones up to ask her out. After a long dinner, where he has to wait for his friend Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) to bring him his wallet he forgot at home., they adjourn back to Stacy’s house, where her brother is out with friends and her parents are out of town. Stacy changes into something more comfortable (her robe…what’s she thinking about?) and they begin to make out. We think this is going to lead down the same path as it did with Stacy and Ron, but…no “Somebody’s Baby” to give us the clue that Ratner is going to get his and Stacy is going to get hers. Ah, wait we must.
And we don’t have to wait long. When Stacy confides in Mike, after he plays it cool with her, that she likes him, he walks her home. She invites him in after, in his cool sort of way, makes it known that despite that fact that his friend is VERY interested in her, he is too. So when the suggestion is made that they go out back to swim in her pool, they adjourn to the cabana where…we get “Somebody’s Baby.” We now know that they are going to get busy, and that they do.
This song embodies the trio of “relationships” Stacy has in the film. It is a perfect accompaniment and tells us her basic story in about 4 minutes. Without this song playing at key times, this film wouldn’t be nearly as lush as it adds another dimension/layer to the film, something not really done in teen comedies at the time. Director Amy Heckerling gets all the credit for its usage. And I also appreciate that she never judges Stacy (or Linda for that matter) as being slutty. I think that this film treats females discovering their sexuality quite naturally, albeit awkwardly in Stacy’s case. It also covers the dangers of not being careful when Stacy gets pregnant after her tryst with Damone. And without this song being used, we who grew up in the 80s wouldn’t have “Somebody’s Baby” as shorthand to reference a time when someone is about to get busy.
Here is the song performed by Jackson Browne:
This song is pure 1980s wonderful. It is the centerpiece of a pretty solid soundtrack, which includes The Cars‘ “Moving in Stereo” which immediately triggers memories of another scene for most boys who grew up in the 1980s. Google it…
And I would be remiss if I didn’t at least add a picture of Spicoli and his friends drinking Hamm’s in a sweet ass van. Feast your eyes: