Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Jackson Browne and ‘Somebody’s Baby’

Am I now too old to appreciate, and really enjoy, a coming-of-age movie from 1982 set in an American high school? Apparently not. When multiple references were made to Fast Times at Ridgemont High in the phenomenally successful Netflix drama Stranger Things, also set in the 1980s, I decided it was high time I watched it, and I’m so glad I did. It doesn’t matter how old you get, the themes that crop up in these movies – good and bad – still resonate, as those years when you are aged 16 to 18 are probably the most highly charged and memorable of your life. It’s certainly no coincidence that I write about songs from the late 1970s more than any other era in this retrospective music blog, just when I was that age exactly.

I don’t quite know how Fast Times… had slipped through the net for me as I’ve watched all those similarly themed ’80s movies many times over: Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off etc. In some ways Fast Times… hasn’t aged very well, as certain scenes just wouldn’t have been made nowadays, for all sorts of reasons, but in other ways nothing has changed. The various characters that make up the student body of a high school were all represented and most of the lead actors went on to great things: Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Forest Whitaker, with more minor roles played by Eric Stoltz and Nicolas Cage (or Nicolas Coppola as he was then).

Fast Times… was the first teen movie of its type and it seems to have formed the template for all that came afterwards. It is essentially a comedy-drama, but the drama is limited to observing the lives of a diverse group of characters as they navigate a single year of high school. Sean Penn, playing Jeff Spicoli, was the original ‘surfer stoner dude’ and gets all the best lines in the movie, some of them quite deep and observationally spot on.

“Life comes at you pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

“What Jefferson was saying was, ‘Hey! You know, we left this England place ’cause it was bogus; so if we don’t get some cool rules ourselves—pronto—we’ll just be bogus, too!’ Get it?” (I can now see where the makers of the Bill and Ted movies got their inspiration.)

“Mr. Hand, do you have a guy like me in all your classes? You know, a guy you make an example of?”

“Well Stu I’ll tell you, surfing’s not a sport, it’s a way of life, it’s no hobby. It’s a way of looking at that wave and saying, ‘Hey bud, let’s party!”

Coming from rural Scotland, I don’t exactly know why I have such a fondness for films set in American high schools, even now, but a lot of it could be down to how the lives of the students, although just like our own in many ways, always seemed much more glamourous and adrenaline-packed compared to what we experienced. Our senior school days played out just like those of Gregory, Dorothy and Susan in Gregory’s Girl, set in Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire. Ridgemont, in the San Fernando Valley, it most definitely was not. In the late 1970s we didn’t have:

Sunny weather all year round (half our school year at least was spent in duffle coats as it was so cold and ‘dreich’)
Landlines in our bedrooms (our ‘house phones’ were in the hall or living room, if we had one at all, so no privacy)
Shiny new shopping malls to hang out in (we had the local high street or the park)
Car parks for the students to park their cars in (no-one had a car at my school, ergo, no car park!)
Street clothes worn to school (we had drab blazers, skirts, shirts & ties and aforementioned duffle coats)
Proms complete with bands, limousines and corsages (we had an end of term disco if we were lucky – no corsage needed)

Part-time jobs in trendy pizza and burger joints (if we were lucky we got a Saturday job in the baker’s shop, or a paper round)

Yes, I can see the appeal these films had for me back then, and to this day. Because Fast Times… was set in 1982 we of course were treated to a fine soundtrack full of songs recorded by some of the biggest American artists of the day (although some of them possibly having peaked a decade earlier – the director’s pick maybe?). The opening scene, set in the busy, colourful and space-age looking Ridgemont Mall (obviously the inspiration for the Starcourt shopping mall in Stranger Things), was played out to the song We Got The Beat by the Go-Gos. Again, the intro to this clip hasn’t aged well, but great to see the girls in action before they all started to go their separate ways.

We Got The Beat by the Go-Gos:


I kind of got sad watching the shopping mall scenes in the film as although we did eventually get these massive cathedrals dedicated to consumerism here in Scotland a few years later, most of them are now sitting half empty or have been bulldozed. We all shop online nowadays and young people hang out with their friends on social media, most certainly not in the local shopping centre food court. ‘Tis the times we are living through.

The other song that struck a cord, and one that has formed an earworm over the last few days since watching the film, is this one, Somebody’s Baby, by Jackson Browne. It became a leitmotif attached to one of the main characters, Stacy Hamilton. A perfect song for a film about the issues hormone ridden teens go through whilst at high school.

Somebody’s Baby by Jackson Browne:


Every now and again I revisit some of these teen/coming-of-age/slice-of-life movies and always get something new out of them. This blog is mainly nostalgia-based and boy do I get nostalgic when I watch movies set in the late ’70s/early ’80s. Not sure what that says about me, but I have nothing but fond memories for those days. I was one of the lucky ones I know, as not everyone has such fond memories of their teenage years. I do wish however I’d had a landline in my bedroom, a few more sunny days in the annual calendar and a shiny new mall to hang out in with my friends. Could have made life a whole lot easier!


Until next time…

Somebody’s Baby Lyrics
(Song by Jackson Browne/Danny Kortchmar)

Well, just – a look at that girl with the lights comin’ up in her eyes
She’s got to be somebody’s baby
She must be somebody’s baby
All the guys on the corner stand back and let her walk on by
She’s got to be somebody’s baby
She must be somebody’s baby
She’s got to be somebody’s baby
She’s so fine
She’s probably somebody’s only light
Gonna shine tonight
Yeah, she’s probably somebody’s baby, all right

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
‘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
She’s so
She’s gonna be somebody’s only light
Gonna shine tonight
Yeah, she’s gonna be somebody’s baby tonight

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
Yeah, she’s gonna be somebody’s only light
Gonna shine tonight
Yeah, she’s gonna be somebody’s baby tonight
Gonna shine tonight, make her mine tonight

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team Bacharach and David - The opening line to that song was "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

13 thoughts on “Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Jackson Browne and ‘Somebody’s Baby’”

  1. Long time since I saw this film, but your first quote is far more famous from the lips of Ferris Bueller. It’s quite likely Ferris stole it, as he steals quite a lot of other famous quotes to make himself sound smart, but I never knew he got that one from Fast Times. Need to watch it again myself now.

    That Jackson Browne song is a classic though. I put that on one of Sam’s recent compilations and he liked it too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t watched Ferris Bueller for a while so it didn’t click that it was the same line. Either it was something that teens cottoned onto in the ’80s or it was nicked from Fast Times. The older I get the more I realise how true it is.

      The film’s soundtrack was just perfect and although I don’t think this was the kind of music we were mainly listening to at the time here in the UK (more Flock of Seagulls and Adam Ant as per my last post) it suited a film set in a Californian high school. I defy anyone to watch the film and not have Jackson’s song as an earworm for the next few days. Sam certainly is going to be the encyclopaedia of music from the last 50 years courtesy of his dad. Might even give you a run for your money in due course?

      Like

  2. I haven’t ‘posted’ in a while as the recent essays covered a lot of music that I wasn’t familiar with. (Sign of my age, I guess)
    Today’s blog, however, does encourage me to comment. On May 1st, R and I travelled three hours south to the shores of Lake Ontario to catch a James Taylor concert. This concert tour started in 2019 and was interrupted by Covid 19. The original opening act was Bonnie Raitt but when the tour resumed in 2022, she was unavailable. Taylor recruited Jackson Browne to be his opening act. The opening song was ‘Somebodies’ Baby’. While James Taylor’s voice has softened over the years, Browne’s has not. He did a great set and then after James Taylor’s set, joined Taylor for the encore. The highlight of the encore was the two of them singing ‘Take It Easy’, the Eagles song that Browne co-wrote with Glen Frey. All in all a great concert.
    Coming of age movies are always popular and often bridge the generations successfully. The music, if well chosen. helps propel the story. Think ‘American Graffitti’ from 1973 and ‘Normal People’ from 2020. Universal themes of first loves and alienation supported by great music.
    Long may they last

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a lovely story to share Damian. After the last two years it must have been so good to get back to a live concert again and for you this must have been an exceptional one. Glad Jackson’s voice is holding up as it’s not working out for all of them of that generation. I watched a documentary about the Rolling Stones recently on the BBC iPlayer and Mick admitted to not having the best singing voice in the world but at least he still had it, and it was still working for him. I didn’t realise Jackson Browne was a co-writer on Take It Easy – a song I remember so well from my own school days. After writing this post I revisited the Laurel Canyon documentary series where he featured heavily – why I associate him more with the late 60s/early 70s than the 1980s.

      Yes, coming-of-age movies will never cease to be popular and I enjoyed the ones I watched with my daughter just as much as the ones from my own time. Likewise, American Graffiti, before my time, and Normal People (I’ve written about it around here) well after my time were incredible pieces of film/television, both aided by the music liberally strewn throughout.

      As for not commenting for a while, I totally understand and doubt very much if A Flock of Seagulls were ever your thing!

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  3. I’ve never seen Fast Times. I wouldn’t mind watching it one of these days pretty soon. As for Sean Penn, did you see him in Licorice Pizza? He was good. But I didn’t like the movie very much. There seemed to be big storyline inconsistencies. Plus, I have no idea what the movie title means. Anyway . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As it turns out I haven’t yet watched Licorice Pizza (I really must soon) but I now know what the title represents having watched Fast Times. One of the stores in the Ridgemont Mall where many of the youngsters worked was called Licorice Pizza. I looked it up and there were a chain of record stores in Southern California back then called just that, taken from an Abbot and Costello sketch from much earlier where the boys were having difficulty selling LPs/records so thought they should sprinkle them with with pizza toppings and call them Licorice Pizzas! Every day’s a school day.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah the teeth – you are right. Lots of money spent by parents on orthodontists in 1980s America. Also the hair – we had short mousey hair, they always had long blonde locks.

      Like

  4. I never saw Fast Times at Ridgemont High back in the day, but I do remember selling copies of the soundtrack in the shop. I’m not sure it’s really my kind of film, that Jackson Browne tune is great though – so effortlessly catchy. Gregory’s Girl on the other hand, is a film I watched endlessly, at the cinema and later on my trusty on VHS VCR. It’s been a while, I must revisit it again soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I can imagine that soundtrack album sold well, on the back of the film, and because it was full of catchy pop songs like the Jackson Browne one.

      As for Fast Times… not that different from Gregory’s Girl actually in terms of the themes and characters, it’s just that American teenagers seemed to: a) be a bit more sophisticated than we were at the same age and b) they had a lot more ‘stuff’. I will never tire of watching Gregory’s girl as it reminds me so much of my own Scottish secondary school education – even the school looked identical to my one in Aberdeenshire. I’ve even written about it here.

      Orange Juice, Altered Images and Gregory’s Girl

      And for a bit of British nostalgia, as opposed to American:

      Like

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