Cue Sheet – Music from the film ‘Risky Business’


Sometimes you’ve gotta say ‘What the fuck,’ and make your move. I’ve tried to live my life by this timeless bit of wisdom from the 1983 coming-of-age dark comedy Risky Business, starring Tom Cruise and Rebecca DeMornay. I was just getting started in college when this film came out, and I could totally relate to the pressure, anxiety and fever dreams associated with the expectations placed on young people in middle-class suburban America. My obsession with this film was also my first step into the larger world of film-making. I watched it so many times I got into the allusions, subtext and shot compositions, quite beyond the plot and dialogue.

The film’s sound design is provided primarily by the German electronic music group Tangerine Dream, and they layer the plot with an eerie intensity at critical moments in the story. Tangerine Dream’s depth and moody atmospherics lend the film a gravitas that eluded most of the era’s teen boner flicks. The soundtrack is also loaded with rock songs of the day that are used expertly as incidental ambiance, and that place the story firmly in its time period.

A “cue sheet” is a list of all the music contained in a film or TV show. Performing rights organizations, like ASCAP & BMI, use cue sheets to determine who needs to get paid for music that’s been licensed. Let’s take a look at Risky Business, focusing primarily on its major music cues. Sure, this is isn’t a proper cue sheet, but… what the fuck.

“The Dream Is Always the Same” – Tangerine Dream

original composition for the film

The film opens with this original Tangerine Dream theme that recurs at several key moments throughout the story. We follow the Chicago elevated train, and eventually end up in the ‘burbs in high-school guy Joel Goodson’s daydream-turned-nightmare. The tune is bright, but foreboding. Joel has made a terrible mistake.

Classic line: “I want you to wash my back.”

“Every Breath You Take” – The Police

from the 1983 album Synchronicity

Joel plays poker with his buddies, and shares the tale of some sex he almost had. “Every Breath” gently thumping in the background is spot-on here – it was inescapable in the mid-’80s. And like the Tangerine Dream tunes, its sunny disposition belies a darker theme.

Classic line: “What the fuck gives you freedom. If you can’t say it, you can’t do it.”

“Old Time Rock and Roll” – Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band

from the 1978 album Stranger in Town

The signature tight-whitey pantomime scene. I’m glad this clip includes my favorite part of the sequence – the prelude, in which Joel pours up a giant Chivas & Coke to go with his frozen TV dinner. Sounds like they overdubbed some crowd noise onto the studio version of this tune for the film, because the band’s performance of it on the Nine Tonight 1981 live collection is considerably less corny than the tired studio take.

“The Pump” – Jeff Beck

from the 1980 album There & Back

Director Paul Birkman made an inspired choice, selecting this laid-back Jeff Beck blues rock jam to accompany Joel’s cruise in his dad’s Porsche. In this clip from the 1983 ARMS concert (a British multiple sclerosis benefit arranged by Ronnie Lane) it’s Jeff Beck and, like Porsche, there is no substitute. I find it interesting to watch Beck jam this live during roughly the same time period in which the film was released.

Classic line: “Boffing and fucking are the same thing.”

“No Future (Get off the Babysitter)” – Tangerine Dream

edit of “Exit” from the 1980 album Exit

The title says it all. As Joel anxiously masturbates, his babysitter fantasy unravels in a similar fashion as The Dream. His future once again in jeopardy, he stands alone, frustrated. This song evokes the dystopia of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. The pulsing tension of the music continues, as Joel dons a catcher’s mask for protection when he calls Lana.

Classic line: “Ralph? See you tonight.”

“Lana” – Tangerine Dream

edit of “Force Majeure” from the 1979 album Force Majeure

Joel meets Lana and he has a good time in his home. The disco hi-hat groove and the epic guitar sustain that enter at around 4:25 of the original song introduce us to Lana. Rebecca DeMornay, high of cheek and slim of hip, is a badass ’80s blonde. This is the title track of a Tangerine Dream album that absolutely kills.

Classic line: “Are you ready for me… Ralph?”

“Guido the Killer Pimp” – Tangerine Dream

edit of “Cloudburst Flight” from the 1979 album Force Majeure

This bit begins outside The Drake hotel, and then this tune just goes out from there. Look up some footage from the Hubble space telescope to watch while you thrill to this dramatic exploration. As for Joel Goodson, he manages to outrun Lana’s “manager,” Guido, with all-talk Miles losing his $4 hot chocolate in the back seat of the Porsche.

Classic line: “I don’t believe this. I have a trig midterm tomorrow, and I’m being chased by Guido the killer pimp.”

“Hungry Heart” – Bruce Springsteen

from the 1980 album The River

Music snobs at this time would definitely have had this double album (and the early records) to set themselves apart from the posers who only knew “Thunder Road” and “Born to Run.” But Joel is probably just studying with the radio on, tuned to the local FM rock station. Little does he know, but an innocent invitation to smoke down is about to radically alter his life.

Classic line: “You ever get high, Joel?”

“Love on a Real Train (Risky Business)” – Tangerine Dream

original composition for the film

This scene is the emotional heart of the film, and I’m not sure Tom Cruise has ever been better. Joel’s father’s Porsche ends up in Lake Michigan, and Joel ends up suspended for five days (and kicked out of Future Enterprisers). He races into the arms of Lana for comfort. Watching this scene again after many years, I cried with Joel. There is incredible pressure to conform and succeed in suburban culture, and everything can be lost in a moment.

Classic line: “They trashed his whole record.”

“Mannish Boy – Muddy Waters

from the 1977 album Hard Again

A confident, virile swagger saturates Muddy Waters’ vocal on this dirty blues, heralding the rebirth of what-the-fuck Joel. Our boy is making his move. Joel surrenders to his situation, as he and Lana convert his parents’ house into a brothel. Barry getting the door for the ladies is priceless, as they just keep coming.

Classic line: “College girls can smell ignorance, like dog shit.”

“Swamp” – Talking Heads

from the 1983 album Speaking in Tongues

The gig is on and Joel is the stick that stirs the drink. Then the Princeton admissions guy shows up. This slithery groover is exactly what I was playing when I had people over, and shit like this happened all the time. The neighbor pops over to check up, or worse, the cops drop by. Peeka-peeka, uh risky business. Indeed.

Classic line: “You see, the thing is, I don’t have to pay for it. I get it anyway.”

“DMSR” – Prince

from the 1982 album 1999

Bill Rutherford conducts his interview in the den, while Lana rolls in a cot for more rack space. As Prince calls out “dance, music, sex, romance,” Joel’s “respectable stats” seem feeble and pointless. Joel’s embrace of what-the-fuckism appears complete, as he parties like it’s 1999 (another ubiquitous album of the time).

Classic line: “Looks like University of Illinois!”

“After the Fall” – Journey

from the 1983 album Frontiers

The cinematography in this video is of the same era as Risky Business. Music videos had a real impact on Hollywood, as studios had to reckon with the rise of these heavy-rotation expressionist shorts. I really dig Neal Schon’s jam in the lead-out of this middling Top 40 hit, but it’s weirdly lost in the mix. Lana offers and Joel can’t refuse.

Classic line: “Let’s go make love on a real train.”

“In the Air Tonight” – Phil Collins

from the 1981 album Face Value

In sharp contrast to Miles, whose big talk got Joel into this mess, Joel is indeed having the time of his life (huh kid?). Hell, who amongst us isn’t still waiting for this moment for all my life? The explosive gated-reverb drum sound mirrors the intensity of the pulse pounding in Joel’s temples. The magic drum break remains some of the most intense drum tone I’ve ever heard.

Classic line: “Who was I to say no?”

Bonus Alert!

“Love on a Real Train (Risky Business)” – Betamaxx remix

This killer remix works in some classic Miles Dalby wisdom.

Classic line: “So your folks are going out of town. What the fuck?”

While this film may fall short of timeless classic status, it does transcend its genre. The music of Tangerine Dream gives the film its distinctive vibe, setting the mood and punctuating pivotal moments in the story. It feels of the moment, yet outside the moment. A quintessentially American story, inspired by French cinema and German engineering.

Please stick & stay for more great cue sheets

Cue Sheet: Music from the film ‘Rushmore’

10 Great Songs from the 80s film “The Last American Virgin”

10 Italian songs from the Disney/Pixar film ‘Luca’


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here