40 Years ago today, Grease: The Original Soundtrack From The Motion Picture was released. The album was released prior to the film’s release on June 16th, 1978. The Dutch film release was on October 12th, 1978, but I don’t know whether that’s accurate or not.
Grease – The movie
Grease, the movie, is a musical romantic comedy, based on a musical called Grease. The movie follows the lives of Danny Zuko (played by John Travolta) and Sandy Olsson (played by Olivia Newton-John) at the end of the 1950’s.
The movie starts off with a summer love at the beach between Danny and Sandy. At the end of the summer Sandy has to return back to Australia, with her parents.
After the opening scene, which is accompanied by the instrumental Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing, a reference to the movie with the same name from 1955, the title song Grease starts and the, John Wilson animated, opening credits are shown.
Rydell High School
The next scene takes place at Rydell High School, where Danny is about to start his last year. Danny is the leader of the T-Birds, a group of ‘tough guys’, who think they are very powerful. The popular school girls are organized in the Pink Ladies.
Meanwhile, Sandy’s parents suddenly decided to move to the United States. Miraculously, Sandy is enlisted at, you guessed it, Rydell High School and befriends one of the Pink Ladies. Ignorant to each other’s presence they tell their friends about their summer (Summer Nights). Sandy seems to have had a different summer from Danny:
D: Summer loving, had me a blast
S: Summer loving happened so fast
D: I met a girl, crazy for me
S: Met a boy, cute as can be
D: Took her bowling in the arcade
S: We went strolling, drank lemonade
D: We made out under the dock
S: We stayed out till ten o’clock
S: He got friendly, holding my hand
D: She got friendly down in the sand
S: He was sweet, just turned eightteen
D: Well she was good, you know what I mean
D: Danny Zuko (John Travolta), S: Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John)
© 1978 Summer Nights – Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey
Sandy’s story focuses on the romance and love. Danny’s story is more sexual. Based on the movie’s opening scenes, Sandy’s story seems to be closer to the truth.
The Pink Ladies leader, Betty Rizzo (a great role by Stockard Channing), is bored by the sappy story and sighs “he sounds like a drag”.
When Sandy announces the name of her lover, the Pink Ladies arrange a surprise reunion. Sandy and Danny are elated to see each other, until Danny ‘realizes’ he needs to be tough. Sandy runs off, hurt and offended.
The remainder of the movie is about who needs to adapt to who. Sandy tries smoking, drinking and earrings. Danny tries athletics and basketball. Both fail at their attempts. A date at the movies goes wrong, due to Danny’s pushiness. But (of course) they both can’t get the other off their minds and each gets a solo-spot to sing about it: Sandy in Hopelessly Devoted To You and Danny in Sandy.
Towards the end of the movie, Sandy and Danny both, have changed. Sandy changed into a femme fatale and Danny said farewell to his leather jacket. The scene segues into You’re The One That I Want, the big hit of the movie and the major worldwide summer hit in 1978.
The movie also follows the romance between T-Bird Kenickie Murdoch (Jeff Conaway) and Rizzo and the dreams and future aspirations of the Pink Ladies (Beauty School Dropout). Next to that, a car, Greased Lighnin’, plays a part. Kenickie is its owner. The car is reconstructed and used in a race between the T-Birds and a rival gang (the Scorpions). Kenickie is unable to drive the race, so Danny does the racing. Of course, Danny wins.
The big senior prom takes up a big part of the movie. It takes place in the gym hall and is broadcast (live) on television. In the 1950’s that was quite a happening, for television was a new phenomenon at the time. The prom is predominantly used as a musical intermission to show a lot of dancing. Travolta did the same the previous year in Saturday Night Fever, which made him famous all around the world.
John Travolta already was an actor and had only recently broken through with his great role as Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever, which, like Grease, was a Robert Stigwood produced movie. Also, he had previously played in the theatrical version of the musical.
Olivia Newton-John had no acting experience whatsoever and was known as a (Australian) country singer. at her request, a screen test was done. She didn’t want to jeopardize her career any further, as it was in decline. Newton-John went along with a smaller signing fee in exchange for a more prominent credit.
Henry Winkler was asked to play the lead role, due to his role as Arthur Fonzarelli in the television series Happy Days. He declined, in fear of being typecast. For Sandy’s role, Ann-Marget and Susan Dey (who refused following her management’s advise) were considered. Carrie Fisher was considered for the role of Betty Rizzo.
Coca-Cola vs Pepsi
After completion of the movie, a marketing deal was made with Pepsi. In some of the scenes the logo of competitor Coca-Cola was clearly visible. Re-shooting was too expensive, so optical tricks were used to obscure the well-known logo.
- The pants Olivia Newton-John wore at the carnival (and You’re The One That I Want) was sewed on, because the zipper had broken
- Jeff Conaway walked a bit bent, as to make John Travolta appear taller
- You’re The One That I Want was shot in one afternoon
- Sandy’s background was altered when Olivia Newton-John was cast. In the original musical version, Sandy is an all-American girl with Dumbrowski as surname. In the movie version her surname was changed to Olsson and she hailed from Australia
- In Spain and Latin America the movie is called Brillantina, because the translation of Grease, Grasa, means “fat”
- In the musical version the song Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee referred to actor and singer Sal Mineo, who was murdered in 1976. The reference was changed to Elvis Presley. Recordings for Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee took place on August 16th, 1977, the day Elvis Presley died
- The premiere party took place at the famous New York discotheque Studio 54
- Hopelessly Devoted To You was written and recorded after the recording of the movie was completed. Olivia Newton-John returned for recordings for one day
- Porn actor Harry Reems (known from porn classic Deep Throat) was cast to play the part of the basketball coach. When producers found out who Reems was, he was immediately replaced
From day one, Grease was a huge success. To this day, it made almost $ 400,000,000.-. For a long time it was the number one grossing musical in the world. Only recently it was surpassed by 3 other titles. But Grease is still part of the top 5 best selling musicals of all time.
I think Grease is a highly enjoyable musical, a genre I generally dislike. Some parts are fun. Betty Rizzo, in particular, is very convincing and sympathetic. It’s the only role that comes across as stubborn, sly and whiny, as is to be expected from adolescents. I don’t play the movie, but when I stumble upon it, I stop and watch it. It’s the ultimate feel good movie. It entices nostalgia for a time-period, which I neither know, nor have experienced myself.
The craze Grease unleashed was unparalleled. Grease was everywhere. In music magazines, in movie theaters, in (music)stores, on television, on clothing (as evidenced in the many oversized buttons). I clearly remember that (Dutch) mega-store V&D (which still existed at the time) couldn’t keep up with the demand for buttons with people lining up in large numbers to acquire them. Buttons were pressed on the spot. A pressing machine was present.
Grease – The album
Grease: The Original Soundtrack From The Motion Picture would have been the best-selling album of 1978, hadn’t there been another soundtrack that sold even more copies. Yes, Saturday Night Fever. The single that was released prior to the movie, You’re The One That I Want was a world wide hit. A lot of the singles went to number one and are still considered to be part of the best selling singles of all time.
Some songs can be heard in the movie, but not on the soundtrack: La Bamba, Whole Lotta Shaking Going On, Alma Mater, Alma Mater Parody and Rydell Fight Song. The other way round Alone At A Drive-in Movie, Mooning and Freddy My Love can not be heard in the movie, but are part of the movie’s soundtrack.
Despite my (older) nephew’s declaration at the time that Grease was the best album he had ever heard and would ever hear, it’s not very convincing musically. Travolta can’t sing, Newton-John is too sweet and the rock ‘n’ roll music is available in much better versions on other albums.
And still, it’s all fun. Probably due to sentiments, but songs like Grease, Hopelessly Devoted To You and Sandy brighten my day. Given the fact music has to move me, before I can write about it, Grease can be part of my writing. It is not essential, but it truly is a pleasure to spend some time with it.
|Summer Nights||John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John|
|Hopelessly Devoted To You||Olivia Newton-John|
|You’re The One That I Want||John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John|
|B||Beauty School Dropout||Frankie Avalon|
|Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee||Stockard Channing, Didi Conn, Dinah Manoff & Jamie Donnelly|
|Greased Lightnin’||John Travolta|
|It’s Raining On Prom Night||Cindy Bullens|
|Alone At The Drive-in Movie||–|
|Blue Moon||Sha Na Na|
|C||Rock N’ Roll Is Here To Stay||Sha Na Na|
|Those Magic Changes||Sha Na Na|
|Hound Dog||Sha Na Na|
|Born To Hand Jive||Sha Na Na|
|Tears On My Pillow||Sha Na Na|
|Mooning||Louis St. Louis & Cindy Bullens|
|D||Freddy, My Love||Cindy Bullens|
|Rock N’ Roll Party Queen||Louis St. Louis|
|There Are Worse Things I Could Do||Stockard Channing|
|Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee (Reprise)||Olivia Newton-John|
|We Go Together||John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John|
|Love Is a Many-splendored Thing||–|
|Grease (Reprise)||Frankie Valli|
Starting with week 27 of 1978 the singles You’re The One That I Want, Grease and Hopelessly Devoted To You spent a total of 15 weeks at the number 1 position in the Dutch charts in 1978. All 6 singles entered the top 10. Over a period of 26 (!) weeks at least 1 Grease single was part of the top 10 of the Dutch Top 40.
On October 21st, 1978, no less than 5 singles were part of the Top 40, placed at 1, 2, 4, 15 and 30. The success of Saturday Night Fever was obliterated in the singles charts.
The movie had quite an impact on John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John and Jeff Conaway.
Nearly all of his movies after Grease were flops. The first time Travolta was somewhat recognized as an actor again was in 1994 when Quentin Tarantino asked him for Pulp Fiction. Also read the article on Saturday Night Fever.
For Newton-John Grease was a turning point in her career. Just like her character Sandy Olsson, Newton-John changed her image. From innocent and somewhat tedious country singer to more sexually charged pop star. Her first album after Grease wasn’t called Totally Hot for nothing.
On the set of Grease Conaway harmed his back. During one of the TV-series episodes of Celebrity Rehab, a show in which celebrities get treated for all kinds of addictions, Conaway claimed his dependencey on drugs started there. By then, Conaway was nothing like the handsome man in Grease. He spoke in a slurred manner, was frustrated and essentially more dead than alive. It was abundantly clear he was the ‘celebrity’ with the biggest problems. He didn’t finish the show. Three years later he died, just 60 years old.
John Travolta was Conaway’s friend and helped him kick his habits several times, paying for his medical bills.
In 1982 a sequel to Grease was released. None of the major actors was part of the cast. A young Michelle Pfeiffer played one her first leading roles. She was noticed: she was asked to star across Al Pacino for the remake of Scarface, which was released a year later.
Grease 2 was a horrible movie and grossed just enough money to cover the costs.
Grease was my soundtrack to my first year of junior high school.
What do you think of the movie and soundtrack? What are tour memories of the phenomenon that was Grease? Let me know; it is highly appreciated!
Grease – Gatefold image: vinylalbumcovers.com
Grease – Summer holiday image: timeout.com
Opening credits image: artofthetitle.com
Danny Zuko image: youtube.com
Summer Nights & Grease – Advert images: pinterest.com
T Birds & Pink Ladies logos image: grease.wikia.com
You’re The One That I Want image: host.madison.com
Senior prom image: rottentomatoes.com
The big race image: cultfilmfreaks.com
The final image: independent.co.uk
Buttons image: tedhake.com
Grease: The Original Soundtrack From The Motion Picture image: apple.com
Grease – The Singles & Top 40, 10/21/1978 images: top40.nl
Grease – The Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture – Back cover image: vanityfair.com
Grease logo image: brandsoftheworld.com