Grease Is the Word’: Exploring a Cultural Phenomenon MUSIC FOR THE FILM

Of especial note was the addition of songs to the film not found in the stage version. These included “Sandy,” with music by Louis St. Louis, and lyrics by Scott J. Simon, who was also known as “Screamin’” Scott Simon from the music group Sha-Na-Na, which appeared in the film as “Johnny Casino & The Gamblers.” John Farrar, Olivia Newton-John’s music producer, and songwriter wrote: “You’re the One That I Want” and “Hopelessly Devoted To You,” which became hit singles. The latter song fulfilled a contractual obligation for the young Australian singer to have a solo in the film in her character as “Sandy.” A solid ballad that earned an Academy Award nomination, the song is performed after Sandy abruptly leaves the school pep rally because of Danny’s treatment of her in front of his buddies.
Barry Gibb’s theme song, “Grease,” performed by Frankie Valli and featured in an animated opening credits sequence, sparked the greatest controversy. Kleiser believed that Gibb’s music and lyrics contradicted the sunny optimism of the film’s cast and the title song. Forty years later, Kleiser seems to have made his peace with being overruled in this matter: “The lyrics didn’t match the film, but I’m thrilled that I was outvoted. The title song was a huge hit and I’m happy it was used.” The song topped the U.S. charts for two weeks in late summer 1978.
Sha-Na-Na’s cameo appearance in the film neatly captures the promises as well as the pitfalls of the idealized nostalgia project that carried the film. As rock musical theater, Grease incorporated the sounds typically associated with rock music in its score. But, its composition style was more invested in Broadway tradition than it was in classic forms of rock and pop songs, which do not usually translate into effective dramatic staging and interpretation in the theatre. The group, formed in 1969, thrived as it parodied the greaser and rock ‘n’ roll culture of the 1950s, led by Jon Bauman, a/k/a Bowzer, the self-appointed authenticator of culture. In a 1978 interview with People magazine, Bauman did not restrain his criticism about the emerging 1970s icon of the 1950s’ nostalgia wave — calling Henry Winkler’s Fonz from Happy Days “a lightweight” and Travolta’s Danny in Grease “an absolute nothing,” adding that the film’s script was a “weak nothing.” Ironically, Sha-Na-Na had to overcome the skeptical impression of older performers (in Sha-Na-Na’s instance, ranging in age from 26 to 32) filling in as teenage rock ‘n’ rollers.
Music for the film Prior to Grease’s release, Bauman’s group’s music variety series was a hit in television syndication and had just been renewed for a second season in 136 cities. Along with the band’s brief appearance in Grease, Sha-Na-Na recorded six tracks on the film’s soundtrack, which rose to the top Billboard chart spot, overtaking Some Girls from Rolling Stones. Bauman proclaimed, “Sha-Na-Na was unquestionably the stimulus for the entire ’50s craze.” Bauman, a Columbia University student, formed the group three years before Grease hit Broadway, taking the name from the chorus to Get A Job, a chart-topping single in 1958 by the Silhouettes. After an appearance at the first Woodstock festival in 1969, the group launched a college tour to large audiences. Bauman said in his People interview that he emulated the style of greasers he saw in Queens, where he grew up.

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