Dedicated to those songs that I can’t stop playing, humming, or thinking about; the 4+ minutes you fall head-over-heels in love with. Past instances have included Beck’s “Timebomb,” New Order’s “Age of Consent,” and Black Sabbath’s “N.I.B.”
You can’t help who you fall in love with, and the same could be said about music. I don’t like hearing apologies for musical taste because trying to apply logic to an illogical equation remains an act of futility. If people could control their tastes then I would be eating broccoli while being excited for the baseball playoffs. But instead I’m sitting in a dark room, tapping my feet with the gang of Rydell High, eating kettle corn and wondering if I’ll ever wear my Cubs hat again. These things just happen, and maybe it’s best to just accept them and move through it.
The weirdest part about the ever-lasting phenomenon of “Grease” is that it’s not that good of a movie, but it’s a great movie. Even more interesting, the stage productions are almost always populated by little kids and their parents who ultimately get confused and alarmed by the differences. There’s no big race, obviously, and the stage show is even bawdier than the “safer” movie (though Adult Phillip certainly caught on to the mentions of gang bangs and chicks who “will cream”), Sandy’s not from Australia, and it plays more like an ensemble piece, giving songs like “Magic Changes” and “Raining On Prom Night” to characters casual fans would find difficult to name. The obvious tie-in between the two productions lies in their common songs (just like every musical with multiple incarnations), and “Summer Nights” is one of the best. “Grease” is an OK musical that made a better-than-it-should-be movie because it contains great songs, which is really the reason you watch a musical anyway.
“Grease” has also enjoyed a revival as my generation got older and started earning its own money. That’s how you know what’s going to stick around, and that’s why movies like “Transformers” will remain incredibly popular for our demographic: companies will sell our memories back to us, and our dollars determine what’s important. By all logical accounts, the movie “Grease” should have dropped off the planet, or at least not maintained or grown its popularity. Instead, we’ve put our money where our memories are and bought countless versions of the movie and soundtrack, played them at college parties, and bred nostalgia upon nostalgia. “Remember the time we sang this song at Homecoming because we remembered it from third grade?” Since we’ve started earning money, “Grease” is important.
In its more recent revival – the “Grease Mega-Mix” of the 90s – the songs filled wedding receptions and prom nights for all to enjoy, but it always left me a little annoyed that they didn’t just play “Summer Nights” on its own. And for years, this mix was all the exposure to the song that I had, and I my animosity to the whole enterprise only increased. I didn’t need all the crazy mix-it-up of “Grease-Gr-Gr-Greased Lightnin’!” and that junk. I just needed a song on its own. The Mega-Mix was to satisfying pop songs as “Family Guy” is to focused storytelling: all pops and whistles. The analogy also carries over to the fact that both the mix and “Family Guy” felt like less sustained pop mentions than pop references, which is to say “empty.” So it wasn’t until a recent reviewing of the movie that I got the full dose of “Summer Nights.”
The song drills into your skull mostly with its semi-story and easy-to-mix-up post-chorus sections. I mean really, how am I supposed to remember that “Did you get very far?” comes from the T-Birds before “Did she put up a fight?” From memory, I can sing the opening lines–both parts–and the ending, because that’s where they belong. My brain messes up the chronology on the rest, and that’s enough of a puzzle for the song to get stuck. I’ve actually been sick with a cold this week, and I couldn’t tell you how many times I have tried to remember if the “made out under the dock” part comes before the “down in the sand” part while drifting in and out of NyQuill-induced comas.
It may seem like I’m being hard on the song, and I shouldn’t be. You should not apologize for what floats your boat, so I will not apologize for enjoying and fixating on a song with more “Uh-huh’s” and “Shoot-a-pop-pop’s” than any before or after it because that’s the sort of thing I enjoy.
Other stray observations about “Grease”:
-When Rizzo and Kenickie are going to have sex, and Kenickie’s condom breaks because he bought it in eighth grade, does this mean Kenickie’s a virgin? Can that even be possible? Or are we to assume that all of Kenickie’s previous “conquests” have brought the protection? (pointed out by my wife)
-And speaking of Kenickie, forget Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Carribean. Jeff Conaway would have made an incredible Keith Richards based on his performance here. The hair, the lip, the attitude. He even smokes the right way. (highly disputed by my wife)
-Maybe the reason Rydell High Football never wins a game is because all the other sports are going on simultaneously. Track, baseketball, baseball, wrestling… they’re all going on at the same time. Focus your athletes, Coach. Hell, your star Lorezo Lamas is playing track AND football!
-I know people in the past always looked a little older than they would nowadays, but these are the oldest looking teenagers this side of original 90210. Assuming most of the actual fimling was done in 1977, that would make Travolt 23, Newton-John 28, Conaway 27 and Stockard Channing a blossoming 33! They make the High School Musical cast look like grade schoolers.
One more thing: the attached video was made by Cinematograph Moscow students who perform much of the song in sign language. You could seek out the original movie version if you want, but if you wanted to see something you haven’t seen every day, this could be the one for you.
Written By Phillip Mottaz