The original Grease title song for the 1978 motion picture was sung by Frankie Valli in combination with John Travolta who was at his musical prime.
This included the two most successful songs; ‘You’re the One That I Want’ and the Grease title song, ‘Grease’, both of which made it to number one on the billboards. The other song nominated for the Academy Awards was ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’. When the album with these songs was released in the summer of 1978, the Grease soundtrack album immediately hit the top of the US charts replacing The Rolling Stones hit, ‘Some Girls’. Within three years of its release, the album sold over 28 million units worldwide.
The 1950’s performances of the Grease musical provided a momentum from which the film was to take off from. Even before the release, the film was a popular topic of discourse, with people guessing how effective the film could recapture the musical artistry of the Broadway release. John Travolta in Danny Zuko’s role did not disappoint, just as he had not in the successful ‘Travolta in Saturday Night Fever’. Frankie Valli sung the amazing Grease title song, written by Barry Gibb.
The famous ‘Sha Na Na’ song made the Grease soundtrack as much fun as the story line, with actress Stockard Channing stretching her versatility to the max. The Grease title song has become a magnificent touchstone of American pop culture. Basically, the national funk of the time in USA had a lot to do with the Grease songs’ success as a title song and as an album. There was a general yearning at the time for a music genre with more fun than soul, less agitated than jazz, simpler than the classics, and more complicated than rock. To achieve this, the Grease sound track stylishly blended the music of the 50’s music, the disco sensibilities of the 70’s, the late 70’s non-disco pop, and other songs that had never held a stage within the confines of a motion picture.
Among the most prominent songs in the film include (arranged in the order that they appeared in the film) ‘Summer Nights’ by Pink Ladies, ‘Sandy and the T-Birds’, ‘Look at Me’, and ‘I’m Sandra Dee’, by Rizzo and the Pink Ladies, ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ by Sandy, ‘Greased Lightning’ by Danny and the T-Birds, ‘Alone at the Drive-in Movie’, an instrumental, ‘Beauty School Dropout’ by Frankie Avalon, ‘Rock n’ Roll is Here to Stay’ by Johnny, ‘Those Magic Changes’ by Johnny and Danny, ‘Tears on My Pillow’ by Bradford and A. Lewis, ‘Hound Dog’ by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, ‘Mooning’ by Jan and Roger, ‘Sandy’ by Louis St. Louis and Scott J. Simon, and ‘Born to Hand Jive’ by Johnny and the cast.
Some other two great inclusions to the Grease songs were ‘La Bamba’ by Richie Valens, and ‘Whole Lotta Shaking Going On’ by Jerry L. Lewis which in the movie are both played by the juke box at Frosties. The Grease soundtrack was performed and recorded by Olivia Newton-John and released as an album in 1978 by Louis St. Louis records.
In its arrangement, the Grease soundtrack orders the songs by frontloading the theme song followed by several singles just in the initial section of the film. For instance, following the brief song ‘Love Is A Many Splendored Thing’, the film introduces the Grease title song. The singer, Frankie Avalon, helps achieve a catchy disco-like but less intense rhythm, a melodious harmony of the 50’s slow music and the pop of the 70’s.
On her part, Stockard Channing, in the song ‘Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee’, makes a danceable melody as she makes fun of Sandy. She makes the song reflect upon the late 50’s dance movements. When it comes to instruments, Grease songs have a perfect match. A good example is the pop ballad ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You’ that was specifically tailor-made for Olivia Newton-John. This ballad alternates steel guitars borrowed from rock, and when you think you got the rhythm right, the tender guitar strings take the airwaves and back again.
Grease soundtracks have predominantly male voices though, the most notable being ‘Summer Nights’, the beginning duet shared by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Interestingly, the duet also features some members of the cast at the backstage origins. Again, ‘Danny’s fateful summer’ has a musical tradeoff between Travolta and Olivia, with backup voices coming in with gender distinction, such that Travolta’s part has male backups while Olivia’s segments have female backups. Another perfectly blended multi-genre song is ‘Rock And Roll Party Queen’ which is briefly heard during the dance segment where people begin pouring into the decorated gym.