Could ‘Dirty Dancing’ Be The Greatest Soundtrack Ever Made?

Bill Medley, the surviving half of the Righteous Brothers, still recalls that moment he visited the New York offices of RCA Records in 1988. Medley walked into a room with a wall completely lined with platinum album plaques. “My God,” Medley says. “It was Number One all over the world. And they gave me all of those awards. I gave some of them out as Christmas presents.” The album he was referring to was none other then the soundtrack to the film “Dirty Dancing”.

Blockbuster albums are a rare occurrence in today’s music business, especially since decades like the 80’s produced such quality records like “Thriller”, “Purple Rain”, and “Born In The U.S.A.”. The most surprising though had to be that of “Dirty Dancing”, a soundtrack to a low-budget movie starring unknown leading actors (Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey), the album should have been the last thing any teenager would have wanted to buy in 1987, but still 30 years on, it’s a fan favorite and a cult classic.

“Dirty Dancing” both the album and movie have become a pop culture odyssey, the film went on to gross more than $200 million and the album sold 32 million copies and clinched the Number 1 spot on the Billboard album charts for over four months. The film it’s self was built on such a simple concept, but combined with the music score it catapulted it become one of the biggest phenomenons the world has ever seen. Baby is the elder of Dr. Houseman’s (played by Jerry Orbach) two daughters, whom he brings to a Mountain resort with his wife (Kelly Bishop). Expecting a wholesome summer of talent show rehearsals, he has no idea that Baby, who has just graduated high school, is beginning to experience the other side of the hotel. Baby falls for the tough and streetwise dance instructor Johnny (played by Patrick Swayze) while trying to help him and his friend, fellow dance instructor, Penny (played by Cynthia Rhodes). The story delves into some serious topics like economics, class and abortion, amid a tale of summer lust infused with dirty dancing.

The soundtrack of course fueled the dancing including smash hit singles, Eric Carmen’s “Hungry Eyes,” Merry Clayton’s “Yes,” and Swayze’s “She’s Like the Wind,” a song he co-wrote for 1984’s Grandview USA and which music supervisor Jimmy Lenner convinced him to sing for the film. The movie’s closing song, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” which the team found at the bottom of a list of contenders, reached No. 1 as well. It was a song that won a Grammy, an Oscar and a Golden Globe. The hits didn’t stop there though, it produce multiple stream line chart toppers including; Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” “Stay” by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs and “In the Still of the Night” by the Five Satins. It even led to a re-release of the Contours’ “Do You Love Me”, my favourite song on the soundtrack.

But here’s some things you may have not known about this prestigious soundtrack;

The soundtrack may not have happened? When Lloyd and album executive producer Jimmy Lenner began the process of rounding up artists for the soundtrack, it was a hard task trying to people to feature on a record when the stars weren’t big names. “The movie was being made by a new company that no one had heard of and the stars weren’t big stars, so I couldn’t get anybody to sing on it,” says Lloyd. Lloyd had approached Donna Summer and Lionel Richie for “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life”; they passed. The project had a minimal budget, so you can imagine how hard it would of been to get artists to be a part of something like this.

The desperation for new material and artists resulted in the inception of Patrick Swayze’s “She’s Like the Wind”? As the album was nearing completion, says Lloyd, “We were looking for songs and Patrick said, ‘I have a song we could do,’ and we said, ‘Bring it on,’” says Lloyd. “It worked out perfectly, as if it were written for the movie.” Was he skeptical of an actor wanting to sing one of his own tunes? “If I could give people a tip,” says Lloyd, “it would be: Don’t be a superficial judge of something.”

Some of the musicians on the album knew nothing about the movie? Zappacosta who hadn’t seen the movie or read the script when he cut “Overload,” wasn’t the only one who was clueless about the movie, Johnston, who was still a year away from hooking back up with the reunited Doobie Brothers, was asked by a friend to record a song for the soundtrack in Louisiana. “It was a paper-mill town that just reeked,” he laughs. “But I said, ‘Why not?’” Like Medley and others, Johnston was shocked when the soundtrack became a hit record. “I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’” he recalls.

“(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” almost flopped? The single was scheduled for release shortly before the movie, but when the movie was delayed an extra month, the song was left out to fizzle away into non-existence. But once the movie was released, the song, featured in the dance scene with Swayze and Grey, it quickly sky rocketed. Lloyd said to this day he’s not heard from any of the pop acts who passed on the single.

 

Written By: Neill Frazer

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