‘Dirty Dancing’ – The Original Soundtrack
1987, a rich year for music with the rise of Euro Pop around the world, thanks to British producers Stock Aitken Waterman, and the birth of the dance craze of the late 1980’s with big hits coming from MARRS with “Pump Up The Volume”. But 1987 was a curious year with a high number of cover versions hitting the charts as well as a number of old songs being re-released, mostly thanks to TV advertising. These included big hits a second time round for Ben E. King, Percy Sledge and Nina Simone. In amongst this lot was a soundtrack to a film released that same year, that blended a mixture of the old and the new. Set in 1963, ‘Dirty Dancing’ cleverly reintroduced songs from the early 1960’s with a handful of new compositions, enticing multiple generations in at the same time and setting box office ticket machines alight.
The film would star Patrick Swayze and ‘Ferris Bueller’ newcomer, Jennifer Grey, together with Jerry Orbach and future Animotion singer, Cynthia Rhodes, in the lead roles. The original accompanying soundtrack album ran to twelve songs. The film opens with the credits sequence set to The Ronettes 1963 hit, “Be My Baby”, appropriate as Grey’s character is known as ‘Baby’. The Ronettes themselves had parted ways in 1974 after half a dozen hits including “Baby I Love You” (UK No.11, US No.24) and “Be My Baby” (US No.2, UK No.4), both in 1963. “Be My Baby” was co-written and produced by Phil Spector (1939-2021) who would later marry lead singer Veronica ‘Ronnie’ Bennett. More classics follow with “Stay”, a 1960 US number one hit for Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs, which holds the record to this day as the shortest song ever to top the American chart at one minute 36 seconds long.
Doobie Brothers guitarist Tom Johnston contributes the first new song for the soundtrack, “Where Are You Tonight?”. The track was not released as a standalone single, but featured on the original pressing of the album, thus reaching the many millions that went on to buy it. The first major new recording came from Eric “All By Myself” Carmen, who had not enjoyed such a high profile chart career since his weepy ballad of 1975. “Hungry Eyes” was an archetypal 1987 down-tempo pop number, heavy with synths and a soft rock backdrop, but enough to be a killer love song in its own right. The American public seemed to think so when it was released as a single in November 1987, peaking at No.4, Carmen’s highest for eighteen years. It was also a success around most of the globe apart from the UK, where, perhaps, punters had already bought over a million copies of the soundtrack album by then. “Hungry Eyes” has found enduring success in the 21st century as a download which ensures it hold a Platinum certification for sales of more than 600,000 copies there now!
Italian songwriter and producer, Zappacosta, provides another new song for the soundtrack with his 1987 synth heavy tune, “Overload”, bearing all the hallmarks of similar tracks from the likes of Yello and Art Of Noise at that time. Bruce Channel’s 1962 US number one, “Hey! Baby”, features for the older generations, a song which later found favour with a whole new generation of music and club goers in 2000 when Austrian DJ, Ötzi, took his version to number one around the world, including the UK, where the original had peaked at No.2. Mickey (Baker) and Sylvia (Vanterpool)’s 1957 US R&B chart topper, “Love Is Strange”, is featured in the film and on the soundtrack. The couples biggest and best known recording was introduced to a whole new audience thirty years after its original release and was later to be covered by the likes of Lonnie Donegan in 1963, The Everly Brothers in 1965 (UK No.11) and Everything But The Girl in 1992 (UK No.13). “You Don’t Own Me” was a 1963 US number two hit for Lesley Gore (1946-2015) but is featured here as a new recording by British band, The Blow Monkeys.
Singer Merry Clayton made her chart debut in 1970 with “Gimme Shelter”, but recorded a new song, “Yes”, for the soundtrack, which went to No.45 in America, equaling her previous best with “Keep Your Eye On The Sparrow” in 1975 and reaching No.70 in the UK, her first ever showing on the singles chart there. The Five Satins 1956 classic, “In the Still Of The Night”, features on both media forms. The song went to No.24 and No.3 on the R&B chart – the group’s highest of all time – although this would be bettered by the group, Boyz II Men, in 1992, when they took their version to No.3 in America and No.27 in the UK. “Hungry Eyes” was the first of the three main and best known songs from film, so the soundtrack concludes with the remaining two. First up is actor Patrick Swayze himself putting in a rather good vocal performance in a duet with unknown singer, Wendy Fraser. The song, “She’s Like The Wind”, is also co-written by Swayze as early as 1984 for a previous film he was working on but was never used. The actor, keen for it not to be lost, presented it to film composer John Morris (1926-2018) who liked it and made sure of its inclusion.
Swayze holds his own on the singing front making you almost believe it wasn’t him at all and a more seasoned artist. As a duet, “She’s Like The Wind” works with equally fine vocals from Fraser, who would later become a noted Jazz performer. The song was released in the run up to Christmas 1987 and made it to No.3 in America and No.17 in the UK in January 1988. But, the big ‘new’ number of the film was the closing number, another duet, this time in the hands of two very accomplished artists. John DeNicola (who had also co-penned “Hungry Eyes”), Donald Markowitz and Franke Previte, of the band Franke and the Knockouts, wrote the song, “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life”, for the final number, which was to have been performed by Donna Summer and film singer Joe Esposito although eventually the producers and music director settled with Righteous Brother Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, who already had one Academy Award winning song under her belt with “Up Where We Belong”, with Joe Cocker, in 1983. The single edit does not do justice to the full film and album soundtrack version, which comes in at a hefty six minutes 46 seconds long.
“(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” proved an instant smash and was perhaps a key player in the films ultimate success, topping the US singles chart as well as many other countries around the world. In the UK, the song peaked at No.6, but returned to the top ten in 1990 upon the film’s terrestrial television premiere, when it made No.8 on this occasion. Perhaps the casting of Jennifer Warnes was a good omen as it went on to win Best Original Song at the 1988 Oscar ceremony, fighting off competition from Starship‘s “Nothings Gonna Stop us Now” from the film ‘Mannequin’, to win the much sought after trophy. ‘Dirty Dancing’ the film was a huge success throughout the Summer and Autumn of 1987, eventually taking $214.6m at the box office (that year’s James Bond film, ‘The Living Daylights‘, mustered $191.3m). Video, and later DVD and Blu Ray, sales have added many millions more to that figure as each new generation falls in love with its story and its sound. “Dirty Dancing” the soundtrack went to number one in multiple countries and, to date, has sold more than 32 million copies, making it one of twenty biggest selling albums of all time, eleven million copies alone have come from The US, while UK sales exceed more than three million.
A 2007, twentieth anniversary, edition saw the whole score and the soundtrack brought together for the very first time, with cues and missing tracks heard in the film but not included on the original album. These include The Four Seasons’ “Big Girls Don’t Cry” from 1962, Otis Reading’s “These Arms Of Mine”, also from 1962 and The Shirelles 1960 number one, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”. A fan must for any Saturday night in or out. Watermelon not included!
For Ronnie Spector (1943-2022)