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Aug 08

JOHN TRAVOLTA AND OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN – “Summer Nights”

FT + Popular41 comments • 2,556 views

#427, 30th September 1978

“Summer Nights” brings into focus the differences between pop on stage and pop on single: its structure, building and building and getting more cacophonous and then peaking into a languid fade, is a really unusual one for a pop single, but immediately recognisable as a musical ensemble number. That’s what it was bought as, anyhow – another massive Grease hit, from the other end of the story, and this one a survivor of the original stage version. As such it’s trying to channel the 50s more directly than “You’re The One That I Want”, nodding especially to the call-and-response minidramas of classic Shangri-La’s.

The comparison doesn’t really help “Summer Nights” – the gender comedy here (guys be exaggeratin’!) is pretty crude compared to the wit and spark of, say, “Give Him A Great Big Kiss”: there’s a whole world of heat implicit in that song’s “close…very, very close”  which Danny and Sandy’s knockabout contrasts can’t get near. But it’s not like 90% of the songs we’ll meet are in that league, and if “Summer Nights” doesn’t really get beyond sexual panto, it delivers that with real aplomb. It’s not just the constant build-up that’s odd for a pop single: the structure is cleverer than most, two separate conflicting narrators making for a curious duet-that-isn’t. (This structure was borrowed last year for Teenagers’ “Homecoming”, which manages to make “Summer Nights” seem as delicate and finely observed as Jane Austen.)

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Comments

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  1. 26
    Dan R on 13 Aug 2008 #

    Yes, the extremely fey ‘oh’ which comes just before the final ‘those su-hummer naaa-haaaaats’. We found that funny when I was 10 and it still amuses me now.

  2. 27
    mike on 13 Aug 2008 #

    *cough*
    See #9 above, para 3!
    *cough*

    (Wanders off, muttering… tsk, don’t know why I bother…)

  3. 28
    Waldo on 13 Aug 2008 #

    I refer Honourable Members to the reply I gave in respect of “You’re The One That I Want”.

  4. 29
    wichita lineman on 13 Aug 2008 #

    “Grease is largely liked by people who never cared very much for rock ‘n’ roll” – thanks Dan, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. At least, this is why I couldn’t ever stomach it. Same as Austin Powers: camp and ill-informed under the guise of loving tribute.

    Also, like Austin Powers, Grease is an example of a film whose supporters’ positive spin hardly extends beyond “It’s fun! Come on! Get a life”. The Guardian letters page had a similar reaction to Peter Bradshaw’s very amusing review of Mamma Mia! I’d like to think I’d never get close to using this line. Not even in defence of Mouldy Old Dough.

  5. 30
    Pete on 14 Aug 2008 #

    Hmm, there might be something in that, but in my experience Grease was liked by people who didn’t know much about rock’n’roll, or had even heard much (so in my case my excuse m’lud was being five). It has to be said that my later increasing dislike of the musical may well be due to an increasing knowledge and thus a realisation of how the majority of tunes in Grease pall next to the originals. This is the problem with the pastiche musical, you have to be a bloody good songwriter to get near the quality of the originals*. The same could be said for the Austin Powers films, it was parody for people who were unacquainted with what was being parodied (and thus a loose and unspecific parody at best – there was little in International Man Of Mystery which had not already been covered by Our Man Flint). Moreover the “fun” defence is weak, and there a plenty of other ways of defending Mamma Mia beyond just that one (not that Peter Bradshaw needs defending against!)

    I suppose whether or not we find Grease a good or a bad thing could be tied into our view of how intoductory education. If (for me) Grease led to people enjoying other, better musicals – or exploring the music of the period then it would undeniably be a good thing**. However if it is used as a representative of musicals or fifties music, and is used as a basis to judge to judge those eras and that music, then it is clearly rubbish.

    *Hairspray, another film stuffed with pastiches, works because I think they songs are genuinely witty, good pastiches and done to service a terrific plot.
    **YTOTIW, the theme tune, bobby soxing ONJ and John Travolta’s leg quakes notwithstanding!

  6. 31
    wichita lineman on 14 Aug 2008 #

    I agree Pete, Hairspray works better because it really is a loving tribute, which shows that camp isn’t destructive of the past by definition. It also features some cracking songs, contemporary ones, which I’d never heard before (I Wish I Were A Princess, Nothing Takes The Place Of You).

  7. 32
    Malice Cooper on 15 Aug 2008 #

    I hated this at the time and still do. They were in the enviable position of having a guaranteed number one even if they farted for 3 minutes. They may have saved the world from the Smurfs but even Father Abraphart would have been preferable to this. Yuk !

  8. 33
    Caledonianne on 15 Aug 2008 #

    I may be unique for someone of my age and gender in that I have never seen Grease.

    Can I just say, therefore, how much I enjoyed the dialogue between Dan and Pete above. Lots to think about there.

    (I’m an old fashioned goil. I loved “Hello Dolly!”.

    I enjoy this record more now than I did at the time (because of the under the dock/10 o’clock and arcade/lemonade alt testimonies), and like others, I’m surprised by how late in the summer/early autumn this hit the top. I had a long vacation job as a filing clerk in the solicitors’ office where I subsequently qualified, and I have a sort of false memory syndrome that myself and the typists were listening to this at teabreak time all summer. Weird.

  9. 34
    The Lurker on 18 Aug 2008 #

    The headline on today’s Daily Mirror match report of Arsenal’s win over WBA, in which debutant Samir Nasri scored the winner, is ‘Samir Loving…Happened So Fast’.

    Not bad, I thought.

  10. 35
    thefatgit on 1 Jun 2011 #

    Here seems appropriate to say farewell to Jeff Conaway (Kenickie), who died last Friday (27th). Even Scientology couldn’t save him.

  11. 36
    richard thompson on 13 Aug 2011 #

    Hasn’t really stood the test of time, not into scientology either, this song reminds me of Solihull Tech where I was a student back then

  12. 37
    Eli on 19 Aug 2011 #

    Cynics corner here it seems: there’s a reason why so many people voted it #1 in that Channel 4 poll. Because it captures the spirit of youth and colour we all wish we’d had when we were that age.

    @#19 – yes, snooty and meal-mouthed, which sums up most of the comments I’m afraid.

    Grease was back in cinemas again last year to packed audiences, so it must have done something right.

  13. 38
    Erithian on 19 Aug 2011 #

    #34 – and now it looks like Nasri is about to sign for Manchester City. “Samir dreams, ripped at the seams…”

  14. 39
    thefatgit on 19 Aug 2011 #

    ABBA “Samir Night City” surely.

  15. 40
    Brendan on 24 Sep 2012 #

    I don’t like stage musicals so this, for me, is definitely below ‘You’re the One That I Want’. So 5 it is.

  16. 41
    Erithian on 13 Feb 2014 #

    So farewell then, Sid Caesar aka Coach Calhoun. Although as Danny Baker tweeted, headlining an obit for Sid Caesar with Grease is a bit like headlining Ringo Starr’s eventual obituary with “Voice of Thomas the Tank Engine dies”. Which no doubt somebody will.

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