“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.)