Wednesday, January 11, 2012

1978: Why don't they understand?

While we're on a musical tip, and thanks to Drakeygirl for jogging a memory, let's talk about Grease.

Forget punk. Was there ever anything bigger in 1978 than Grease? Saturday Night Fever was so last year. Grease was the word.

I was 13, my brother was 10 and whatever the certificate as on that film was probably low, an A perhaps, as we went to see it en famille. By the time we went we already knew the songs, or most of them, with You're The One That I Want and Summer Nights and Hopelessly Devoted To You already hits and implanted in our brains for all time.

But as to the story. Well, it took me a long time to work out that Sandy and Danny had had a summer fling, which explained why he was so cool with her when she rocked up at high school that autumn (sort of). I totally missed the references to Rizzo's unwanted pregnancy, not getting any of the meaning behind There Are Worse Things I Could Do, and as for the Sandra Dee number, I thought it was so risque as to be unbelievable it could even be shown. I was so naive. I remember my mum saying afterwards to my dad that most of it went over our heads and she was right. It was only when I was given a little book that went frame by frame through the film with speech bubbles that it all clanked into place. (Do you remember those picture novelisations of films? They were all the rage back then).

The Grease phenom lasted the whole year, and for Christmas we got the soundtrack. But really by that time it was coming to a natural end and the hits were drying up. But on my wall now was Olivia, so breathtakingly hot when she morphed from geek to chic at the film's end, with her bad girl leather jacket, satin trousers (see entries passim) and - gasp! - a fag. She was my first proper pin, replacing Charlie's Angels and pre-dating Debbie Harry by a matter of months. I still have a soft spot for her and hasn't she worn well?

As has the film. I saw a bit of it the other day, and it's still enormous fun. I love the Summer Lovin' sequence. Musicals leave me cold on the whole, but I'll go the extra mile for this. I even went on a work trip in about 1993 to see it on the London stage, starring Craig McLachlan and Debbie Gibson, with Shane Richie as Kenickie. Not sequenced like the film, but fun nonetheless.

And yes I did want a leather jacket like Danny's, however someone in my school had one and the day he got it his mum was putting her car away in the garage with the exhaust running, banged her head on the garage door and died. At least, that was the story at the time. So I went off the idea.

Anyway, I have to say I tired of most of the songs long ago, but I still like this, especially when coupled with these opening credits:


  1. Going to see Grease is genuinely one of my earliest memories. My mum took me (aged 5) and my brother (aged 8) to see it, on the proviso that she had to see it but my dad was unable to look after us for some reason. Queuing outside the ABC cinema in Hull (where the Beatles played in 1964 and is now a shopping complex and hotel) in torrential rain for ages before finally getting our seats.

    It was packed. I was too young to know anything at all and my only memory once inside - though its vivid - is of my brother immediately complaining that the film started with some sloppy stuff on a beach and he wanted the leather jackets and the coolness and Greased Lightnin'. Mum told him to be quiet and wait.

    It still holds up and it is still tremendous fun. Olivia Newton John wasn't even an actress, was she? She was a sweet, untouched MOR singer when she got the call, as I understand it, and completely dominated the film. The mooning scene in front of the the TV cameras still makes me laugh and when the main two are in their element on that fairground cakewalk, his hands on her waist, hers on his shoulders, that's the most iconic image of the whole film for me. The way he touches her waist suggests that he was under strict instructions to not get too much of a feel.

  2. Bravo, JP, another black comedy ambush. Completely unexpected, as it was all going along so normally until the garage door-to-floor incident.

    I've tried re-reading that part in my Alan Bennett and Ronnie Corbett voices; both working well, can't decide which one suits this best.

  3. The only non-Star Wars film I've paid to see at the cinema more than once (and also in the open air in a park, which was excellent with audience participation, kids dancing down the front etc). And I think the soundtrack was my first double album too.

    We bumped into Olivia in a casino at Niagara Falls a couple of years ago and she still had the sparkle, despite the trials and tribulations of the intervening years.

  4. I'd already popped my 'XCert' cherry earlier in the year by sneaking in to see Saturday Night Fever (god knows HOW they let me in, I'd just turned fifteen and looked twelve), so I had a whole other impression of John Travolta going on. Consequently couldn't let myself enjoy Grease, as of course his character was so much more wholesome, and I felt myself to be incredibly sophisticated by then and wanted to know more about gang bangs and swearing. I had no time for soppy tunes about Hopeless Devotion or Summer Lovin'.

    I got over myself a couple of years later, saw Grease again, and really liked it.

  5. Get the violins out - I never got to see Grease until it was on TV, i.e. a couple of years after it had done the rounds of the playground. So I felt a bit left out, only having seen the usual clips that accompanied the songs on TOTP.

    What strikes me now is how utterly 1970s it is, despite the ostensible 50s setting. Look at that title sequence: it's pure Wait Till Your Father Gets Home. Not that that's a bad thing, of course.

  6. Like ISB - my first Travolta film was Saturday Night Fever in early 78 (aged 12). Mum sneaked me in by getting me to wear Dad's platforms for height enhancement. We spent the entire time slumped into our chairs, with our palms, barrier style against the sides of faces to save any blushes. And I barely got any of the salty references. I watched the opening 30 mins last week to get buzzed for our New York trip. Bloody Hell, there's some explosive effing, jeffing and gritty scenes on the go.

    Following this, Grease was a breeze (excepting the queues around the corner). My favourite shot is when they walk through the House of Fun at the end a two-header shot(in front of a window?) with a quality that looks straight out of 50s musicals..and yes ONJ was smokingly saucy in black spandex. A girl joined our school who year and looked exactly like Sandra Dee (good girl era)- can you imagine!

    A mate of mine, a local musician and music teacher - gulped recently when a young student (under 12)learning at home wanted to be taught Greased Lighting on the piano. There's some fruity doings in those lyrics

  7. Yikes, Mondo, all that shit and tit. Did they censor that for the radio? I heard it the other day and I couldn't make it out.

    It is quite 70s, RS, and I wonder if I really knew it was meant to be Fifties at the time, but I think I probably did. That said, everything at the time as faux-Fifites, from the David Essex Stardust films through the Showaddywaddy and Rubettes and Mud and Happy Days. We were drowning in nostalgia.

    V. jealous about you bumping into Olivia, Simon. What a starspot!

    Thanks OP, glad I'm making you laugh. It was tragic at the time but of course being 13 no one mentioned it to the poor boy concerned.

    Oh ISBW, you were so grown up. I would have been totally in awe of you. Much like I am now.

    Matt, only five when you saw it? About 90% of it must have passed you by.

  8. I remember going to see this in Newbury, I must have been about 8. I knew the words to all the songs (in fact I still do). When my daughter was 8/9 she loved it as much as I did, if not more.
    I remember the same year, while on holiday with the parents in Mallorca, groovin' on down with my Dad to 'You're the One that I Want'.
    Poor Kenickie died recently, didn't he?

  9. Love the thought of you and Pat frugging wildly on the beach, Hels.