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Grease - Frankie Valli
American high school life in the Fifties was the inspiration for "Grease," one of the most popular and longest-running of all Broadway musicals. In 1978, the film version spawned four Top 5 hits: the title theme, "You're the One That I Want," "Hopelessly Devoted to You," and "Summer Nights." Surprisingly, only one of them -- the latter song -- actually came from the original score.
One reason for this was the movie's musical director, Bill Oakes, who'd spent his own high school years in England. He'd seen the live show, and simply "wasn't knocked out" by what he heard. When the motion picture rights were negotiated, a clause was worked in, allowing him to "punch things up" with extra material. Twenty-three songs wound up on the final soundtrack -- ten of them from outside sources. Ironically, the title tune was among them.
The film Grease, like Saturday Night Fever, was co-produced by Robert Stigwood, the RS of RSO Records (the O stands for "Organization"). He agreed that a song called "Grease" was needed, and asked Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees to write one. It was not an easy assignment. What can you make out of the word "grease"? Finally, Barry decided that "grease" was "the word." It didn't make any sense, but perhaps with a good rhythm, nobody would notice.
At that time, the Bee Gees were the most heavily-played recording group on the radio. To avoid further overexposure, it was agreed that the song had to be given to some other performer.
"I had met Barry during the filming of Sgt. Pepper," said Frankie Valli. "I played a cameo role at the very end. We started talking; in fact, every time we ran into each other we talked about doing something together. One day, Barry told me that he was involved in a project, and it was something that he was sure was right for me. I had no idea what it was, because he said he couldn't talk about it. A month later, he sent me the song, and I flipped. I thought it would be a hit the day I heard it -- which doesn't mean anything, of course. The public has to like it."
The single "Grease" came out in late May 1978, and made a slow, steady ascent to number one. It hit that peak in August, spending more than five months on the charts. Lead guitar on the record, incidentally, was played by Peter Frampton.
And, oh yes -- it came sixteen years after we first heard of Frankie Valli, then lead singer of the Four Seasons. "Grease" turned out to be the largest-selling record of his career, topping everything he had ever done alone, or with his former group. The Grease soundtrack album is the second best-selling movie soundtrack of all time, with some 24 million copies sold, just behind the all-time best selling soundtrack, Saturday Night Fever.
Following his success with "Grease" on RSO, Frankie signed with Warner Brothers in 1978 and with MCA in 1980. During this period, he also recovered his hearing after suffering many years from ostosclerosis, a rare disease that results in deafness. Valli went through three risky ear operations to get his hearing back, and regained almost full hearing. He had memorized the Four Seasons act well enough to sing on stage without hearing the group play their music, but now for the first time in years, he could hear the Four Seasons performing on stage.