The Story Of... 'Grease' by Frankie Valli

25 January 2024, 10:23

Frankie Valli sang the theme to 1978 musical film Grease, but who wrote it?
Frankie Valli sang the theme to 1978 musical film Grease, but who wrote it? Picture: Getty/RSO

By Thomas Edward

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"Grease is the word."

In 1972, the stage musical Grease came into being, a tale of youth culture in 1950s America that dealt with rarely talked about subjects like teenage pregnancy, youth rebellion, peer pressure, and gang violence.

Initially running on Broadway and the West End - where Richard Gere would star in the leading role - the musical eventually made its way to the big screen.

With John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John featuring as the star-crossed young lovers in Danny Zuko and Sandy Dombrowski, Grease became a box office smash, and is still considered as one of the greatest musical films of all time.

Of course, a musical needs impactful songs, and none come more memorable than the film's theme song, 'Grease'.

Sung by Frankie Valli, who made his name during the previous decade with The Four Seasons, 'Grease' spear-headed the 1978 film's soundtrack towards chart success and numerous award nominations.

The opening and closing theme to the musical film sensation was one of four songs written specifically for the movie, that didn't originally appear in the stage production.

But who wrote 'Grease'? How did Frankie Valli end up recording it? Has anyone else covered it over the years? Here's all you need to know:

Who wrote the theme song to the 1978 musical film Grease?

Frankie Valli - Grease (Top Of The Pops September 14th, 1978)

The man behind the music and lyrics to Frankie Valli's theme 'Grease' was none other than the Bee Gees' very own Barry Gibb.

After the band's manager Robert Stigwood signed one as one of the producers of Grease, he immediately discarded the mooted theme song and pitched it to Gibb instead.

In 1978, the Bee Gees were at the peak of their powers - at least in a commercial sense - capturing the zeitgeist with their now-classic soundtrack to disco drama Saturday Night Fever the year before.

Riding high on their fame in the US, Stigwood handed over songwriting duties to Gibb, who penned the theme that propelled the film's soundtrack into the charts.

Why didn't Barry Gibb sing 'Grease'?

Barry Gibb wrote and produced 'Grease'. (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)
Barry Gibb wrote and produced 'Grease'. (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage). Picture: Getty

After Grease hit the stage in 1972, it started a nostalgic cultural phenomenon of looking back to the 1950s - the boom of teenage culture - which influenced much of the decade's creative ventures.

The scene is very much set during that time, taking place at Rydell High School with greasers, cheerleaders, and jocks making up the film's characters.

But Barry Gibb wrote the theme in the music genre that he found phenomenal success with: disco.

Because 'Grease' fits more of a disco style than the rock 'n' roll music popular during the 1950's, Robert Stigwood insisted that Gibb only write and produce the track.

The Bee Gees' sound was so ingrained with the disco movement of the era, that Stigwood wanted Grease to have its own identity.

However, Barry provided backing vocals on the song, and his pal Peter Frampton offered up his guitar-playing services for the recording.

How did 'Grease' make its way to Frankie Valli?

Frankie Valli with Grease star Olivia Newton-John. (Photo by Jim McHugh/WWD/Penske Media via Getty Images)
Frankie Valli with Grease star Olivia Newton-John. (Photo by Jim McHugh/WWD/Penske Media via Getty Images). Picture: Getty

Frankie Valli was a familiar voice though hadn't scored a solo hit for some years, so wasn't exactly dominating the airwaves by the time the disco movement came to prominence.

Because his vocal range was similar to Barry Gibb's, Robert Stigwood thought he was the perfect fit to sing the Grease theme song.

In 2013, Valli explained to Billboard magazine how the song came to him, recalling: "Barry Gibb called and said, 'I wrote a song. I think it's for you. It's going to be the title song for this motion picture."

"My manager at the time was Allan Carr, who was partners in Grease with Robert Stigwood. He called and said, 'What do you want to do? Do you want to be in the movie? Or sing the title song?'"

"Well, I had already heard the title song, and I loved it. I called [famed arranger] Don Costa up and told him to come over right away and hear this song. He said, 'If you don't record this song, you're crazy.'"

"So I said, 'What's the song if I want to be in the movie?' And they said 'Beauty School Dropout.' It was done by Frankie Avalon. It never became a hit, but he made a lot of money from it being on the soundtrack. But 'Grease' was one of the biggest records I ever had in my career."

How did 'Grease' perform after it was originally released?

'Grease' was released on 6th May 1978.
'Grease' was released on 6th May 1978. Picture: RSO

The entire Grease soundtrack was a revelation to audiences after its 1978 release, selling over 30 million copies worldwide making it one of the best-selling albums of all time, let alone the best-selling film soundtracks of all time.

It spawned a handful of big singles too, with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John scoring a number one hit in the US and the UK with 'You're The One That I Want'.

Frankie Valli also had similar success - released on 6th May 1978, 'Grease' went to the very top of the US charts becoming his second number one as a solo star.

'My Eyes Adored You' hit the top spot three years earlier, and Valli also scored five number one singles with The Four Seasons.

Off the back of the success of 'Grease', the previously unattached Valli was offered a record deal with Warner Bros having rejected Stigwood's RSO label offer due to his hands-on approach to managing the Bee Gees.

It proved to be a bad move for the singer, as he wouldn't reach the Top 40 of the US Billboard charts again.

Has anyone else covered 'Grease' since it featured in the film?

Bee Gees - Grease (Live in Las Vegas, 1997 - One Night Only)

For the 2003 musical covers album, Greasemania, Girls Aloud had a bash at Frankie Valli's theme song 'Grease', though not many other artists have released a full-on cover.

Frequent artists have joined Valli on stage to sing his classic, including a funky rendition with Lionel Richie and The Commodores on a 1979 episode of Midnight Special.

Andy Gibb would duet 'Grease' alongside Frankie Valli too, who in fact contributed to the song's recording, given his brother Barry produced it.

The Bee Gees never recorded an official version of 'Grease', but did perform it for their 1997 live concert One Night Only, which was recorded at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.