Dirty Dancing

by Shawna Ortega

In an effort to honor the memory of Patrick Swayze and raise money for the Pancreas Research Fund at Stanford University, the writers of "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" and "Hungry Eyes" are releasing the original demos of the song.

With help from one of those writers, we look back on this classic movie and get the inside story of the scene we all remember.
"Nobody puts Baby in a corner."

Spoken in a sultry iceberg-melting growl by fresh-on-the-scene deadly handsome Patrick Swayze, this line marked the beginning of the famous final scene of Dirty Dancing, a cotton-candy romance type of a movie that set female hearts ablaze with tortured longing back in 1987.

That final seven minutes of film focused on the culmination of the summertime romance between the daughter-of-privilege Frances "Baby" Houseman (Jennifer Grey) and the Irish dance instructor from the wrong side of everything, Johnny Castle (Swayze); a sort of flip-flopped Cinderella story. This last scene - Johnny's metaphorical middle finger gesture to those who'd done him wrong - has our hero yanking Baby out of that corner into a dance with him onstage, where he lip-synchs his love with the pulse of the music. And, as if the preceding 98 minutes of hip-grinding full-body contact dancing hadn't been enough, this final act of rebellion solidified Patrick Swayze as the sexiest smoldering bad boy to come along since James Dean.

The last - and most enduring - scene in the movie, it was actually the first one filmed. According to Patrick Swayze, it was the scene that gave the cast's notoriously rancorous leads the camaraderie necessary for filming the rest of the movie. And he credited the song, "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," for helping make that happen.

The song's writer Franke Previte, who fronted the '80s band Franke and the Knockouts ("Sweetheart"), remembers Swayze approaching him at the 1988 Academy Awards to ask who had sung on the "Time of My Life" demo. It had been Franke himself, and Rachele Capelli. And, as Dirty Dancing purists undoubtedly know, the scene was filmed using that demo - not the famous Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes version. (Listen to the demo here)

As with many of history's most beloved songs, "Time of My Life" is one that almost didn't happen. Previte tells us, "I received a call from Jimmy Ienner (head of Millenium Records, Franke and the Knockouts' label). Jimmy asked me to write a song for this little movie called 'Dirty Dancing.' I told him I didn't have the time."

Previte rockin' some '80s style. Courtesy of Previte.Previte rockin' some '80s style. Courtesy of Previte.
But, provided with a track by John DeNicola and Don Markowitz, Previte found the time by multi-tasking in not the safest fashion; he wrote the lyric and the melody for the chorus one day while driving along the Garden State Parkway on his way to another studio session. He arrived unscathed, however, and the foundation was set.

Working on the premise of a 7-minute scene, Previte began mentally processing ideas for how to extend the song without causing it to drag, keep the poppy rhythm going, and give the audience chills all at the same time. "They needed the song to be as long as the scene," Previte explains. "So we started the track with the chorus up front in half time to create a slow mood before the downbeat of the verse." The style is called a "cold open." In TV land, the "cold open" is the part of a show that grabs your interest before the opening credits begin. In music, it is when a song opens with lyrics straight off - in this case, Bill Medley singing before the music even starts. This presented a challenge for radio DJs used to talking over the musical intros of songs.

As for Medley's involvement with the song, he was hand-selected, along with Jennifer Warnes ("I Know A Heartache"), by Dirty Dancing's choreographer, Kenny Ortega. The warm molasses and honey sounds of that pairing helped the song reel in the 1987 Academy Award for Best Original Song, and Grammy and Golden Globe awards followed in 1988.

With 18 weeks at the #1 position on the Billboard 200 sales charts, the soundtrack also contributed to the resurgence of former Raspberries lead singer Eric Carmen's career. Lending his vocals to "Hungry Eyes," another song in the movie penned by the songwriting team of DeNicola and Previte, Carmen's hauntingly sultry voice took the dance lessons sequence between Johnny Castle and Baby into a parallel galaxy. It defies description, really. Just imagine a crescendo of all the big climactic moments in all your favorite romantic movies wrapping themselves around each other in 3 minutes of spectacularness. It's like that.

Since its release in 1987, Dirty Dancing (the movie) has grossed over $214 million worldwide. The soundtrack? A staggering 42 million copies sold - 7th on the list of albums and second to The Bodyguard for soundtracks. What started as a little idea for a little script based on the real-life dance-competition experiences of the little daughter of a Jewish doctor has ultimately become a juggernaut of mythic proporations. This was low-budget filmdom's adventure in the unapologetic mowing down of all competition. The ingredients? A cheesy plot, a cast of seriously talented dancers willing to engage in what borders on fully-clothed soft-core porn, incredible amounts of chemistry between the leads, and an amazing soundtrack.

With liberal amounts of Patrick Swayze added in, just sit back and watch it steam.

August 17, 2010
More Song Writing

Comments: 8

  • Cheryl from Tulsahe is one fine man
  • Bill T. from PhoenixLove the film, love the article!
  • Cicilia from InMy all time favorite
  • Dawn Pedersen from Phoenix ArizonaShawna you did a fantastic job writing how we were all feeling about Johnny Castle...He is missed.
  • Naomi from San DiegoGreat article! Makes me want to watch the movie again for the millionth time NOW! :-)
  • Geneviève Moures from FranceTrès beau film,Film culte,que je me repasse en boucle. Je regrette le décès prématuré de cet acteur merveilleux Patrick Swayze.
  • Arlene from NjOMG ~ Jennifer was one lucky lady. Patrick was SO HOT! It broke my heart when he succumbed to his cancer. May he Rest In Peace.
  • Eliane from SwitzerlandBest movie, best songs ever. I just love to see it over and over again. Thank you very much.
see more comments

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