This was featured in the movie Flashdance, starring Jennifer Beals as a welder by day, dancer by night. Phil Ramone, who was the music supervisor on the movie, produced the track. He also made another contribution to the movie: After seeing some kids breakdancing in New York City, he alerted the movie's producer, who shot footage of the dancers that was used in the film.
Sembello wrote this with his songwriting partner Dennis Matkosky, who got the idea when he saw the William Lustig movie Maniac, which is about a serial killer who stalks his victims in New York City. Sembello told Songfacts: "He came up with the original kernel of inspiration and to me with the basic idea and groove and I believe the temporary lyrics for the chorus he had were:
He's a maniac, maniac that's for sure
He will kill your cat and nail him to the door
That direction obviously wasn't going to work at which point the genius of Phil Ramone, producer of the soundtrack who had the vision to see the potential of the song, asked us to change it to the present concept of a girl possessed with the passion of a gift for dance. Without Phil it would not have happened."
The 1983 Oscar for Best Original Song went to another song from the movie, "Flashdance... What a Feeling
." "Maniac" was nominated, but apparently disqualified. Michael Sembello explained: "It was nominated for an Academy Award and was disqualified according to 'academy rules' because the song was changed from the original and was not originally written solely for the film, which pisses me off to this day."
This was accidentally included on a tape of Sembello's songs his wife sent to Paramount for consideration in Flashdance. The studio loved it and used it in the movie.
The dance scenes in the video (and the movie), were performed by body double Marine Jahan. It was a well-kept secret that Jennifer Beals did not dance in the film.
The video was the first to use nothing but scenes from the movie, with no shots of the artist. This kept the focus squarely on the film, making the video almost a movie trailer, but it stiffed Michael Sembello, so most of us had no idea what he looked like. Over the next few years, videos for songs featured in films leaned more toward film scenes and less on performance footage. Videos for the songs used in Pretty Woman and Dirty Dancing are good examples.
The quick little notes that sound like a cowbell on speed were generated with a Linn Electronics LM-1, the first drum machine loaded with samples of real instruments. The rest of the rhythm was made up of Simmons electronic drums played by Carlos Vega and synthesizers programmed by Sembello and Dennis Matkosky. A cello played by Dennis Karmazyn is also in the mix.
With a BPM of 159, "Maniac" was a hit in aerobics classes, which was a big trend at the time. It's a great song to get that heart rate up.
In 2007 this was reworked in commercials for Kia cars
, which show a Kia salesman doing a similar dance and "selling like he's never sold before." The idea is that he's making great deals like a Maniac.
MusicianJohnPaul - Bay Area, CA
There have been some bizarre covers of this song over the years. Herb Alpert did a horn-y version with his Tijuana Brass on the 1984 album "Bullish." The European act Topmodelz did an electro cover in 2008; and in 2020 the German band Rising Insane did a metalcore version with an '80s-themed video