35 Years Later, Dirty Dancing Still Strikes a Chord

Dirty Dancing was the little movie that could. Made for $5 million, Dirty Dancing grossed more than $200 million worldwide. Released on VHS early in 1988, it became the first movie to sell a million copies.

Everyone remembers VHS’s right? . . . Anyone? . . . okay, we’ll see ourselves out.

The movie also spawned a Dirty Dancing tour featuring Bill Medley and Eric Carmen, a theatrical version of the film and a prequel, 2004’s Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.

The latest live Dirty Dancing experience comes to the Straz Center’s Morsani Hall Nov. 19. Dirty Dancing in Concert joins a screening of the film with live musical accompaniment, followed by a dance party to close the evening.

Promotional still from Dirty Dancing in Concert.

Like the movie, the soundtrack album was a huge success. The Dirty Dancing album spent 18 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart. It’s sold more than 32 million copies worldwide. The soundtrack featured several songs from the early ‘60s, when the movie was set, but it also spawned three contemporary tunes that reached the top five of Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart: Carmen’s “Hungry Eyes,” “She’s Like the Wind” by Patrick Swayze, who starred in the film, and “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life,” by Medley and Jennifer Warnes, which reached No. 1.

Unsurprisingly, the soundtrack spawned a sequel, More Dirty Dancing, which included another batch of oldies plus bits of the film’s score.

The movie takes place in 1963 at a summer resort in the Catskills, where Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey)  is vacationing with her family. She meets and falls for one of the resort’s entertainers, dancer Johnny Castle (Swayze). Their romance (and Baby’s father’s attempts to squash it) causes a rift between father and daughter. (Spoiler alert: Everything works out in the end.)

The story is set a few months before President Kennedy’s assassination and a few more months before The Beatles made their U.S. debut, events that altered the popular and political landscape. Although it’s never made explicit, Dirty Dancing portrays an era of relative innocence which is just about to end.

Also about to end is a period of popular music that gets an unfair rap. That period, roughly from Feb. 3, 1959 (Buddy Holly’s death in a plane crash) to Feb. 9, 1964 (The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show), is often written off by some as a rock ‘n’ roll dead zone, a period dominated by clean-cut boys named Bobby (Vee, Rydell, etc.) singing bowdlerized rock ‘n’ roll while the music’s originators – Little Richard, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry – were dispersed to the seminary, the military, scandal and jail, respectively.

Before Dylan McDermott and Dermot Mulroney there was Bobby Rydell (pictured left) and Bobby Vee (pictured right).

It’s true that little music from this period swings with the abandon of the original rock ‘n’ rollers. But the idea that this was a rock ‘n’ roll wasteland doesn’t hold water.

The Motown label in Detroit and the Stax label in Memphis were rapidly evolving into hit factories, each with its own distinctive take on R&B. You can nitpick about those labels releasing rhythm and blues and not rock ‘n’ roll but considering how many rock ‘n’ roll bands had Stax and Motown hits in their repertoire, the differences are hardly worth talking about.

No one should be overlooking this era of music when it produced such undisputed bops as The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman” (1961).

Southern California was awash in surf music from Dick Dale, The Surfaris and a host of other mostly instrumental acts. (Interestingly, so was much of the surf-free Midwest.) Fellow Golden Staters The Beach Boys were singing about surfing and hot rods but their music, in the hands of troubled genius Brian Wilson, already was growing more and more sophisticated.

The Four Seasons were singing Jersey anthems more than a decade before Bruce Springsteen. Groups such as the Shirelles and the Cookies brought a feminine perspective to the charts. New York City’s Brill Building was the source of an insane number of hits by legendary songwriting teams such as Bacharach-David, Goffin-King and Barry-Greenwich.   

* Sigh * No, Cookie Monster, not the cookies we’re talking about.

Producer Phil Spector was perfecting his “wall of sound” technique, as heard on “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes, included on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack

The Dirty Dancing soundtrack albums have several tunes from this period: Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange” is a timeless duet. Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs’ falsetto free-for-all “Stay” (produced by Tampa-based Phil Gernhard) is here too. The Contours’ “Do You Love Me,” from 1962, bristles with so much manic energy it became a hit all over again in 1988.

Much of the music from the Dirty Dancing era music is overlooked  in overviews or rock history. But The Beatles covered about a dozen tunes from this era on their early releases, and many of their British Invasion brethren followed suit. Besides, as any Dirty Dancing character would likely tell you, the music meets rock ‘n’ roll’s chief requirement: You can dance to it.

No need to reenact the most famous dance from the film, though, unless you were hoping for an impromptu hospital visit today.


Dancing Sequel Set for 2024.

Those awaiting a second chapter for Dirty Dancing can get out of the corner.

Yeah, yeah, we know this is why you clicked on the article, so here it is. Sorry you had to scroll all the way down here to find it.

Lionsgate announced in May that Jennifer Grey will reprise the role of Frances “Baby” Houseman in a sequel set back in the Catskills, featuring music from the original plus ‘90s hip-hop. Grey’s co-star, Patrick Swayze, died in 2009, but director Jonathan Levine (Long Shot, 50/50) says filmmakers are in talks with Swayze’s estate about how to incorporate his presence into the film.

Other cast members haven’t been disclosed and the plot, according to Levine who also co-wrote the movie, is a “beautiful story of summer and romance and dancing.” Grey will executive produce the sequel.

Levine knows some longtime fans may be skeptical about the project. “I promise we will not ruin your childhood,” he told Variety. “We will tackle the assignment with sophistication, ambition, and, above all, love.”

The film is expected to debut sometime in 2024. 

At least there’s no less than 20 nostalgia-driven sequels, prequels and remakes of our childhood favorite movies coming out to tide us over until then.

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