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POP MUSIC | POP EYE

Would You Believe 'Grease' Is Still the Word?

December 08, 1996|Steve Hochman

Break out the bobby sox and poodle skirts--the surprise pop hit of the season is not a new release by a hot contemporary artist, but music from the 1978 movie version of "Grease" featuring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta.

Though a popular catalog item in recent years, the "Grease" soundtrack album has shot up in sales lately, powered by the huge radio success of a "megamix" medley of three songs from the show: "You're the One That I Want," "Greased Lightning" and "Summer Nights."

The "megamix" is currently No. 15 in radio airplay in the nation, while the album is selling at a clip of about 20,000 copies a week--outpacing new releases by R.E.M., Pearl Jam and Phil Collins. Add to that more than 5,000 copies selling each week for a "Pure Disco" compilation, the only place the "megamix" is available commercially (common practice in the record industry, where many radio hits aren't released for sale).

"This is out of the blue," says Newton-John, 48, who played the ingenue Sandy in the '50s-themed film.

The "Grease" resurgence began as a nostalgia kick, spurred by the recent career resurrection of Travolta via "Pulp Fiction" and "Get Shorty" and the stage revival of the original "Grease" musical with such stars as Brooke Shields and Rosie O'Donnell.

"If you remember 18 years ago where you were, probably either graduating from high school or in the back seat of a car somewhere, this is pure emotion coming through the radio," says Dave Duras, the vice president of promotion and marketing for Polydor Records, who has squired the "Grease" radio resurgence.

Duras took note in the last few years as "Grease" songs got great reactions at dance clubs. After a New Orleans radio deejay made his own "megamix" medley, Duras took the concept to other stations as a novelty track aimed particularly at women who loved the film.

But the fans who have carried "Grease" to its current level are too young to have nostalgia.

"The generation that liked it when it first came out now have children who like it," says Newton-John. "I must say that on a daily basis I get stopped by kids who ask me about 'Grease' or parents who say, 'My daughter watches the movie on video 20 times a day.' "

And that may be the biggest surprise of this phenomenon.

"It's biggest with our younger listeners who weren't even born when the movie came out," says Tracy Austin, program director of L.A. pop station KIIS-FM (102.7).

"I think the older fans will burn out quicker on this, but to the kids, it's like a new song," adds Austin, who confesses that she dressed as Sandy for Halloween.

Could this start a trend?

"Maybe there should be a 'Saturday Night Fever Megamix,' " Austin suggests. "The Bee Gees could end up having a big revival."

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