EXCLUSIVE: Iconic Dirty Dancing songwriters talk Patrick Swayze, lucky breaks, and the film’s enduring legacy

EXCLUSIVE: Iconic Dirty Dancing songwriters talk Patrick Swayze, lucky breaks, and the film's enduring legacy

WITH Oscar, Golden Globes and Grammy wins as well as a loyal (and ever-growing) fanbase of millions, Dirty Dancing is one of the 20th century’s most iconic films.

Spawning everything from a long-running West End musical to a series of spin offs and remakes, the 1987 film’s far-reaching influence is still ever-present more than 30 years on.

The film’s dance scenes, iconic lines (after all, “nobody puts baby in a corner”) and romantic plotline are all seared in our collective cultural memory. But it’s Dirty Dancing’s addictive and iconic soundtrack that perhaps still resonates the most, forming the backdrop to everything from weddings to school dances to everyday life even now.

Famously co-written by Patrick Swayze himself and legendary songwriter Stacy Widelitz, “She’s Like the Wind’s“ hauntingly poignant melody and upbeat “Hungry Eyes” (Franke Previte and John DeNicola) and “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” (Previte, DeNicola and Don Markowitz) are three of most enduringly successful songs from that soundtrack; and from songwriting history

As well as their immense contribution to popular culture though, Franke and John have left their mark on something even bigger too; the fight against cancer.

The pair released the original recordings of their two hits from the film to raise funds for pancreatic cancer, which tragically claimed the life of the film’s star Swayze in 2009

The Euro Weekly News had the privilege of sitting down with Stacy, Franke and John to talk Oscar wins, lucky breaks and the music itself.

It was in the late 1980s that a pair of songwriters, Franke Previte and John DeNicola received international acclaim for (I’ve Had) The Time of my Life and Hungry Eyes, eventually winning the Oscar for Best Original Song for the former.

New Jersey-born Franke had already released his first album in 1971 with band Bull Angels before touring with Rod Stewart when he formed band Franke and The Knockouts and signed to Millennium Records. Their first single reached number 10 on the charts in 1981, however the label the band were signed to closed just a few years later leaving Franke in a precarious position.

In 1986 he and songwriting partner John DeNicola got a lucky break however when Millennium Record’s former president Jimmy Ienner contacted Franke to write music for Dirty Dancing.

Franke told the EWN: “The label my band Franke and the Knockouts had been with had closed and I was trying to get another deal. Then I got a call from Jimmy Ienner.

“He said he had a song for a movie he wanted me to write.”

The iconic refrain almost didn’t get made though. As Franke explains, “I said I didn’t have time… He told me to make time.”

He added he initially had reservations about the film itself too though. Previte said: “When he said the film was called Dirty Dancing I initially thought it was a mucky film.”

After overwhelming those hurdles however, Franke and John had another issue: “The bad news was the song had to be seven minutes long and I just thought there is no chance of this song becoming a hit single. Songs are normally three to four minutes long .”

There was also stiff competition to contend with: “149 songs had already been submitted as the main song for the Dirty Dancing movie.”

Ultimately though, the competition couldn’t stand up to “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’s“ upbeat and addictive melody and lyrics. As Franke explained: “Ours was lucky number 150.”

He added: “It’s success was due to everything being in the right place at the right time. There were connecting factors.”

Franke remains humble about the song’s phenomenal success, and despite admitting it is “evergreen,” he describes its legacy as “still unbelievable.”

His writing partnership with John also spawned another massive hit for the film though, with Hungry Eyes also topping the charts.

Originally bassist for group Flight, it is John’s songwriting and producing career that saw him achieve huge success, launching a prolific writing partnership with Franke as well as discovering Maroon 5.

Some of the talent who Franke composed songs with include Fleetwood mac & Cyndi Lauper.

Franke & John’s creative partnership saw their very first song together, “Hungry Eyes”, become another integral part of Dirty Dancing’s soundtrack.

Despite the film’s eventual success though, with the soundtrack selling 55 million copies, spending 18 weeks at number 1 on the Billboard 200 album sales chart and 230 weeks in the Top 30, John told the EWN this almost wasn’t the case.

He explained: “Amusingly, the studio that produced and distributed Dirty Dancing, Vestron Pictures, planned to release the film for only a weekend and then send it straight to home video.”

He added: “They had originally been in the home video distribution business long before entering

ing film production.”

Despite this though the rest, as they say, is history. The film ended up becoming one of 1987’s highest-grossing films, earning $170 million worldwide. It is still one of the most-streamed movies today.

Dirty Dancing also saw the birth of another iconic song. She’s Like the Wind, predominantly sung by Patrick Swayze, and movingly introduced in the film as Jennifer Gray and Patrick Swayze’s characters’ romance grows, was the result of a collaboration between Swayze himself and songwriter Stacy Widelitz.

The story behind the song’s creation is a fascinating one.

Stacy, a songwriter who saw commercial success early in life, writing music for a small studio in Stamford, Connecticut, was just 19 before landing a major national television theme at 24 for the Richard Simmons Show, knew that moving to LA was his best chance of seeing major success.

After incredibly initially struggling to find an agent, Stacy eventually went on to sign with Triad Artists- a major agency also representing the likes of Nirvana and Ray Charles- after writing for award winning film Chicken Thing.

A chance meeting with Patrick Swayze, who Stacy later realized lived just minutes away from his house, saw the pair became lifelong friends, with Stacy affectionately knowing Swayze as ‘Buddy.’

With Stacy songwriting for television and Swayze’s acting career taking off, the pair worked together to write her She’s Like the Wind, which was recorded in November 1986 before hitting number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Stacy told the EWN the record wasn’t originally destined for Dirty Dancing however: “The song was originally intended for the soundtrack of a movie he was filming called Grandview, U.S.A, however, it was not chosen.”

Stacy explained that despite She’s Like the Wind’s initial knock back, it was soon picked up. “During the production of Dirty Dancing in 1987, Buddy played the demo for producer Linda Gottlieb and director Emile Ardolino and they both loved it,” he said.

Success after that was almost immediate. Stacy told the EWN: “The movie then came out and the song took off. After the release of the film they released ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’, the first single from the soundtrack, and that shot to number one in just a matter of weeks.”

“I remember Michael Lloyd (the supervisor of the music soundtrack) called me and said: ‘You’re getting a gold record’.”

A couple of weeks later, I called him back and asked him if he knew when I was getting the gold record. He said: ‘You’re not getting a gold record. Now you’re getting a platinum one’.”

He adds: “It was just unbelievable how it took off.”

Stacy remained friends with Swayze until the actor’s tragic death aged just 57 following a battle with pancreatic cancer.

In honor of both Swayze and the film’s enduring legacy, Franke and John have been donating the proceedings of Dirty Dancing: The Original Demos to The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Featuring the original recordings (with Franke on lead vocals) of “(I’ve Had The Time Of My Life” and ‘Hungry Eyes’, these songs are the very versions. Patrick & Jennifer filmed their world-famous Dirty Dancing dance sequences to.

Franke, John and Stacy are also donating their time to participate in

special Dirty Dancing screenings, which include rare footage of Patrick Swayze & Jennifer Gray in a Dirty Dancing rehearsal.

Franke said that after Swayze’s death: “We contacted Pamela Acosta Marquardt of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and decided to donate proceeds from the sale of the “Dancing Dancing: The Original Demos” to the ‘PanCAN’ in memory of Patrick,” Franke explained.

The release has since raised more than $30,000 and is still going strong.

To buy the recordings and support their charity drive, visit Amazon.com.


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