Grease Is Still the Word, 40 Years Later: Ranking the Iconic Teen Film's Musical Numbers
Grease turns 40 on Saturday, so for the occasion, we ranked the iconic '50s-set teen film's famous musical's numbers (No. 1 might surprise you)
Grease premiered 40 years ago this year, which means we’ve had the privilege of four full decades to watch and listen to the likes of John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Jeff Conaway, Didi Conn and the rest of the iconic teen musical’s stellar cast. They reminded us what we all dreamed of high school being like before we actually got there and realized it was, sadly, nothing like we’d expected.
But this isn’t Grease‘s fault. In fact, given the horror stories our older siblings and cousins told us about bullies, detentions, piles of homework and fights for parking space (if you were lucky enough to even own a car), Grease was a breath of fresh air that gave us hope about high school in the sense that we could become anyone we wanted to become within and outside its academic walls, no matter how we’d defined ourselves up until that point.
The best part of this ’50s-set story (aside from the music, of course)? Danny, Sandy, Rizzo, Kenickie, Frenchy and the rest of the Rydell High gang taught us that the people who really care about you will stay by your side no matter how different you are from one another, and support you just the same whether you’re a pom-pom-wielding goody-two-shoes, a leather-touting T-Bird or a starry-eyed, pink-haired aspiring beautician who drops out of school months before graduation (seriously, Frenchy, what were you thinking?).
But … the music. A Grease anniversary piece wouldn’t be complete without an homage to its legendary soundtrack. So without further ado, here’s our ranking of Grease‘s 10 musical numbers featuring cast vocals (a.k.a. not including the intro song “Grease” or anything at the school dance, because let’s be real: Those deserve lists of their own).
10. Look at Me I’m Sandra Dee (Reprise)
Look, we know it’s not quite fair to have this song on the list because it’s so short and literally just consists of Frenchy running up to Sandy, the twosome exchanging a short dialogue foreshadowing the Bad Sandy that is to come and then Sandy putting her shoes on before shrugging adorably and running/trotting off, but someone has to be No. 10.
9. Hopelessly Devoted to You
There is absolutely no denying the star power of Newton-John’s singing voice and her dedication to Sandy’s good-girl persona throughout most of the film. But given Sandy’s shocking transformation at the end, “Hopelessly Devoted to You” is really just an ode to mistakes many of us made as teenagers, listening to our hearts/hormones and nothing else, except maybe a lot of ’90s-era Céline Dion. (We still love you, Good Sandy.)
8. We Go Together
This is the song to end the film after the big reveal of Sandy seamlessly transforming into a leather-clad goddess (with a little help from the Pink Ladies), and it’s a solid one about making sure the gang will remember the good times and forget all the bad ones, like the time your girlfriend threw a milkshake in your face.
“We Go Together” sings praises about eternal youth and being confident that no one, 10 years down the line, will say, “We should hang out sometime!” and not follow through. Social media and “read” text receipts have made that a lot more complicated now.
It’s also the song playing when Sandy and Danny randomly fly off at the very end, which led to a fan theory that Sandy was actually dead the whole time after drowning at the beach in the beginning scene. The theory has since been debunked by Grease‘s original creator, Jim Jacobs, but Newton-John still got a kick out of it.
“I thought it was hilarious,” the actress said during a 2016 talk at BUILD, joking, “If that’s the case, we were the first zombie musical. We look pretty good considering.”
People’s new Grease special edition, filled with on-set secrets and exclusive cast interviews, including John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, is available now on Amazon and wherever magazines are sold.
“I love it; imaginations are awesome,” Travolta, 64, told USA TODAY of the theory earlier this month, on a call while in France to celebrate the film’s anniversary at a Cannes Film Festival special screening. “These things are bound to happen to something timeless like this. It’s so fun.”
“Sandy” takes the viewer on a journey with Danny as he explores the idea of a total departure from his cool-guy persona instead of just the “faking it” he had done around Sandy up until then.
Aside from side-eyeing his questioning of why she ran away from him at the drive-in (dude, you grabbed her boob and had just won a dance contest with someone who stole her place), it’s hard not to sympathize with Danny a little.
But maybe that’s just the Travolta charm and the “Why-yi-yi-yiiiii.” Or the juxtaposition of the cartoon hot dog and bun performing tricks on the screen in the background, which may or may not be inappropriately symbolic of what Danny’s really after. Who can say?
6. Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee
Before there was Regina George, there was Betty Rizzo: the leader of the popular-girl gang who wasn’t here to be dethroned by the fresh new face in town.
It’s difficult to nail down the most enjoyable part of this scene. Everything is perfection, from the wigs the girls don, to the unabashed giggly pettiness, to the teen idols on the wall everyone over the past 40 years could draw their own fangirl parallels to (“Leo, Leo, let me be, keep that hair cape far from me” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, though.)
It also made us ask our moms what “fongool” meant, which we learned is slang for, “Here, honey, have another ice-cream bar and just watch the movie.”
5. Beauty School Dropout
The only downside to this dream-sequence number is that Conn doesn’t get to sing in it, but from Frankie Avalon’s first appearance in the middle of a probably-advanced-for-its-time “angel” graphic, you’re hooked anyway.
Avalon’s Teen Angel is like Rolf from The Sound of Music when he sings “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” to Liesl, but without the part where he’s secretly trying to get into her pants. Probably. Hopefully.
This song embodies a hard truth every teenager needs to hear at some point, if not every day: “Baby, don’t blow it.” Go to school. Get an education. No one will care how cool you are in a few years, especially if you’re chasing a career you don’t have any actual talent in.
The appearance of Rizzo and Marty as two of the salon-girl dancers and what seem to be the T-Birds as angels at the end is a nice touch, too.
4. Summer Nights
This is where we learn about everyone’s personality in less than five minutes. Sandy obviously has a very juvenile idea of what constitutes a good time, while Danny is a very convincing liar. Marty and especially Rizzo are not easily impressed, Jan and Frenchy are supportive and Patty Simcox is well-meaning but needs to get a grip on reality even more than Putzie.
Speaking of Putzie, Flash to the T-Birds, who are impressed with Danny’s wildly incorrect narrative and want to hear all the details — which they show approval of by dance-hopping across some bleachers while Danny combs his hair.
Despite its flaws, this song is one of the best because so many of the cast members have a part in it, including ones who barely sing if at all throughout the rest of the movie. It sets the entire tone for the story, and is 100 percent the most karaoke-able tune on the soundtrack. Maybe just change that one line to, “Did she put up a kite?” which, when you consider wind conditions on a beach, could really work.
3. There Are Worse Things I Could Do
It may be a controversial opinion to rank this song so high, but for Betty Rizzo, a supposed teenage pregnancy accomplished what a back brace did for Regina George decades later: force her to take a hard look at herself when before then, she’d been relying on a brusque exterior to mask her pain and insecurity.
But unlike Regina, there was nothing that needed changing about Rizzo except her willingness to accept herself for the badass force she was, and this song represents so much about similar situations teenage girls and young-adult women have to deal with as they grow up.
2. You’re the One That I Want
There have been countless think pieces on how sad and disappointing it is that Sandy changed herself for a man, but what many Grease critics glaze over is the fact that Danny showed up at the senior carnival in a preppy sweater ready to do the same for Sandy, and either way, that’s love, folks.
While the effort on both ends should have maybe led to a conversation about acceptance of their respective places in life before a song-and-dance number and perhaps-drug-addled flight to who knows where, to Sandy and Danny’s credit, hormones are raging at that age and leather is just going to make some communication decisions for you.
Besides, how lame would this scene have been if Sandy just donned a varsity sweater and threw some water on her hair? Not Shake Shack-worthy, that’s for sure.
1. Greased Lightnin’
No one has been able to touch Travolta’s Danny Zuko, and many have tried. Those who came after him have put their own unique spin on the character, but the actor brought the perfect balance of roguishness and boyishness to the part that made it easy to understand why he could run with Sandy and fly with the T-Birds.
Greased Lightnin‘ is an ode to the latter, reminding us why Sandy didn’t immediately kiss her future with Danny goodbye as soon as she learned he wasn’t quite whom he’d presented himself as during that fateful day at the beach. He’s a leader without asking to be, oozing with masculinity, perfect dance moves and a smirk to match.
And sure, Grease is the song that starts the movie, but Greased Lightnin’ is what gives it life: an homage to living life in the fast lane, picking up the best experiences along the way — and never looking back.
Happy 40th birthday, Grease!