Droppin' Dimes in the Record Machine: The Roots of Grease

I've written a lot about Grease. It's one of my favorite shows, definitely Top Five. And I think it's horribly misunderstood. No, Sandy does not "become a slut" at the end. I've written a few blog posts about Grease, about how many productions screw it up, about the impressive craft of the writing, even about my love-hate relationship with the live TV version.

I recently wrote a whole book about the show, Go Greased Lightning: The Amazing Authenticity of Grease. In the back of my book, I created a chart of all the Grease songs alongside the real 1950s songs that probably inspired them. But there's a big difference between just knowing what the musical influences are, and hearing the original artists sing those songs. That's what this blog post is about. The Sound of Grease.

Everything about Grease (in its original stage version) is fully authentic; this is no parody or spoof. The characters are based on real people, the scenes are based on real events, and the music is the most authentic of all the elements. The songs in Grease sound exactly like the actual period rock and roll songs that likely inspired the numbers in the show. Sometimes the imitation is clearly intentional, other times probably more unconscious. After all, writers Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs lived their teenage years to this music.

In some cases, the chord changes are so similar that you can sing the Grease song in counterpoint to its source song. Comparing the songs in the show to their period sources illustrates so vividly the surprising authenticity of the Grease score, and it can be great help to actors and music directors who want to get that authentic sound of early rock and roll.

So throw your mittens around your kittens, and awaaaaay we go!


“Alma Mater Parody”

“Johnny B. Goode”

“Roll Over Beethoven”

“School Day”

“Summer Nights”

“Don’t You Just Know It”

“Those Magic Changes”


“Freddy My Love”

“Eddie My Love”

“Tears On My Pillow”

“Da Doo Ron Ron”

“Be My Baby”

“Greased Lightning”


“You Can’t Catch Me”


”Tonight, Tonight”

“Since I Don’t Have You”

“Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee”

“The Chipmunk Song”

“We Go Together”

“I’m So Happy”


“Shakin’ at the High School Hop”
(not included on the original 1972 cast album)

“Reddy Teddy”

“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”

“Shake, Rattle, and Roll”

“High School Confidential”

“At the Hop”

“Raining on Prom Night”



“Little Darlin’”

“Lonely Days and Lonely Nights”

“Born to Hand-Jive”

“Bo Diddley”

“Willie and the Hand Jive”

“Beauty School Dropout”

“Earth Angel”

“Alone at a Drive-In Movie”

“The Great Pretender”

“Would I Be Cryin’?”

“Over the Mountain”

“Earth Angel”

“Rock & Roll Party Queen”

“Wake Up Little Susie”

“Come Go With Me”

“There Are Worse Things I Could Do”

“Happy Birthday Baby”

“All Choked Up”


“Great Balls of Fire”


' “We Go Together”

“Oh Gee, Oh Gosh”

The various Grease revivals over the years, populated with big, screlty, Broadway voices, don't understand what makes these songs special. Early rock and roll is a lot like punk -- intentionally rough, unpolished, simple -- as a rebellion against the corporatized mainstream music coming at teenagers in the 1950s. Grease deserves a lot more respect than it gets. Its score is a masterpiece of pastiche, never mocking those original songs, but instead celebrating what made them great.

I'll probably never end my Grease crusade. But as crusades go, it's not a bad one. There are worse things I could do.

Long Live the Musical!

P.S. To check out my newest musical theatre books, including Go Greased Lighting!click here.