Concluding my personal ranking of the 25 movie musicals deemed essential by the American Film Institute…
#1. Grease – 1978
(#20 on the AFI list)
I don’t know if this will be a controversial choice as my #1 musical on the AFI list, but I have to say it wasn’t even close. Since I first saw Grease as a kid, this has been not just the best musical I’ve ever seen but one of my favorite movies, period.
This movie is such a blast from start to finish — from the melodramatic beachside embrace to the greatest end-of-school carnival ever. It’s impossible to start Grease and not finish it.
In 1974, it was possible for a song as earnestly romantic as ‘I Honestly Love You’ to reach the #1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100. The most recent similar hit I can find is John Legend’s ‘All of Me,’ which spent some time at #1 in May of 2014.
In ’74, other love songs to reach #1 included ‘The Way We Were,’ ‘Annie’s Song’ and ‘Time in a Bottle.’ This year, Drake has occupied the top spot for 29 of 48 weeks. A different musical world, for better and worse.
We’re halfway through the 30 Day Music Challenge as we kick off week four, and Day 16 is a good one: ‘One Of Your Favorite Songs From a Movie.’
As with so many of these categories, this one can be interpreted in several ways. Should I pick a song that appears in a movie but wasn’t originally written for the film? Some of my favorite filmmakers have worked wonders with the “drop the needle” approach of using popular songs as score. Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese all come to mind among countless others.
While I’m on the subject of Olivia Newton-John, I kind of have to give a nod to ‘Physical,’ the 1981 single that spent ten weeks at #1.
This song, which signaled a distinct change of style for the wholesome Newton-John, spent more time at #1 than any other 1980s single.
In 1981, ‘Physical’ was considered racy enough to spark controversy and it was banned from certain radio stations because of its sexual references (apparently a reference to getting “horizontal” was just too suggestive back then). How far we’ve come.
Every so often I’ll hear an old song on the radio and fall for it in a way I never managed to the first time around. This usually happens with songs released in the late 70s through early 80s, a time when I was between 6-11 years old and not exactly in control of my own musical landscape.
Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Magic,’ from the 1980 movie Xanadu, is the most recent example. I heard it on an easy listening or oldies station (remember when “oldies” meant 50s and 60s?) and immediately succumbed to the glossy perfection of peak Newton-John.