I can remember reading once that Barry Gibb reportedly earned more money for writing the song Grease than any one person has ever earned for a solitary song in music history. Something both highly contestable and near-on impossible to quantify, but who cares, it’s a great fun fact. Even if the “fact” aspect is mightily debatable.
That said, the single sold over seven million copies worldwide back in 1978, was a US #1 and UK #3, was solely written by Barry and produced by him as well. By the time you factor in his backing vocals, the song’s presence on the 30-million selling Grease soundtrack and the residual royalties each time it’s heard on the radio and every time the movie plays on TV or in a theatre, it starts to sound conceivable. I’m sure Robert Stigwood paid Barry a generous fee to speed-write-to-order a song with a predetermined (and somewhat awkward) title too.
Regardless, it’s safe to say Barry Gibb could’ve retired had he never written another song other than Grease. As it stands, it’s just one of 16 different US #1 hits he penned and 21 different US or UK #1s (either solo or with his brothers Robin, Maurice and Andy) . Alongside total record sales estimated to be in excess of 220 million, the eldest Bee Gee could not be more deserving of the knighthood he’ll be receiving later this year. Plus he’s a ridiculously nice bloke.
To mark the 40th anniversary of the April 1978 release of the Grease soundtrack, Barry Gibb’s long lost demo of the film’s title track – the one that earned him whatever crazy sum of money it was ($15 million? $25 million?) – has finally been unearthed. While Frankie Valli would go on to sing the song, the demo is nothing more than Barry and a piano. Away from the sheen of the polished version everybody knows, the surprisingly serious nature of some of the lyrics stand out:
This is a life of illusion, wrapped up in trouble
And laced in confusion, whatta’ we doin’ here?
We take the pressure, and we throw away conventionality, belongs to yesterday
There is a chance that we can make it so far
We start believin’ now that we can be who we are, grease is the word
The songwriting device of using the word “conventionality” as an anchor that straddles two different sentences is also deceptively clever too. On the one hand “we throw away conventionality”, but on the other, “conventionality belongs to yesterday”. The Gibbs would use a similar technique on songs like Guilty for Barbra Streisand (1980) and on younger brother Andy’s After Dark (also 1980).
So here it is at long last, Barry Gibb’s demo of Grease. Now all Bee Gees fans need are the never-before-heard demos of smash hits written for other artists like Emotion (Samantha Sang) and Chain Reaction (Diana Ross). One day.