Dirty Dancing: The Deluxe Anniversary Edition Album Review: You Can Own It

Anyone who grew up in the ’80s can immediately identify this quote: “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

Amazingly, 25 years have passed since Johnny Castle uttered those famous words to “Baby” Houseman in Dirty Dancing, the low-budget film that became a popular culture touchstone. In addition to the film, the soundtrack topped the charts and earned an Oscar and Grammy for the smash “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes. To honor the milestone, RCA has released Dirty Dancing: The Deluxe Anniversary Edition, a lavishly packaged CD which includes new liner notes, a sticker, and stills from the movie, all encased in a book-like cover.

Listening to the original soundtrack is a nostalgic experience in two ways. For those who came of age between 1956 and 1963, the classics of the era are here: “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes, “Stay” by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, “Hey Baby” by Bruce Channel, “Love Is Strange” by Mickey and Sylvia, and “In the Still of the Night” by the Five Satins. All of these tracks originate from a relatively more innocent time, although some contained subtle sexuality, most notably “Love Is Strange.” The still-offbeat song benefits from Sylvia Robinson’s come-hither vocals; this of it as the less racy precursor to her later hit “Pillow Talk.”

Wisely, music supervisor Jimmy Ienner chose songs and artists that sounded modern enough to receive massive airplay, yet echoed the upbeat pop of the ’50s and early ’60s. Ex-Raspberries singer and later solo artist Eric Carmen was recruited to sing “Hungry Eyes”; in the new liner notes, Carmen notes that he took a “raspier” approach on his vocals, as he wanted the song to sound a bit gritty rather than overly smooth. While the song has a modern-rock edge, the sax solo and romantic lyrics mimic earlier pop hits. “Yes” salutes the R&B of the era; in fact, song producer Michael Lloyd recalls that he wanted Mary “My Guy” Wells to sing lead, but due to voice problems (later discovered to be from the early stages of throat cancer) she had to withdraw. But background singer Merry Clayton stepped in, delivering a solid vocal reminiscent of Motown divas.

One of the surprise hits was Swayze’s “She’s Like the Wind,” a song he wrote months prior to Dirty Dancing. Lloyd believed the emotional lyrics perfectly fit the film, and asked that the actor record it. “She’s Like the Wind” became an international hit and firmly established Swayze as a superstar. Lloyd states that he wanted Swayze to further develop a music career, but the in-demand actor simply did not have time in between filming numerous movies. Appropriately, this reissue is dedicated to Swayze’s memory.

Of course, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” became the major hit of the film and still holds iconic status. Cowritten by Franke Previte of Franke and the Knockouts, the song echoes the voices of Johnny and Baby, describing their romance and how it had transformed their lives. Medley, formerly of the Righteous Brothers, represented early rock and roll; Warnes’ soft vocals lent a modern slant to the track. The lyrics concerning how love can transform lives resonated with the public as well as succinctly summarized the film’s plot. Not only did it help sell movie tickets, it became a cross-generational hit. Even the Black Eyed Peas sampled the track for their 2010 single “The Time (Dirty Bit).”

The Deluxe Anniversary Edition offers fans a chance to reevaluate the soundtrack—does it stand the test of time? For the most part, the answer is yes, despite the presence of ’80s-era synthesizers. The original songs and covers such as the Blow Monkeys’ modern take on “You Don’t Own Me” seamlessly interweave with the classic rock and soul tracks. The new booklet lends new perspectives to the well-known songs, with the producers and songwriters explaining how and why the songs were chosen and recorded. Cards featuring stills from Dirty Dancing may appeal to memorabilia collectors. However, including the More Dirty Dancing soundtrack would have offered more bang for the buck.  After all, that album included songs crucial to the film such as “Cry to Me” by Solomon Burke and “Do You Love Me” by the Contours. Including both albums would have made this package even more enticing, even more than the photos and Dirty Dancing sticker.

Hard core fans of Dirty Dancing will want to purchase the Deluxe Anniversary Edition to complete their collections. If you already own the 20th Anniversary Edition from 2007, however, you can skip this version. But if you belong to a third category–you still have the original album or cassette–having a clean, remastered copy is worth the splurge.

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Kit O'Toole

xRenowned Chicago-based writer and music journalist, Dr. Kit O’Toole, is the author of Songs We Were Singing: Guided Tours Through the Beatles’ Lesser-Known Tracks and Michael Jackson FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the King of Pop. In addition to her two books, O’Toole is also associate editor and a longtime contributor for Beatlefan magazine, reviewer and “Deep Beatles” columnist for Something Else Reviews, the “DeepSoul” columnist for Blinded by Sound, a frequent contributor to Cinema Sentries, and a regular speaker at The Fest for Beatles Fans in Chicago and New York and the Beatles at the Ridge festival in Walnut Ridge, AR. O’Toole has also presented at the GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, and written chapters for several academic collections. She is also the cohost of the biweekly show "Talk More Talk: A Solo Beatles Videocast." She holds a doctorate in Instructional Technology.

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