The soundtrack to Dirty Dancing should never have worked, and it certainly shouldn’t hold up 30 years later.
Just like the movie, it’s an anachronistic mish-mash of genres, times, influences and themes. What on Earth is an ’80s sax solo doing in a film set in the ’60s, and how does a song like “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” become the main theme when it’s stylistically so far outside any music that existed during the years when Dirty Dancing is actually set? Where else would you ever find Canadian rock act Zappacosta and American R&B group the Ronnettes sharing a tracklist? The mysteries of this soundtrack are infinite, and yet it might very well have been ahead of its time, tapping into the not-so-distant future where playlists, shuffle and a heavy dose of nostalgia are all factors in how people listen to music.
The soundtrack is certified Diamond in Canada, and has made countless best-seller lists all over the world. Thirty years later, it’s still one of the best and best-known soundtracks of all time because of all the reasons already mentioned, but also because Dirty Dancing wasn't just a movie or a soundtrack: it was a call to action.
It centred on the liberation of a 17-year-old girl, infantilized quite literally by her nickname, Baby, whose coming of age isn’t dictated just by learning to dance, or the older man-child who will sweep her off her feet (with his classic jerk first, secret softie later characterization), nor the sexual charge she’ll feel every time she carries a watermelon each summer thereafter. No, Baby’s coming of age is the agency she discovers in refusing to be ashamed of the act of wanting; in rejecting her parents' definition of morality; in confronting systemic inequalities like classism and sexism.
It’s also in the simple pleasures, of course, like having the time of your life (sorry/not sorry).
CBC Music invited Canadian artists and bands — some of whom weren’t even born in 1987 — to take us through the record, track-by-track, and tell us why the songs (and movie) still mean so much to them in 2017. Scroll down for personal stories, anecdotes and odes from the likes of Pierre Kwenders, Hannah Georgas, Hey Ocean!’s Ashleigh Ball, Jenn Grant and many more.
‘(I've Had) The Time of My Life’
"'Time of My Life' is a song that celebrates love in the most beautiful way. It's about that moment spent with a loved one that makes everything clear. The moment you realize that the person you love is the one. It is very inspiring. As musician, it can be portrayed as the moment you realise that this is what you want to do for the rest of your life. That is how I feel about music. I'm desperately in love with it. I remember the first time I performed onstage. Right at the first second, it felt like home and at that specific moment I knew that was what I was gonna do for the rest of my life. I was the time of my life, a feeling that I never felt before." — Pierre Kwenders
‘Be My Baby’
"I love that soundtrack so much that Hey Ocean! covered ‘Be My Baby’ on an EP! I've loved the original Ronettes version since I first heard it while watching Dirty Dancing. (“Nobody puts baby in the corner!”) My sisters and I would dance in our living room to a vinyl that my parents owned, which I've since dug through boxes for but never found. Something about girl groups of that era, like Martha and the Vandellas, the Crystals or the Supremes, that classic shoo-wop style is so pleasing. I've always been really into girl groups especially from that time. I love the energy and intensity each lead singer brings, like a desperation in their voice almost. With Phil Spector's production, ‘Be My Baby’ is just such a perfectly executed pop song." — Ashleigh Ball (Hey Ocean!)
‘She's Like the Wind’
"I have the Dirty Dancing soundtrack on vinyl and it is one of my favourite movies and soundtracks of all time. Every song brings me back to its scene and makes me think of that movie. 'She's Like the Wind' is such a jam and a perfect emotional power ballad. Also Patrick Swayze sang and wrote it!! Baby (a.k.a. me) says goodbye to Johnny and then has a nice bonding moment with her sister. Dirty Dancing changed my life and Patrick Swayze was my first crush (him and the Goblin King in Labyrinth)." — Hannah Georgas
“When I got married to Dan [Ledwell], in a barn, my sister-in-law, Tessa, wanted ‘Hungry Eyes’ on the playlist. It was on there, but somewhere between barn wine and torrential downpours, it wasn't getting played. I have a blurry memory of running to the computer (our 'DJ') over and over again trying to play ‘Hungry Eyes’ so I could sing it into Tessa's eyes but somehow it never happened.
“To this day I am owed this dance. Dance with me, sister bear. Dance with me!
“This message has been written post-show somewhere in Northern Ireland from a cobblestone road with Hannah Georgas. I love this fkn [sic] movie.” — Jenn Grant
"I think the sexiest songs are the simplest songs. 'Stay' is a perfect example of this. It's short, with a very repetitive, simple chord progression which makes it easy to dance to. It has always reminded me of adolescent crushes. Just like the song, they're so innocent yet there's an underlying sexual desire that isn't even fully understood and that's even reflected lyrically in this tune. I love where it's placed in the film, too. It's pretty innocent — a room full of couples dancing ... but it's not. They all look like they're seconds away from gettin' it on. I love it." — Whitney Rose
"’Yes’ is an immediate call to throw on your best sequinned, shoulder-padded jumpsuit to carry out the synchronized swimming dance routine you made to the soundtrack in elementary school. It is a celebration of Dirty Dancing watchers saying, 'Finally! It's the only word we wanted everyone to say to Johnny through the entirety of this movie.' Merry Clayton singing, 'huggin' and teasin', lovin' and squeezin' all night' — mhmm sure sounds like a great time to me.” — Kim Harris
‘You Don’t Own Me’
"I discovered 'You Don’t Own Me' through the Dirty Dancing soundtrack when I was in Grade 5. For me, it’s one of a few 'gold standard' tunes that walk that fine line between serious and goofy, or between tribute and parody. If it’s a 'serious' cover, why the goofy lead vocal and ridiculous doo-wop backups? If it’s just a cheeky cover, why bother with the lush production, and why does it resonate so deeply with me after listening? I love that confusion. Plus, this version eventually led me to discover Lesley Gore’s original version and her complete badassery." — Devon Lougheed, Altered By Mom
“Here's the thing: my mom doesn't get enough credit for my taste in music. Amidst Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, Whitney Houston's Whitney and Cyndi Lauper's She So Unusual, the Dirty Dancing soundtrack (on cassette, of course) was a staple in our household when I was growing up thanks to her. I was always drawn to the 'oldies' on the album, and ‘Hey Baby’ instantly reminds me that the Dirty Dancing OST is definitely the reason I still love old jukebox rock 'n' roll to this day.” — Trevor Murphy, Quiet Parade
"'Overload' is very out of step with the rest of the soundtrack. Of course '(I've Had) The Time of My Life,' 'She's Like the Wind' and 'Hungry Eyes' were also contemporary/cheap selections in an expensive OST, but they're reflective of the time — synthy, sax-y ballads. 'Overload' is sort of a fist-pumping, bar-band song. Production-wise it's reminiscent of some deep Meat Loaf cuts, but it's memorable because it plays during a great scene. It's pouring, Johnny and Baby run to his car, he's locked his keys in. So he kicks a decorative post out of the ground and — in time to the music — smashes out a window. 'You're wild!' she screams. Cut to a passed storm, sunlit dirt road, follow all the way to the lift in the water. Overload? Hardly." — Tara Thorne, Dance Movie
‘Love is Strange’
''Dirty Dancing is such a classic slumber party movie. I remember watching it and being so young that we had to be told by a friend’s older sister that Patrick Swayze was considered sexy when he breezed in with that leather jacket. I've always loved the call-and-response speaking parts of Mickey and Sylvia's ‘Love is Strange.’ We would reenact that part of the song well into the night.' — Jody Glenham
‘Where Are You Tonight’
"We love a good '80s soundtrack and few would argue that Dirty Dancing stands up with Flashdance, Footloose, and Top Gun as one of the decade's best. 'Where Are You Tonight' is a lesser-known number by Tom Johnston of The Doobie Brothers. The mashup of eras is an unusual facet of the Dirty Dancing soundtrack: You have '70s rockers like Eric Carmen singing glossy '80s tunes for a story set in the Catskill Mountains in the '60s. We loved it then and still do today!" — The Royal Oui
‘In the Still of the Night’
"'Still of the Night' was my entry track to sad romantic music from the '50s. A gateway drug, if you will, for all the moonlit sway tunes (Roy Orbison, Ricky Nelson, etc.) that make up the foundation of my musical taste. Also, I often get this movie mixed up with Footloose, so its super '50s soundtrack is what separates it for me. Swayze > Bacon. Also, Dirty Dancing > Footloose." — Louise Burns
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