The musical stylings of John Travolta


Since February 18 is the 70th birthday of John Travolta, I thought I’d link to some of his songs.

His first hits were the result of his breakthrough performance on the ABC-TV sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter. Gabe Kaplan played a a high-school teacher in charge of a  remedial education class called the “Sweathogs. Travolta played Vinnie Barbarino, the heartthrob of the group.

He had four singles on Midland International Records. The biggest hit was Let Her In, which went to #10 in 1976; I have no recollection of the song. Nor do I recall Whenever I’m Away From You (#34 in 1976), yet I have a vague recollection of All Strung Out On YouAll Strung Out On You (#38 pop in 1977).

He didn’t sing on Saturday Night Fever (1977), but his walking to Stayin’ Alive by the BeeGees opens the film. The movie is a lot better than people who wrote it off as a “disco thing” believed. About 15 months ago, Kelly posted that intro. He wrote: “Now we know that Tony’s world is just a few miles from Manhattan but might as well be worlds away, and that the outward appearance that Tony [Manero] obviously cultivates very specifically and very carefully is something of an act, a veneer he has put on a more tender inner life.” It’s an interesting read. John was nominated for an Academy Award for the role. 


Travolta had been in the Broadway production of Grease in the mid-1970s, playing a character named Doody. In the movie musical, as Danny Zuko, he not only sang, but had big hits in 1978, dueting with Olivia Newton-John. You’re The One That I Want went to #1 and Summer Nights to #5. (The latter song was used in a 2023 ad for T-Mobile Home Internet, featuring Travolta, Donald Faison and Zach Braff.)

The three hits from Grease, including Greased Lightning (#47 in 1978) were included in the 1996 Grease Megamix

After the success of the movie Urban Cowboy, Travolta had a some hits (Look Who’s Talking) and misses. His “comeback” was playing hitman Vincent Vega in 1994’s Pulp Fiction, for which I need to play Miserlou by Dick Dale. Travolta was nominated for another Academy Award. 

Finally, the Hairspray Soundtrack includes Welcome To The 60’s (Nikki Blonsky and John Travolta) and (You’re) Timeless To Me (John Travolta and Christopher Walken).  

S is for Songs from the classics

This swing version of the Lizst rhapsody was a major influence on several aspiring arrangers, including Billy Strayhorn and Billy May.

When I was 11 or 12, I took piano lessons for a little over a year. I wasn’t very good, though I did practice. I will say that it was useful for singing. My piano teacher was Mrs. Hamlin, the organist at my church at the time, who was like family; her parents were my godparents, and her sister’s son was my parents’ godson.

One day, I was laboriously trying to play the Bach Minuet in G, which, incidentally, I had danced to in second grade. Mrs. Hamlin said, “It’s like A Lover’s Concerto by the Toys.” At that very moment, I had no idea what she was talking about, though, of course, now I do.

Actually, I first owned A Lover’s Concerto as a cover version by the Supremes on their I Hear A Symphony album, which also contained their version of Stranger in Paradise from the 1953 musical Kismet, which poached Alexander Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor.

As it turns out, there are a LOT of pop songs that are based on classical music. Some are very obvious, such as Nut Rocker by B. Bumble and the Stingers, based on Tchaikovsky’s “March of the Wooden Soldiers” from The Nutcracker, or a couple songs from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, A Fifth of Beethoven by Walter Murphy, and Night on Disco Mountain by David Shire, the latter based on Mussorgsky.

Others may be more subtle. The J. S. Bach piece O Sacred Head, Now Wounded could be the musical inspiration for American Tune by Paul Simon.

Here’s a lengthy list of songs from the classics, which, of course, are in the public domain, and, as such, are not subject to copyright restrictions. This list is slightly shorter but is more in-depth. There are a half dozen songs here, but there are samples of each version.

The one example I found on no list was The Hungarian Rhapsody #2 by Liszt (heard here) which “was also the basis for a popular song, ‘Ebony Rhapsody’ by Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston, introduced in the 1934 film Murder at the Vanities. In the film, it was played by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra, who also recorded it. This swing version of the rhapsody was a major influence on several aspiring arrangers, including Billy Strayhorn (who later became Duke Ellington’s composing partner) and Billy May (who later recorded ‘Ebony Rhapsody’ with Nat King Cole).

ABC Wednesday – Round 8

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