Known for Writing the Dirty Dancing Hit Song, “The Time Of My Life,” Songwriter and Performer FRANK PREVITE Discusses This Iconic Song And His New Collection!
Posted On 27 Nov 2018
“(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” the Academy Award and Grammy Award winning song from Dirty Dancing is one of the most recognizable songs in the history of film soundtracks, and is still generating placements in commercials and TV shows. Dirty Dancing, the stage production continues to be one of the most successful worldwide touring stage productions for years anchored by Franke Previte’s 2 hit songs from the film.
Franke Previte, the award winning composer of the fore-mentioned song along with the other Dirty Dancing chart-topper “Hungry Eyes” recently released The Complete Collection on the FRIDAY MUSIC imprint. It includes all of the studio recordings from the pre-Oscar winning journey with his band Franke & the Knockouts.
Purchase the collection here-
This new collection contains previously unreleased tracks including a bootleg live recording of their Top 10 hit “Sweetheart” as well as other in-concert recordings plus rare studio demos culled from what was supposed to be their never released 4th album.
Franke & the Knockouts were signed by Millennium Records founder Jimmy Ienner, a prominent music industry executive who produced KiSS, The Raspberries, and many others..all 3 Franke & the Knockouts studio recordings are in the boxset which includes their 3 Top 40 hits. Franke & the Knockouts toured with The Beach Boys, TOTO, etc. and their national TV performances included 2 appearances on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.
Learn more about Franke Previt in the following All Access interview:
Thank you for your time. I know that everyone’s been very busy, so I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me today.
You’re very welcome. Quite welcome.
Let’s talk about writing the song, I’ve Had the Time of My Life. Looking back on that writing session, did you have any kind of an idea of the potential it had, or did you see how successful it was going to be?
The answer to all of those questions was no, I did not have the insight. I was not smart enough to know that the song was going to be what it’s done, but at the time I wrote the song, I was in that band Franke and the Knockouts and the label I was on decided to go into films and sell us to MCA and MCA decided they wanted us to sound like Night Ranger, which wasn’t something that we wanted at the time. Night Ranger is a good band, but they were already on MCA, and I didn’t see a future for myself there.
And so I’m in between record deals, and the gentlemen that closed this label, Jimmy Ienner, called me. And he said, “Franke, I have this movie, little movie, that I want you to write a song for.” And so I said to him, “Really?” I said, “Jimmy, I really don’t have time.” I said, “I’m trying to get a deal. You closed your label, and I’ve been writing.” And he goes, “Make time. This is going to change your life.” I’m like, “Yeah. Right. You’re going to change my life. You did that two years ago when you shut your label down.” So he goes, “No, I’ve got a good feeling about this.” And I said, “Well, what’s the name of the movie?” So then he goes, “Dirty Dancing,” And my first thought was, “Oh, poor Jimmy’s doing porn.”
And so he said, “No. No. No. It’s really a good little movie and there’s been 149 songs submitted for the last scene that we’ve turned down, and so you have two weeks to write a song.” And I said, “Okay. I don’t know anything about this movie. What’s it about?” So he gave me a five minute description, and he goes, “So the good news is that you’re going to write a song. The bad news is this has to be seven minutes long because that’s how long the scene is.” And I’m like, “Oh my god. This thing is never going to see the light of day.”
And so I called a guy that I was writing with at the time. His name is John DeNicola. Now, John and I had just written a song called Hungry Eyes that every record label that I sent it to was like, “Nah. You got nothing, kid.” And so I said, “John, we have an opportunity.” And I said, “So being that this song has to be seven minutes, let’s start with the chorus up front, but in half-time, and then when we down beat the verse, we’ll double-time it.
So he sent me a track. John sent me a track, and on my way to the studio on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey, exit 140, playing with a cassette in my car, going, “Time of my life. Time of my life. What the hell am I saying?” So I’m scribbling time of my envelope. “I’ve had the time of my life” on an envelope and that’s kind of where the seed and the melody for Time of My Life started. Now, in a million years, I would have never written I’ve Had the Time of My Life because I was more into writing rock music, pop/rock music with a mixture of a little bit of R&B, and so that’s … Time of My Life was way outside of my box, so really the man upstairs wrote the song.
So when I met Patrick Swayze at the Academy Awards, he said to me, “I need to talk to you.” And I said, “What’s up?” He goes, “Who sang the demo?” And I said, “Well, I did with Rachele Cappelli.” And I said, “Why?” And he goes, “Well because we hated this movie.” And I said, “What do you mean you hated this movie?” He goes, “We didn’t have a song. We were getting ready to do the last scene to a Lionel Richie song that was a good song, but it really wasn’t our song. And it wasn’t an original song for the movie, and Jennifer and I weren’t really getting along that well, and so we had to listen to 149 songs. And we’re getting ready” … They filmed out of sequence. So they filmed that last scene first.
And he said, “We played the last cassette that came in. The 150th cassette. Your song with you singing with Rachele Cappelli.” And I said, “Yeah?” And he goes, “We knew that we wanted to make the movie to that song, and at the end of the day, the comradery that was created from that scene and that song created the phenomenon of what happened with Dirty Dancing. It just made us go, ‘Holy crap, what a great ending.'”
He goes, “The next day we filmed to you singing Hungry Eyes,” and he goes, “So it kind of really changed how we felt about our movie and gave us this comradery that we didn’t have.” And so to me, the phenomenon of Dirty Dancing is Patrick, Jennifer, and the song. And if you don’t have the three of those and the perfect alignment of the stars, you don’t have the same phenomenon.
That’s true. And how amazing that you recall all of these moments. I’m sure you cherish all of those memories forever, right? Just looking back on it.
Well, think about it. As a songwriter, and you’re writing forever and ever and you know I had with Franke and the Knockouts, top 10, number 9 Sweetheart. Another single that went number 14, Without You. And You’re My Girl, another top 20 hit. But never to the magnitude of an Academy Award- winning song, something that changes not only the culture of the world in an iconic way for a song, but it changes you as a person and the song became bigger than me as a performer, and that’s when I became a songwriter.
Now, why now is this complete collection being released? Why do you think it’s time for this to come out now?
Well, first of all, the three albums never came out as a box set before and a third album, which was Makin’ the Point, was never really given a shot. It was the third album that came out and that we did, and then Millennium Records and RCA went through their business of trying to renegotiate their deal, and Jimmy Ienner just felt like, “You know what? Unless I can get the right amount of money to promote my acts, I’d rather shut my label down.” And so he started selling off his acts, and we went to MCA.
And MCA, like I said to you, said when we got there, “We would like you to sound like Night Ranger.” And I said, “Why would you do that? We’ve established that we’ve had hit records. We are who we are.” And they go, “No. We want you to sound like Night Ranger.” So they brought Night Ranger’s producer in, and they remixed our record. And they sent a couple of samples out to radio. And radio was like, “Well, this isn’t Franke and the Knockouts that we are used, and we don’t want to play it.” And so MCA dropped us. And so that third record really never saw the light of day. So that’s one reason.
My real reason for wanting to do it was through the years as a songwriter starting back in the 70s, you write songs. I was in a band called Bull Angus that was on Mercury records, and we called ourselves riff rock. And this riff rock band toured with Rod Steward, and Deep Purple, and Fleetwood Mac and played the Pocono Mountain Festival with 300,000 people. So back when you first had that taste of success and what it does in playing in front of 300,000 people, it energizes you for the rest of your life. You’re still looking to grab that same ring or better yet have a hit record because that band didn’t have a hit. And that band did its third record that never got released. And we had demos from that record.
And so when that band broke up, I went on to move home. And in doing so, I met up with this girl who was a friend of mine from school who married Art Kass who was the president of Buddah Records. She goes, “I’m married to a president of a label, and you sing unbelievable. And I got to turn my husband on to you.” So she did. And he turned me on to this guy named Tony Camillo. And so Tony Camillo … Buddah Records was more of an R&B label. And they said, “Well, we want you to be an R&B artist. We don’t want you to be a rock and roll artist.” And so I stared recording with Tony Camillo who produced Gladys Knight, Midnight Train to Georgia, a bunch of Gladys Knight’s stuff, and a bunch of really, really great R&B artists. And so every time I would write a rock song, it would go in Tony’s drawer. Every time I wrote an R&B song, we would record it.
And so probably about seven or eight, nine songs in, that deal kind of went by its wayside. Now, I’m feeling like, “Well, here I have these R&B songs. Here I have these rock songs. How do I put these two genres together and create maybe a different sound?” So in 1980, 81, I created Franke and the Knockouts, kind of blue-eyed soul. And going back to my roots of listening to Bill Medley and the Rascals and those type of artist that were influential to me as a singer and as a songwriter. And so Franke and the Knockouts was a culmination of these two rock bands.
And so I have all these demos in my drawer from Bull Angus and Tony Camillo and Buddah Records, and then songs that didn’t make Knockout records, and then songs after I won the Academy Awards. And then I put a band together called Brave New Word with Kasim Sulton from Todd Rundgren’s band and Mark Rivera from Billy Joel’s band, and we called it Brave New World. So I have those songs. And so what I did was on this box set is I took 11 of those demos that nobody’s heard and I made them bonus tracks.
I have six Franke and the Knockout live tracks from different concerts.
Was it hard to pick and choose which ones would be on this collection?
Extremely because I have 200 songs. So that list changed maybe 15, 20 times. I basically had people sit around my house and play which song do you like better? That song or this song?
And how does it feel to get this out here finally into the world? Is it kind of like a release?
Writing songs is a seed from within. I call them my children. So I finally get my children out there.
Do you find that what motivates you to be a songwriter has drastically changed over the years?
Yes. And the reason being is that before I would write for any and everything. I would just write to write to keep on writing. And hopefully, one of these songs … even though the majority of them stayed in my drawer, and you had Mom’s favorites that go in this drawer. And so now, you have an opportunity because of the success and the magnitude of Time of My Life, a chance to pick and choose what projects you’d like to write for. So you have a different … there’s not that desperation to write just everything, every day, I don’t care what it is. You’re writing stuff that you want to write.
What do you hope that people take away from this large collection? Is there a message you hope they take away or it is just pure fun?
Yeah. That’s a good question. I just want them to see my journey to winning the Academy Award, and the different paths that it took me along the way from this riff rock heavy band to this R&B band to this blue-eyed soul Franke and the Knockouts band. Franke and the Knockouts really wanted to be a rock band, and then I wrote a song called Sweetheart, which was very kind of poppy R&B. And Jimmy Ienner said to me, he goes, “It’s a great song, and it might be a hit record, but radio’s going to peg you as a pop band, and you want to be a rock band.” He goes, “So you want to put that bullet in the gun?” And I said, “Yes. Yeah, I do.”
Who are some songwriters today that you are inspired or you’re impressed by?
Bruno Mars is somebody that I think is the new … even though he’s been around for a while for me, he’s very talented. He has a bunch of different styles, and I can see a bunch of different influences and where he got them from. Prince. I see Prince in him. I see a bunch of different people in him. Let’s see. There’s bands that … my son, who’s in his twenties, turns me on to the obscure bands that I’ve never heard of, and he’ll go, “This band’s going to be big.” And then like in about three or four months, they’re really huge. I’m like, “Oh, that’s cool.” So years ago, he turned me on to the Arctic Monkeys. And I’m like, “Okay. They’re kind of cool.” Coldplay’s a really, really good band with good lyrics. And there’s so many. There’s so many great, great songwriters.
But today’s songwriter, I think, is just starting to feel their oats. Just starting to dig down deep and say something that people want to hear. There’s been a while for me, maybe five or ten years, where I was listening to music going, “Where’s the music? Where’s the iconic music? Where’s the song that somebody’s going to say in 20 years, ‘That was a great song.'” And it’s just a handful.
Back in my day, you would listen to the Beatles, and you would listen to Led Zeppelin, and you would listen to the Stones, and you would listen to The Who. And these are iconic bands that today are still great bands and great songwriters. I don’t know who in 20, 30, 40 years from now is going to be that next iconic person or group. I don’t know.
So what’s next up for you in the music world?
I’m actually producing a show called Calling All Divas, and it’s a bit of a play … in the first act … and my investors are the guys, Jersey Boys. Yeah. One of the producers from that show saw my show and is the investor in it. And it’s a show that has four girls at different times in their career, very diversified. One is a … she was a Broadway star, and she was a Rockette. She was a television star, and now she’s just working as a voice over person who’s doing commercials and stuff in the studio. And then another girl is like a blues singer in Harlem. And another girl is like a country singer, and then the fourth girl is a subway singer. A girl we find in the subway. And so these four girls are brought together by this young songwriter who is trying to find a voice for his song and have his boss who owns one of the biggest clubs break her out of his club. And he brings these four girls together to audition for him.
So you find yourself projection wise, there’s all these projections of a recording studio, or you’re in a subway, or you’re in a blues club in Harlem, and you’re in a funky country bar. And then you end up at the Zig Zag, at this guy’s club and these girls all sing. And the guy can’t pick out who he likes better. So the second act, he goes out the audience, “Well, I guess you’re wondering who I picked, and I told you there would only be one winner, and it was quite obviously who that winner was going to be. And so he makes them all a group called the Unforgettables. And the whole second act is the concert of the Unforgettables.
So that’s what I’m working on, and we’ve done the show a couple of times in New York in some theaters, and we’re about to go to Pittsburgh and then to Philly. And the kind of cool thing about the show is that there’s the book Calling All Divas, but then if somebody says, “Well, we only have a 70 minute show or 75 minute show we can do in this casino or on this cruise line,” so then we send out just the Unforgettables, and they do the concert. So it has two different acts.
Anything else to share with us?
Well, here’s one important thing before I hang up, and it means a lot for me to say this.
Being that I had a chance to meet Patrick Swayze and find out that Johnny was really Patrick. That rugged, tough guy with a big heart. And so when he passed, I tried to find out who and what was going on to help give back in his name. And I found that Lisa Swayze was working with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. And so I called them, and I talked to Pamela Costa, and I said, “I want to do something.” And I said, “I have an idea.” And she goes, “What?” I said, “I want to take the demos that they filmed the movie to, and I want to sell them online.” So I have a Facebook page called Dirty Dancing Demos. And so I donate all the money from that, which is around $30,000 worth of these demos, but what I’m going to do is I’m going to donate a dollar from every box that’s sold to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
So I want to let people know. If we all, everyone in the world, gave a dollar, we would have a fighting chance to beat this. Thank you for talking with me and spreading the word.
Purchase the collection here-