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Behind the Meaning of “Greased Lightnin’” by John Travolta

June 15, 2023
greased lightnin meaning

Behind the Meaning of “Greased Lightnin’” by John Travolta

“Greased Lightnin'” is a popular song from the 1978 film “Grease,” performed by John Travolta, who played the character of Danny Zuko.

The song has become an iconic piece of popular culture, with its catchy melody and memorable lyrics.

At first glance, the meaning behind the song seems straightforward.

It’s an ode to Danny’s beloved car, which he has affectionately named “Greased Lightnin’.”

However, a closer look at the lyrics reveals that the song also explores themes such as masculinity, sexuality, and the pursuit of the American Dream.

This article delves deeper into the meaning behind “Greased Lightnin'” and explores how it reflects the cultural values and attitudes of the time it was created.

Through this analysis, we hope better to understand the song’s enduring popularity and cultural relevance.

About the T-Birds & How Greased Lightning Came to be

The T-Birds are a fictional gang of teenage boys from the 1978 musical film “Grease.”

The greaser gang includes Danny Zuko (Travolta), Kenickie, Doody, Sonny, and Putzie.

Because of their status, each has to look as cool as possible. 

They wear leather jackets, jeans, and T-shirts to match their “too cool for school” look.

Kenickie owns Greased Lightning, a car that was a total piece of junk when he got it.

It’s a funny name since the word “fast” is usually associated with it, but before the song is played, the vehicle barely moves at all.

The T-Birds and another gang called the Scorpions get into a fight.

Each member of the Scorpions has a different problem with their boss, Leo Balmudo.

Ultimately, they decide to settle their disagreement with a drag race, but Greased Lightning needs a lot of work to be ready, bringing us to the track we’re discussing today.

Greased Lightning is both a daydream and the building of a car in an auto shop.

The T-Birds want the car to be the most remarkable thing with four wheels, and they are doing a lot of work turning the pile of parts into a vehicle that can race.

With the help of their friend Kenickie, played by Jeff Conaway, the T-Birds fix up the car and turn it into a racing machine.

They then enter the drag race, which they win spectacularly, thanks to the speed and power of Greased Lightning.

What Exactly Is “Greased Lightnin'” About?

On the surface, the song is mainly about a car and all its crew’s repairs to get it ready for a speed race against a rival gang.

But that’s just what it seems like on the surface. 

Looking closely at the lyrics, you’ll find some pretty clear explanations, especially for the 1970s.

When the T-Birds saw the vehicle, they were not too pleased.

But Zuko says that it might help them get lucky with girls.

Zuko and Kenickie use the song to get the rest of the guys on board with their plan to fix up Greased Lightning.

First, the lyrics are what you’d expect. 

It’s a lot of car talk that many people who don’t know much about cars might not understand.

If you know anything about how a car works, you’ll notice that only some parts they talk about make sense. 

That’s not important, though.

The important thing is that the song quickly turns into the kind of boastful speech you’d expect from a teenager.

If you want to figure out what a song means, you’ll usually have to sort through many metaphors to determine what the writer meant.

It’s clear that fixing up Greased Lighting isn’t about winning the race.

Right after Zuko opens the track and the T-Birds join in, you’ll see that they expect to get “lots of tits” from driving the car around.

Then, you can look at the chorus, which is repeated twice more in the song, to find more explicit lyrics.

“You are supreme; the chicks’ll cream, For Greased Lightnin’,” says it all.

On the track, the T-Birds even call the car a “real pussy wagon.”

Even though it’s easy to ignore a chunk of the lyrics and think that the song is about a car, that’s not the case.

It’s about Zuko and the other boys “getting their rocks off” over their new, flashy car and imagining all the high school girls falling in love with them when they see it.

The track is about how many girls the guys will get with their incredible car.

Deadly Dance Scene

“Greased Lightnin'” hurt Conway’s health, which adds another layer of depth to the story behind this song.

Conaway fell badly while shooting the famous dance number for “Grease Lightnin’.”

More specifically, Conaway hurt his back when he fell off the car while he and the rest of the group were dancing on top of it.

Because of that back injury, Conway was able to get painkillers, which is one reason why he became addicted to prescription pills.

Sad to say, Conway’s death was caused by his addiction.

Conway died on May 27, 2011, from pneumonia and sepsis at 60 years old. 

The Original Version

The original live version of the song was about turning an old ‘Buick into a bedroom.’

There are a lot of sexual innuendos in the lyrics.

So, if you see one of the many high school plays that are put on every day in America, you’ll notice that some of the words have been changed to make them less offensive.

Did you ever see John Travolta rubbing saran wrap on his crotch? 

Most people don’t get this, but in the 1950s, teens who didn’t know better would use saran wrap as a birth control method when they couldn’t afford condoms.

Danny Zuko might have been one of those kids who was misinformed.

Olivia Newton-John was John Travolta‘s real-life crush, and he even tried to get her to play his love interest. 

He said, “She was a mix of Marilyn Monroe and a motorbike girl.

Later Versions Of “Greased Lightnin’”

John Travolta and Jeff Conaway sang the original musical version of the song in the movie version of Grease.

It had explicit sexual lyrics and lines like “it ain’t sh*t” from the show. 

Later versions of the song changed the lyrics to make them more suitable for younger audiences.

The song “Greased Lightnin'” was a hit and did well on the radio.

The explicit version of the song made many radio stations refuse to play it, which is a big reason why it never made it into the US Top 40.

Jim Jacobs released a new set of lyrics that took out sexual references and allowed the song to be used in school plays.

Fox used this version of Grease for their live TV show in 2016.

Even before that live performance was shown on TV, the lyrics that didn’t follow broadcasting rules had already been cut out of the film.

Other Covers of “Greased Lightnin’”

  • The Wild Angels made a version of this song in 1972.
  • In the animated film Planet 51, the song was covered by Lance Ellington.
  • In 2003, Irish pop band Westlife did a version of the song.
  • David Flora and Dave Stecco of the Blurry Photos show used a parody of the song at the beginning of their Thunderbirds episode, even though they didn’t have a license to do so.

Cool Facts About “Greased Lightnin’” by John Travolta

Travolta was already an accomplished dancer and actor by the time he starred in “Grease,” but he had never sung in a movie before.

He took singing lessons to prepare for the role and impressed audiences with his “Greased Lightnin'” performance and other songs.

The car used in the “Greased Lightnin'” scene was a 1948 Ford De Luxe, not a 1948 Ford Custom like the one mentioned in the lyrics.

The car was modified with a supercharger and other upgrades to make it look and sound like a hot rod.

Travolta’s character, Danny, sings the lead vocals in the movie version of “Greased Lightnin’,” but the original Broadway version had the Kenickie singing lead.

Travolta later parodied the “Greased Lightnin'” scene in the 1994 movie “Pulp Fiction,” in which his character Vincent Vega describes his car in a similarly sexualized way.

The song was a hit on the charts, reaching #47 on the Billboard Hot 100.

You may also like: Best Songs About Cars

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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