“There Are Worse Things I Could Do” — Stockard Channing as Rizzo in “Grease”
There are worse things I could do than write articles about songs I love. Hopefully you see things the same way…
If you’re of an age, the soundtrack to “Grease” will be etched on your mind. Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey wrote some great songs…”Summer Nights”, “Beauty School Dropout” and “Greased Lightening”.
They also had a bit of help from their friends. Barry Gibb wrote the title track for the “Grease” movie and John Farrar wrote “You’re The One That I Want”.
Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey also incorporated some classics into the soundtrack, like Rodgers and Hart’s “Blue Moon” and Lieber and Stoller’s “Hound Dog”.
Hidden amongst all the great songs on the “Grease” soundtrack album, I never thought the more introspective “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” got the attention it deserved.
Sure, we all remember Olivia Newton-John in those skin-tight pants for “You’ve The One That I Want”…John Travolta on the bonnet of the hot-rod for “Greased Lightening”…the cast skipping and hand-jiving their way through “We Go Together”…
But when asked for our favourite “Grease” song, people rarely go to “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”.
It’s sung by Rizzo, the hard-bitten leader of the Pink Ladies who, over the years, has cultivated a tough exterior.
She’s seen her way through guys who “only want one thing”. She’s carved out her niche in an unforgiving world. A world where guys expect too much, but heaven forbid you get caught out…you don’t see the guy for dust and you get ostracised by all your family and friends.
There are worse things I could do
Than go with a boy or two
Even though the neighbourhood
Thinks I’m trashy and no good
I suppose it could be true
But there are worse things I could do
Thank goodness we’ve moved beyond guys being congratulated for playing the field, but the girls they go with getting labelled “trashy and no good”.
Moral double-standards isn’t a great game to play, especially when the powerful…who, back in the 1950s, were almost exclusively guys…oppress those less able to defend themselves.
There was never any doubt about what the girl had done. She was the one carrying the baby.
But the guys moved off into the sunset, trashing the reputation of someone who had either genuinely cared for them, or had just got a little carried away in the heat of the moment. The guys could still go on to become pillars of society. The girl’s reputation was forever tarnished by having a baby out of wedlock.
When Rizzo finds herself expecting, she tells the father. For a moment she hopes they might have forged something lasting together. But she sees his reaction…a mixture of horror, fear and panic…and realises it’s not going to work. He’s busy playing the field, being a lad, doing what guys do.
We know Rizzo has started to care because she takes it all on herself and pretends the baby is someone else’s. She trades on her “bad girl” reputation and says some other guy got her pregnant.
The real father’s face shows revulsion that she went with someone else for a fraction of a second, followed by a considerably longer sense of relief that he’s not going to be “tied down” with a wife and a baby, his days of being one of the chief studs around town prematurely over.
Showing she isn’t as hard-bitten as either she or anyone else thinks she is, Rizzo reflects that “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” than finding herself pregnant before high school is over.
I could flirt with all the guys
Smile at them and bat my eyes
Press against them when we dance
Make them think they stand a chance
Then refuse to see it through
That’s a thing I’d never do
The girl’s living her life according to her own rules. What’s the harm in that?
Her rules might not be your rules or my rules, but she has her standards. And even though being an unmarried teenage mother in 1950s America probably was pretty much “the worse thing you could do” from the perspective of everyone else in her small town, she gives the father back his freedom because she doesn’t think it’s fair to tie him down.
Setting him free seems to be the right thing to do. She doesn’t want to cramp his style or stop him living his own life. Even though it comes at the expense of no longer being able to live her own life.
Perhaps for the first time, Rizzo has found it in herself to care for another human being. Not the baby…although I’m sure she’d have cared for that in due course…but for its father. She’s taken away his life sentence, by taking one for herself instead. Nobody does that for someone they don’t care about.
It’s not an easy decision to let him go, but she does it…
I could hurt someone like me
Out of spite or jealousy
I don’t steal and I don’t lie
But I can feel and I can cry
A fact I’ll bet you never knew
But to cry in front of you
That’s the worse thing I could do
You see, if she cried, he might stay. Then she’d always feel guilty for having ruined his life, tied him down, stopped him living the carefree life he wants to live.
To take all that away from him…well, that’s the worse thing she thinks she could do. Worse, even, than bringing up a baby on her own in a small town in middle America in the 1950s.
That’s why the worse thing she could do isn’t spending time with a range of different guys, or getting a reputation as a girl of easy virtue, or flirting just for the sake of it.
The worse thing she could do is cry in front of the father of her child so he’d feel obliged to stay.
If that’s the worse thing she could do, it says a lot more about her than it does about all those who, a few short months down the line, will be looking down their noses at her and gossiping about her when the baby starts to show.
They’ll be passing a judgement that’s not theirs to pass. And they’ll ignore the essential goodness which got her in that predicament in the first place. She set someone free, instead of trapping him. That’s by no means the worse thing anybody could do.
In a movie soundtrack packed full of great songs which, even 40 years after the film’s release, most people can still sing along with, I don’t think there’s a better track…or one that makes us give thanks more that the world has moved on since the 1950s…than “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”.
With a masterful moment of poignancy, courtesy of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s songwriting talents…here’s Stockard Channing as Rizzo, with “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”…
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”. You can also follow me on Medium (here)to get new articles as soon as they’re published. And why not check out my book “No Words, No Song”, where I write about more great songs like this one, available in the Kindle Bookstore (here).