Surprising story of the song from 'Dirty Dancing' and some of the other iconic love songs from movies

Singer Bill Medley thought "Dirty Dancing" was a "porno movie."

ByABC News
February 13, 2018, 3:13 PM

— -- When it comes to writing a love song, Diane Warren knows a thing or two about what makes a great one.

The songwriter, who received her ninth Oscar nomination for the song “Stand Up For Something” from the movie “Marshall,” is behind some of the greatest romantic hits, including “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith, featured in the movie "Armageddon."

“When you can have a song at weddings and funerals, you're good,” Warren said laughing in an interview for “Lights, Camera, Romance!” a special Edition of ABC News’ “20/20,” which airs on Feb. 13, at 10 p.m. ET. “I do want to create timeless songs that live on.”

Composer Giorgio Moroder won three Oscars, including for the song “Take My Breath Away” from the movie “Top Gun,” said some songs become synonymous with the films they inhabit.

“Some of the songs really define a movie,” Moroder said on “Lights, Camera, Romance!”

Warren and Moroder, along with David Foster, Lionel Richie and other iconic voices, shared the surprising stories of some of the greatest love songs to have come from movies.

Jennifer Grey, as Baby Houseman, and Patrick Swayze, as Johnny Castle, appear in a scene from "Dirty Dancing."

“(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” performed by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, featured in the movie “Dirty Dancing”

Before he signed on to sing one of the most iconic movie love songs ever, singer Bill Medley said he thought “Dirty Dancing” was a very different kind of film.

“I thought it was a porno movie, and that’s the truth,” Medley, who was one-half of the music duo the Righteous Brothers, laughed. “When they said the movie’s going to be ‘Dirty Dancing,’ I said, ‘I can’t do it while my parents are alive.’ And then they explained it.”

Medley said Jimmy Ienner, who put together the music for the movie, asked him to sing in the song, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.”

In order to work on the song, Medley said he was asked to leave California to go to New York, but he said he refused because he promised his wife, who was pregnant at the time, that he would be home when she had their child.

“They just stayed on me, stayed on me, and stayed on me. And finally Paula had the child. I said, ‘Please have the baby. I need a hit record,’” Medley recalled. “And so that was, like, 31 years ago. And now my daughter is on stage singing ‘(I've Had) The Time of My Life’ with me.”

Medley said he and Jennifer Warnes mainly chose to do the song because they wanted to have the opportunity to collaborate.

“So we basically did the song just to work together because we figured the movie's a little teeny movie. It's not going to do anything, you know?”

As it turned out the movie turned out to be a success, and the album went platinum.

“They gave me 32 platinum albums to take home, so I gave ‘em for Christmas presents,” Medley said laughing.

Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston appear in a scene from "The Bodyguard."

“I Will Always Love You” performed by Whitney Houston, featured in the movie “The Bodyguard”

Famed songwriter and record producer David Foster said he’s not sure how “I Will Always Love You” was chosen for the movie, “The Bodyguard.”

"The Bodyguard" star Kevin Costner suggested the song for the movie.

Foster said, "When I got that song, I didn't know it. So I ran down to the record store back in those days, got Linda Ronstadt's version and I went, ‘Wow, I know how I can make this work for Whitney.’”

Foster said he put together a demo and showed it to the movie’s star and singer, Whitney Houston, who he said exclaimed, “Oh, my God, this is like incredible.”

“We both looked at each other, and we went, ‘Yeah, we really have something here,’” Foster recalled.

Foster said he didn’t know the song before but was friendly with the song’s original writer and performer, Dolly Parton. But when Foster told Parton that he was using the version by Linda Ronstadt, Parton told him not to.

“She supposed, ‘There's a third verse that she doesn't sing, you've got to do the third verse.’ I said, ‘Well, we've already recorded the song and it only has two verses.’ She said, ‘No, you've got to go back and do the third verse,’" Foster said. “And the third verse, actually, is the greatest verse ... so she was helpful with that, Dolly.”

Foster called Houston a “firestorm” to work with.

“She was shooting on the film 10 hours a day, maybe more, 12 hours a day, exhausted. She'd come to the studio at 10 or 11 at night, she'd rip her jacket up, she'd step up to the mic, and she'd go like a race horse,” Foster recalled.

“The interesting thing about Whitney is when you ask her to do a lick, a phrase -- she'll never give you what you want. She gives you always something different than what you asked for,” Foster continued. “Most of the time, it's better than what you asked for. Rarely it's worse than what you asked for, but most of the time, she surprises you and gives you more than what you asked for. And that was the case of all my recording with her.”

Foster said the song’s intro was also Kevin Costner’s idea.

“That a capella part in the front, which I hated the idea of it -- I thought it was the stupidest idea on the planet. Shamefully, I admit that was Kevin Costner's idea. He said, ‘Yeah, first part should just be her singing,’” Foster said.

Steve Buscemi, Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Will Patton, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Owen Wilson appear in a scene from "Armageddon."

“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” performed by Aerosmith, featured in the movie “Armageddon”

Warren said she came up with the title of the song “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from “Armageddon” before she even wrote the music.

Warren got the idea by watching a 1997 Barbara Walters interview with James Brolin and Barbra Streisand.

“It was an interview he gave about how he misses her when he sleeps, you know? Like, he can’t wait to see her,” Warren said. “And I wrote down the title. I didn’t write the song, but I just thought, ‘I don’t want to miss a thing.’ That’s just a cool title, you know.”

When the movie “Armageddon” was in the works and needed a song, Warren said it was the time to finally write the song, starting with the chorus first.“'Cause it was about the end of the world, and ... what would you say to somebody, you know, if you didn't have that much time left, you know?” Warren explained. “I wanted that urgency, you know? And so I wrote the song ... never knowing Aerosmith was going to do it. That was amazing.”

Warren said she was inspired by James Brolin and Barbra Streisand.
Warren said she was inspired by James Brolin and Barbra Streisand.

Warren remembers playing the song for Steven Tyler at the Sunset Marquis Hotel in Los Angeles.

“I'm a terrible singer. You know, so I'm sitting there singing it with him, and then just hearing him, you know, learn it with me, it was amazing,” Warren said. “I started crying, you know? It was so emotional.”

Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, and Rick Rossovich appear in a scene from "Top Gun."

“Take My Breath Away” performed by Berlin, featured in the movie “Top Gun”

Moroder, the Oscar-winning composer of “Flashdance ... What a Feeling,” won his third Oscar with “Take My Breath Away,” from the movie “Top Gun.”

“When Jerry Bruckheimer asked me to write a song for the movie, he showed me some parts of the movie, especially the one where he said, ‘This is where Tom Cruise falls in love, and it has to be something very romantic,’” recalled Moroder. “I started with the bass line, and very unusually, I had the first part finished, but the second part, I had two different ones and I didn't know which one should I pick.”

Moroder said he left it alone for two or three days and finally decided to pick the version that is in the one listeners know today.

“The song, Take My Breath Away, came relatively fast, although I had a problem, I didn't really know how to end it,” Moroder said. “And then at that moment, I knew this is the song.”

Lionel Richie speaks at the 2017 CMT Artists Of The Year on Oct. 18, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn.
Rick Diamond/Getty Images

“Endless Love” written by Lionel Richie, performed by Lionel Richie and Diana Ross, featured in the movie “Endless Love”

When he began working on the 1981 Oscar-nominated song “Endless Love” for the movie of the same name, Lionel Richie, who wrote both the music and the lyrics, said he had thought it was just a songwriting role.

Eventually, Richie said he was asked to write the song into a duet featuring Diana Ross.

“Then they say ... ‘Who would [you] think should be able to sing it with her?’ ‘Well, me of course.’ You know, let's just be honest here. But I'd never written a duet before in my life. So this is all brand new coming down the pipe,” Richie recalled. “And the next thing I know I'm in a studio up in [Reno] at 3 in the morning after she had just finished her show in [Lake Tahoe].”

Richie continued, “The next thing I know, we're putting down the song for ‘Endless Love.’ And the rest is music magic.”

"What I wrote as 'Endless Love' and what I sang are two different things because there were certain parts that she just killed on," Richie recalled.
"What I wrote as 'Endless Love' and what I sang are two different things because there were certain parts that she just killed on," Richie recalled.

Of course, Richie said the song he had originally envisioned didn’t match the final product.

“What I wrote as ‘Endless Love’ and what I sang as ‘Endless Love’ are two different things, because there were certain parts that [Diana] just killed on that didn't necessarily come out of that melodic part of mine and my head,” Richie explained. “So I had to go back and compliment her, or either let her have that part and I'll sing behind her. So it was just kind of putting the song together in motion.”

Richie jokes that the experience was difficult, but rewarding.

“You'll notice that I have not done something like that, again, 'cause I almost died doing it,” Richie said laughing. “But it was an adventure, certainly as a young writer. And I'm playing around with the legendary Diana Ross. Are you kidding me?”

Richard Gere and Louis Gossett Jr. appear in a scene from in "An Officer and a Gentleman."

“Up Where We Belong” performed by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes, featured in the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman”

For “An Officer and a Gentleman,” director Taylor Hackford said he knew he wanted something special.

“At the end of this film I wanted a title song, you know, at the end. Freeze on them. And Jack Nitzsche had done a wonderful job with the score. I brought in a fantastic lyricist -- he's named Will Jennings, one of the great lyricists,” Hackford said.

Hackford continued, “And he looked at the movie, and he said, ‘Jack Nitsche has a couple of themes here I'll make into a song.’ He went away, created a song. I loved it: ‘Up Where We Belong.’ Then we had to decide how we put the voices together.”

Because the film was a love story, Hackford said he knew he wanted a “working class male voice” and a female voice with “a little more softness to it.”

When they decided to go with Joe Cocker and Warnes together, Hackford said the two hadn’t even met.

“They didn't even meet when they recorded. They weren't in the studio at the same time,” he said.

After the song was finished, Hackford said several people he took it to didn’t think it was going to be a hit.

“The song was No. 1 for six, seven weeks and won the Academy Award, right?” Hackford said laughing.

The cast of Disney's "The Lion King" are captured in this still image.

“Can You Feel the Love Tonight” performed by Elton John, featured in the movie “The Lion King”

Elton John told “GMA” co-host Robin Roberts he felt lucky to work on music for “The Lion King,” a film from Disney, the parent company of ABC News.

“I got a phone call from Tim Rice and said, ‘Disney had been on the phone to me and they're doing their first animation feature that's original. It's called ‘The Lion King,' [and] Tim said, ‘I'd like to get Elton,’” recalled John. “They said, ‘Well, you'll never get him.’ ‘I said to him, ‘Are you joking?’ ... This is fantastic.’”

Rice wrote the lyrics for "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," while John wrote the music.

John continued, “That one phone call from Tim changed my whole career and certain things like that have happened at certain times in my career or one phone call, one decision, one gut feeling has made my life better.”

The "20/20" one-hour special, "Lights, Camera, Romance," will air on Tuesday, Feb. 13, at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

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