ONEONTA, N.Y. — A song from the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack that played in the background of 1987 and ’88 is seeing a resurgence, with a slight twist.
John DeNicola co-wrote “Hungry Eyes” with Frankie Previte, along with the Oscar and Golden Globe winning “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life.” Eric Carmen’s version of “Hungry Eyes” went to No. 4 on the Billboard Top 100 chart in 1988.
DeNicola, a songwriter from Delaware County, New York, is now seeing a new wave of success, only this time he’s the one performing the songs.
DeNicola’s Omad Records released his first solo album,
“The Why Because,” last year. It includes his revisiting several of his classic songs, including the two from “Dirty Dancing.”
DeNicola’s son, Jake, who is a musician and director, and the entire family pitched in to turn “Hungry Eyes” into a new mantra for the pandemic. Jake directed and John and his wife, Debra, recruited healthcare workers and friends in the community to be filmed wearing masks.
The message of the video was about safety, and more.
“It is showing in a subtle way of how expressive we can be with just seeing our eyes,” DeNicola said.
DeNicola said he never thought about being a frontman and performing his own songs until recently.
“Being able to produce myself is just great, because it is just me to work with. I can do whatever I want,” he said.
The remix of “Hungry Eyes” has caught on, hitting the 2020 Adult Contemporary chart and peaking “inside the top 25 for a few weeks,” he said.
With decades in the music business, DeNicola has played with, produced or pitched songs to a roster of notable musicians. He also had a hand in discovering a band that went on to bigger fame without him, Maroon 5.
DeNicola said his producing partner in the mid-‘90s, Tom Allen, was walking in a Los Angeles neighborhood when he heard a great song coming from a garage.
"Those guys were like 15-, 16-years-old and they already
sounded great,” he said. “So he went up to them and said, ‘What’s the story with you guys?’ They were in a band called Kara’s Flowers. They were doing more straight-ahead rock music at the time.”
DeNicola helped produce an album for the band, though it didn’t get a great reception. A decade later, reformed as Maroon 5, playing a mix of pop, funk and alternative rock, the band had a No. 1 album.
“You could always see the talent in them, Adam (Levine, lead singer) especially,” he said.
DeNicola said he still loves helping other artists. He and Previte are working to raise money for musicians losing gigs during the pandemic.
As for his own success, DeNicola said he was lucky the soundtrack to the summer movie with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey have had so much staying power.
“The life of a songwriter is usually ups and downs,” he said. “We were lucky with the songs remaining in our lexicon enough through the years. So its enabled me to continue in the business and it enabled me to start my own record label and work with artists I believe in.”
￼￼Greg Klein writes for The Daily Star of Oneonta, N.Y.