Last week, we showed The Karate Kid (trailer) to our children for the first time. I loved that movie when I was a boy, and it was fun to see them go through all of the same emotions I did back then as they watched Daniel-san and Mr. Miyagi on their journey.
If you know The Karate Kid, you likely are familiar with its famous tournament montage near the climax of the movie, in which Daniel-san finds his rhythm and successfully works his way through a number of tournament challengers. And if you are of a certain age, you probably already have the iconic song that plays over the montage starting up in your brain: "you're the best...around...nothing's gonna ever keep you down!" It's a great song, and fits perfectly in the film.
But here's the twist (and today's TMFW): it was originally meant for a different fighter.
"You're the Best" was written by Bill Conti, who was a composer for Rocky and who wrote the all-time great theme song "Gonna Fly Now," which was a #1 hit in 1977. Conti - among dozens and dozens of other films - went on to serve as composer for Rocky(s) II, III, and V, and for Rocky Balboa.
It was for Rocky III that Conti originally wrote "You're the Best." That would explain the lyrics "history repeats itself" and "you've reached the final bell," which make no sense for a teenager who is fighting in his first karate tournament but apply perfectly to a prior boxing champion who is famous for his ability to go deep in fights.
As the story goes, Sylvester Stallone did not think it was the right fit, and asked the band Survivor to write him a song instead. That song of course was "Eye of the Tiger," which opens the film beautifully. The song was #1 for six weeks in 1982 and was top-5 in 17 countries. Pretty good choice by Mr. Stallone.
Two years after Rocky III, Conti served as composer for The Karate Kid, and offered "You're The Best" to director John Avildsen. He loved the song, and the rest is history.
BONUS FACT: In 2007, the website popdose.com featured an interview with Joe Esposito, who sang "You're The Best." He seems like a cool dude. In the interview, Esposito claims that he also sang background on Irene Cara's #1 hit "Flashdance (What a Feeling)." (I have no reason to disbelieve this but I say "claims" because it sounds like a chorus of women in the background...)
I never really thought about it before reading that interview, but it's funny to imagine background singers in the studio, sitting quietly for two-and-a-half minutes and nodding along with the tune, then suddenly belting out "I AM...RHYTHM NOW!"
BONUS FACT 1.5: In the interview above, Joe Esposito mentions that his son plays AAA baseball. That made me wonder whether his boy ever made it to the bigs. The good news: he did! He was called up to the Rockies in 2005. The not-as-good news: he only made 3 career starts, and ended with a record of 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA. He did get one hit at the plate, though, and he is now in the books forever as a major leaguer.
BONUS FACT 2: When Sylvester Stallone sent Survivor a cut of the Rocky III opening so that they could understand where their song would go, it was synced with "Another One Bites The Dust" by Queen. Jim Peterik (Survivor's founding member and the writer of "Eye of the Tiger") recounted in an interview: "Frankie [Survivor guitarist] and I are watching this, the punches are being thrown, and we're going, 'Holy crap, this is working like a charm.' We called Stallone and said, 'Why aren't you using that?' He goes, 'Well, we can't get the publishing rights to it.' Frankie and I looked at each other and went, 'Man, this is going to be tough to beat.'"
BONUS FACT 2.5: Through the magic of the internet, here is the Rocky III opening set to "Another One Bites the Dust." It does work pretty nicely, but I am glad that we got "Eye of the Tiger" instead.
BONUS FACT 2.75: So long as we are watching alternate-soundtrack Rocky III clips, here's the training scene from Rocky III with "You're The Best" swapped in. It sounds good. (Here's the original training scene for good measure.)
BONUS FACT 3: If you ever felt like Johnny Lawrence deciding to run headlong into the crane kick to end the tournament in The Karate Kid was kind of a silly strategic decision, you might enjoy this stand-up bit from Gary Gulman about it (relevant part starts at 3:43). His album No Can Defend is funny.
BONUS FACT 4: In the lead-up to filming The Karate Kid, the director John Avildsen rehearsed (and taped) virtually every scene in the movie. Starting in 2010, he put the rehearsal videos on YouTube in 13 parts. If you watch them sequentially, you get a sort of amateur home video version of the movie. Here they are: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13.
BONUS FACT 4.5: Avildsen also has a number of other The Karate Kid videos on his YouTube channel, including audition tapes edited to create a dialogue between Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita and Macchio in early readings with Elisabeth Shue.
BONUS FACT 5: In 2007, the band No More Kings put out a video to their song "Sweep the Leg," which is named after a famous line from The Karate Kid. William Zabka - who played the bad guy Johnny Lawrence - directed it. The video features almost all of the male cast of The Karate Kid (though Pat Morita had died 2 years earlier), and has Dennis "Mr. Belding" Haskins in there, too. Because why not, I guess.