Remembering Olivia Newton-John

The sad news came through yesterday that Olivia Newton-John has died, aged just seventy-three. She featured three times on this blog with her three chart-topping singles (three singles that accumulated an impressive 18 weeks at #1!)

As well as these chart-toppers, she scored thirteen Top 20 hits between 1971 and 1982. If you count school disco classic ‘The Grease Megamix’ and a remix of ‘You’re the One That I Want’ (and I definitely do) you can extend that to 15 Top 20 hits over twenty-five years…

For me, personally, as someone who watched my VHS copy of ‘Grease’ at least once a month between 1997 and 1999, one single moment from her career stands out. Red heels. Black lycra. Black leather. Cigarette in hand. ‘SANdy?’… ‘Tell Me About It… Stud.’

From a moral standpoint, Sandy’s transformation at the ending of Grease is dubious at best. But in terms of iconic movie moments few can beat it. (My twelve-year-old heart certainly ‘beat’ it, even if I’d spent the previous two hours of the film wishing I were Rizzo.) ‘Grease’ gave Newton-John her biggest chart success – you can read my posts on ‘You’re the One That I Want’ and ‘Summer Nights’ here – along with her ELO collaboration ‘Xanadu’. ‘Grease’ also gave her a #2 smash with the classic weepy ‘Hopelessy Devoted to You’.

She had plenty of success away from Rydell High, though. Her first Top 10 came with a Bob Dylan cover: ‘If Not for You’ making #7 in 1971. She ploughed a country furrow for a few years – some might say her cover of ‘Country Roads’ is the better-known version – before representing the UK at Eurovision in 1974 with ‘Long Live Love’. She later admitted that she hated both the song, and the ghastly dress she was forced to wear. ‘Rolling Stone’ at the time descibed her as a seventies version of Doris Day.

A few years in the British chart wilderness – while remaining extremely popular in the US and in her adopted homeland Australia – ended with ‘Sam’, a #6 in 1977. Then came ‘Grease’ and all that that entailed. Her biggest non-soundtrack hit in the UK was ‘A Little More Love’ – very disco, very ABBA -which made #4 in early 1979.

Then came ‘Xanadu’ – by all accounts a thoroughly ludicrous film redeemed by its Jeff Lynne helmed soundtrack. The title track gave ONJ her third and final #1, as well as a worldwide hit in ‘Magic’.

The third and final video I’m going to embed is not the all-conquering ‘Physical’ (a ten-week #1 in the US which only got as high as #7 in the UK). We’ve all heard that plenty, I’d imagine. No, it’s the 3rd single from the ‘Xanadu’ soundtrack, and a duet with her buddy Cliff Richard – who had helped promote her to UK audiences in the early seventies as a regular guest on his TV show. Here’s ‘Suddenly’, which made #15 in 1980.

She contined to record and perform well into the 21st Century, despite a cancer diagnosis in 1992. Away from music she was a passionate animal-rights campaigner, as well as funding a cancer research centre in Melbourne.

Dame Olivia Newton-John, 26th September 1948 – 8th August 2022

17 thoughts on “Remembering Olivia Newton-John

  1. Lovely tribute. You would have a heart of stone not to like Livvie. My personal memories?

    I’ve loved Olivia since I first saw her in forgotten sci-fi musical movie Toomorrow when I was 13. It was a terrible film but she shone through it as the singer in a 60’s band captured by aliens. She was always on TV back in those days, big friends of Cliff & The Shadows, some of whom forged her career and songs (and Grease in part), not least a duet with Cliff in the fab Suddenly, and of course lost to Abba in Eurovision in 1974. By then, based in the States she started getting pretty good ballad songs like Have You Never Been Mellow, Sam, Magic, A Little More Love with Grease in between when she went stratospheric. Timeless movie, and she’s every bit as nice as she appeared to be in the film and in interviews, and Hopelessly Devoted To You is her single-most iconic moment for me along with Xanadu. I went to see her on her last tour, and I was very pleasantly surprised her voice was still there despite the cancer battles, and she was as lovely as she ever was, and the concert was unexpectedly as good as I could have hoped for. It’s not been unexpected news, as she had announced the cancer was back and she was trying to enjoy what life she had left, but I was hoping somehow she’d pull through again, someone that nice should live forever.

  2. Red heels. Her shoes were red Candies. I know. When Grease came out, released in June 1978…that fall, I headed into 7th grade. I was just turning 12 (always changed an age with a grade within two weeks) and ALL the girls, including 8th graders, were stumbling to classes or falling down stairs, wearing Sandy’s Candies…including, me. 😆

    I adored her. There were only two women that were on my wall as a teen…Olivia & Lindsay Wagner…both actresses, both singers. Olivia was the better singer but, Lindsay was the better actress. Stunning women.

    I think I have posted here, before, about being in my high school pageant (Feb. 1983). I sang on stage as Olivia’s Terpsichore, complete with a similar pink outfit that my maternal grandmother made for me, based off of the movie and the closer-up picture on the back of the soundtrack album. I sang Suspended In Time. I didn’t win but…wow, what an experience.

    I knew she wasn’t long for this world when round three of cancer showed back up in 2017. It went into her bones. I’m surprised she made it this far. She passed at the exact same age as my paternal grandmother (22 years ago, next month).

    What a loss…😭

  3. A sad week for music…Australia’s two great ladies of song gone within three days. Livvy had this marvellous capacity for reinventing herself several times and making a success of it, and throughout it all, as you say, she always came across as a thoroughly charming person. Even in recent years she seemed to make light of her battle against cancer and looked unbelievable – while still working valiantly to raise awareness of the condition. And let’s not forget Judith Durham, with whom she had a certain amount in common although of very different genres of song – the folk singer who had fought a lung condition ever since childhood, the trained classical pianist who also became a jazz performer after The Seekers split in 1968 (to reform many years later) and survived a brain haemorrhage to resume live performances with them in later life. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but I’m one of those from my generation who still gets goosebumps listening to ‘The Carnival is Over’. Both women will be fondly remembered.

  4. I’m cheating a bit… I’ll go back on vacation after this… lol… Even I liked her. I did like her country stuff a lot because of her genuine voice. After Physical I didn’t listen as much but yea…I mean… sure I liked her…whats not to like? Her voice was awesome and she was stunning to say the least.

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