Wednesday, February 22, 2012

FOCUS ON: OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN



When people think of Olivia Newton-John, they tend to think of a pretty, blonde and wholesome vocalist who sang sunny pop songs. While this is certainly a fairly accurate description, you can also see there was much more to her than simply that. Like Sandy, the character she played in film musical, "Grease", Olivia could musically go from sweet and tender to sexy and rough and make it all feel believable. I don't think she is truly appreciated as an artist due to her very good looks and her ability to make it all seem effortless but Olivia Newton-John is an amazing, gifted talent and one of the best pop singers in history.

She was born in Cambridge, England in 1948, the youngest of three children of Brinley and Irene Newton-John. In 1954, the family moved to Melbourne, Australia as her father got a job teaching at the University of Melbourne.

At the age of fourteen, Olivia joined an all-girl singing group, Sol-Four, made up of her fellow classmates. She soon became a regular on "The Happy Show", a local children's program, where she was billed as "Lovely 'Livvy". Later, she joined another program, "The Go Show" and it was here where Olivia met two people who would become very important to her career; Pat Carroll, who became her singing partner and John Farrar who would later become the writer/producer of much of her music.

Olivia entered a singing competition on the TV show, "Sing, Sing, Sing" and won. The prize was a trip to London to record a single and in 1966, she released, "Till You Say You'll Be Mine" on Decca Records. While in England, Olivia became homesick and wanted to return home but decided to stay when her friend, Pat Carroll arrived to start her own music career. The two decided to form an act called Pat & Olivia and they performed across Europe. After Pat's visa expired, she had to return to Australia but Olivia stayed to pursue work.

In 1970, Olivia joined a group, Toomorrow which was formed by American producer, Don Kirshner. He put together a musical film built around the group and released a soundtrack but the project was not much of a success and Toomorrow disbanded.

The following year, Olivia released her first solo album, "If Not For You". The album was country-flavored and the title track, written and originally performed by Bob Dylan, became a top-ten hit for her in Britain and Australia and reached the top-forty in the U.S. The follow-up, "Banks Of Ohio" also reached the top-ten which lead to her being voted "Best Female Vocalist" two years in a row by Record Mirror Magazine. During this time, she made regular appearances on singer Cliff Richard's hit television show, "It's Cliff Richard".

In the United States, Olivia was not nearly as popular. None of her singles or albums after "If Not For You" made any impact until 1973 when her country-pop song, "Let Me Be There" hit the top-ten; number six on the pop charts and number two on the country. The song would win her a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocalist.

After this success, a 1974 U.S. only album, "If You Love Me, Let Me Know" was assembled using two albums unreleased in America; "Olivia", her second album in 1972 and "Long Live Love" in 1974. The two new songs for the album, the title track and "I Honestly Love You" became top-ten hits on the U.S. pop and country charts. The album sold over two million copies and won her two more Grammys for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Record Of The Year for "I Honestly Love You".

Although Olivia achieved much success in the U.S. but the country music community did not welcome her with open arms due to the fact that they saw her as a foreigner singing their music although she still managed to win the CMA Award in 1974 for Female Vocalist Of The Year.

Another fellow Aussie, Helen Reddy had become a pop superstar in America and was living here, so Olivia decided to leave England and give the U.S. a try. She soon became a top musical act herself with many more chart-toppers including "Have You Ever Been Mellow", "Please Mr. Please" and "Something Better To Do" but by 1977 the hits had slowed down.

In 1978, Olivia was offered a lead role in the film adaption of the hit Broadway musical, "Grease" which would co-star John Travolta. The film became the biggest box-office hit of 1978 with the soundtrack also becoming a major smash, ultimately selling over twenty-eight million copies world-wide. There were five singles released with her duet with Travolta, "You're The One That I Want" reaching number one in eight countries.

With the help of the film, Olivia's image changed from the sweet girl next door to the sexier chick down the block and she decided to change her musical direction as well to less country and focus more on a pop-rock sound. She released "Totally Hot" later in '78 and it was a major success with the single, "A Little More Love" bringing her back to the U.S. top-ten as a solo artist.

She made a follow-up film, "Xanadu" in 1980 which featured the last screen appearance of film musical legend, Gene Kelly. The movie was a disappointment but the soundtrack still managed to become a huge hit. It featured music from Newton-John and the rock band, ELO and it sold over two million copies with five hit singles including Olivia's number one song, "Magic".

The next year, Olivia released the album, "Physical" that would become the most successful studio album of her career, selling over two million copies. The title track became one of her biggest hits, with it staying at the top of the pop charts for ten weeks and it was so popular that the song even managed to land on the r&b chart. The song did have some controversy as "Physical" contained some provocative lyrics (at that time) and was even banned on some radio stations but to counter this, a humorous, work-out themed music video was created.

She re-teamed with John Travolta to make the film, "Two of A Kind" in 1983. This was nowhere near the success of their last cinematic pairing but the soundtrack did very well with the single,"Twist Of Fate" being her last top-ten hit to date, reaching number five. Also that year, Newton-John and Pat Carroll opened a retail store called Koala Blue. It intially sold Australian imports but later became a chain of women's clothing. The company closed in 1992.

Olivia has released several albums over the following years, even recording another country album, "Back With A Heart" in 1998 but none of them reached the heights she acheived during her peak years. Overall, she has recorded twenty-seven studio albums, had five number one singles, a total of fifteen top-ten pop hits and has sold well over one hundred million albums across the globe. Olivia still makes occasional live performances as well as taking on film and television roles including a recent turn on the hit show, "Glee".

Olivia Newton-John married Matt Lattanzi, a dancer she met on the set of the film, "Xanadu" in 1984 and they had a daughter, Chloe in 1986. The couple divorced in 1995. She married John Easterling, the founder of the Amazon Herb Company in 2008.

Here are just a few of my favorites tunes from Ms. Newton-John:

"I Honestly Love You" - Olivia Newton-John (1974)

 "A Little More Love" - Olivia Newton-John (1978)

 "Totally Hot" - Olivia Newton-John (1978)

 "Suddenly" - Olivia Newton-John & Cliff Richard (1980)

 "Xanadu" - Olivia Newton-John & ELO (1980)

This is Olivia performing her first big hit single on an Australian Television program:

 

Finally, here is the infamous music video for "Physical":

 

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