Archive for the ‘Olivia Newton-John’ Category

There was much going on in the world on this late summer’s day, as the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer shows. The biggest news had global implications: Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat had agreed to a peace deal three days earlier after an intense 12-day negotiation at Camp David overseen by President Jimmy Carter. That, then, led the two one-time adversaries to Capitol Hill the previous days, where they met with senators and congressmen to discuss the deal; and, on this day, found Begin heading to New York to talk with the leaders of American Jewish organizations and Sadat to the Middle East to meet with other regional leaders.

Economically speaking, fear was in the air. The wage-killer known as inflation averaged 7.8 percent for the year, but was on an upwards trajectory, having started the year at 6.8. In an attempt to stop its rise, the Fed upped its prime lending rate to 8.5 percent on the 19th – not that it did much good. Unemployment, too, was rising.

On the local front: As the tag above the masthead shows, the real-life Rocky Balboa known as Vince Papale had just re-signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. After two years with the team, he’d been cut just prior to the 1978-79 season, but an injury to wideout Wally Henry found him back at Veterans Stadium.

According to the Weather Underground, it was a fall-like day with a high of 75 and no precipitation; the weather section in this day’s Inquirer, however, predicts a high of 70 and drizzle. Whatever it was, it didn’t much matter. School was in session.

As newly minted 8th grader, that meant I took a school bus to the second of the Hatboro-Horsham School District’s middle schools, Keith Valley, which has since been renamed and turned into an elementary school. The building, back then, was laid out in an open-classroom format – a forerunner of the much-dreaded open workspace (so those of us of a certain age have been cursed by “open” environments twice in our lives).

For those not in the know: the “classrooms” were sectioned-off areas of large, echo-laden rooms with modular dividers acting as walls. If you sat at or near the back of the class, as I did in a few, odds were good you’d hear the teacher in back of you droning on and not the teacher in front of you. 

After school, depending on the weather, I either high-tailed it for home and stayed, or high-tailed it for home to dump my stuff before meeting up with friends who lived up the street. At 8pm, though, I faced a major decision: Tuning into Dick Clark’s brand-new Live Wednesday on NBC or Eight Is Enough on ABC, which was having its Season 3 premiere.

In retrospect, I made the wrong decision. Instead of tuning in for Diana Ross, I stuck with the tried-and-true Braden clan. If I had tuned in, however, I would have been bowled over by Diana Ross, who delivered a knockout performance of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” which was first recorded in 1967 by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell; then by the Supremes and Temptations in 1968; and, in 1970, by Diana on her own.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: September 20, 1978 (via Weekly Top 40; given that this was a Wednesday, I’m rounding up to the 23rd).

1) A Taste of Honey – “Boogie Oogie Oogie.” Infamous. That’s the only word that can apply to this disco act. Thanks to this million-seller, which this week is No. 1 for the third week in a row, they nabbed the Grammy for Best New Artist, beating out the Cars, Elvis Costello, Chris Rea and Toto. They followed it up with a string of non-hits before striking gold again in 1981 with the No. 3 hit “Sukiyaki.”

2) Exile – “Kiss You All Over.” Mike Chapman, who also worked with such stalwarts as Suzi Quatro, Blondie and the Knack, co-write this catchy tune, which rises from No. 5 to No. 2. At this juncture, the band was rock-oriented, but they’d eventually transition into country.

3) Olivia Newton-John – “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” What needs to be said about this song? It jumps a notch from No. 4 to No. 3, that’s what.  

4) The Commodores – “Three Times a Lady.” Falling from No. 2 to 4 is his ballad, which topped the charts for two weeks in August. Lionel Richie envisioned Frank Sinatra singing it, not the Commodores, and was inspired to write it based on a toast his dad gave his mom: “She’s a great lady, she’s a great mother, and she’s a great friend.”

5) Andy Gibb – “An Everlasting Love.” Rising into the Top 5 is this disco-light number, which was written by Andy’s brother Barry.

And a few bonuses…

6) Heart – “Straight On.” Debuting on the charts at No. 79 is this, the first single from Heart’s Dog & Butterfly album. Although it would only rise to No. 15 on the singles chart, it helped fuel the album’s double-platinum success.

7) Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “Listen to Her Heart.” The second single from Petty’s second album enters the charts at 88, and would rise rise to No. 59. No matter – it’s a classic. Here he and his band are on The Midnight Special, from June ’78, performing it after “American Girl.”

An epiphany came to me Wednesday night, right around 6:20pm, while stuck in traffic on the turnpike. By that point in the crawl home, Juliana Hatfield’s rendition of Olivia Newton-John’s “Magic” – which topped the charts in August 1980, not long after I turned 15 – popped from the car’s speakers at near-max volume. When Olivia sings it, she embodies the muse Terpsichore (aka Kira, the character she played in the movie Xanadu). Her vocal is seductive and coy, basically honey marmalade for the soul. When Juliana sings it, however, the alluring enticement turns into an earnest vow. It’s still sweet, but in a different way.

A similar tonal trade occurs on the album’s other 12 tracks, as well as on the two tunes found on a separate 45 (that, hopefully, will be made available to the masses via digital download). Aside from a sped-up “Dancin’ ‘Round and ‘Round,” the arrangements hew close to the originals, though the pop and pop-country overtones are replaced with the punky pop-rock embellishments that have long accented Juliana’s work. Electric guitars are often at the fore – even on the opener, “I Honestly Love You,” which is raw and real.

The epiphany: These songs are as much a reflection of Juliana’s soul as her own compositions. It’s “This Lonely Love” brought into the open for all to see and share.

“Suspended in Time,” also from Xanadu, is another highlight. Sonically speaking, it echoes Juliana’s polished in exile deo or How to Walk Away albums, and features equally lush vocals. “Have You Never Been Mellow” is even more evocative on album than it was when Diane and I saw her perform it last October; like the other songs here, it captures the spirit of the original while adding a touch of Juliana’s heart. It’s essentially about slowing down and finding peace from within – an essential message for this, or any, time.

The four Totally Hot covers are great. That was the album, of course, where Liv transitioned to a crunchier pop-rock sound, and scored top 10 hits with “A Little More Love” and “Deeper Than the Night.” A video for the former has been out for some time now…

…and hopefully a video for the latter, which is the A side of the bonus single, is on its way. The flip side, “Heart Attack,” is absolutely killer, I should mention. So, too, are the two Physical-era tracks, which date from Liv’s more “adult” era in the early ‘80s. Here, “Physical” lives up to its title – it’s a muscular workout.

Part of the set’s charm is that Juliana has an obvious affection for the material. In some respects, I think of the ONJ album as an extension of “Wonder Why” (from last year’s Pussycat), in which she sought refuge from the madness of the present via the memories of her childhood. These songs, for her and us, are a similar escape into the past. They conjure another time and place, and also pay homage to a singer (and sometime songwriter) who, in that long-ago era, created a safe room where many of us dwelled on occasion.

Anyway, Diane tells me that most things I review on this blog are, in my word, “wondrous.” She’s not being critical, just observant. It’s true: I tend to spotlight (old and new) artists, albums, songs and concerts that speak to and/or for me. And this set does just that.

The album has a release date of April 13th, but those of us who pre-ordered received our copies early. If you haven’t already, head over to the American Laundromat site and order it and the 7-inch single, which features cool original artwork by Paul Westerberg. (And if you don’t have a turntable, don’t fret: It comes with a download card, so you still get the music.)

The track list:

I’ve never been good about multitasking musical passions. I’m either all-in, or searching for the next album to be all-in with. For example, from the moment NPR began streaming Courtney Marie Andrews’ May Your Kindness Remainalbum to now, some two weeks and change later, I’ve listened pretty much only to it. And why wouldn’t I? The 10 songs hit the trifecta, connecting with the heart, soul and intellect.

Oh, last Sunday, while out and about doing errands, I gave Diane (who loves the album, but isn’t as obsessive as me) a break from the madness; we listened to XPN for a spell. And I’ve cranked up a few YouTube videos, too – including this one from CMA’s Boston show on March 26th.

Yes! It’s the Stax-like song whose title escaped both Diane and I by the time we’d made it to the car after Courtney Marie’s Philly show last Saturday. I actually hear a bit of Aretha’s “Baby I Love You” in there now, which I didn’t hear last week in the frenzy of the live performance. It’s phenomenal.

But, by and large, it’s been May Your Kindness Remain (plus the “Near You” single) that I’ve been listening to, and listening to again and again. The album just keeps getting better, and my favorite songs from it keep shifting. First it was the title track and “Kindness of Strangers,” then “Rough Around the Edges” and “Took You Up.” Now? It’s “Two Cold Nights in Buffalo.”

This morning, however, I made a conscious effort to seek out something new: Dillon Warnek’s three-song EP, Demos 2018. (Dillon, for those unaware, is the guitarist playing those killer licks in “Two Cold Nights” above.) Demos 2018 is pure Dillon – and shouldn’t be ignored. The songs conjure a young Steve Earle or Townes Van Zandt, yet possess his own sense and style. Listen to the EP below, then head over to his Bandcamp page and buy it.

Then, this afternoon, my Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-JohnXanadu” bundle (along with the Hey Babe vinyl reissue) arrived on my doorstep…

I’ve only heard the album straight through once, thus far, but… I love it. I honestly love it. I should add that I don’t think it will matter whether one came of age during ONJ’s hey day, as I did, and thus has a soft spot in the heart for the songs, only knows ONJ from Grease, or – heaven forbid – is a lifelong Juliana fan who thinks the project is a misstep. (ONJ has never had much critical cachet, after all.) The songs sound like prime Juliana, whose “prime” period – as last year’s Pussycat attests – has never ended.

I’ll have more to say about it in the weeks to come, guaranteed.

Right now, however, I have to flip the switch yet again, as we’re seeing the singer-songwriter Lucy Rose tomorrow night. We saw her open for Paul Weller last October, and she delivered a solid set despite a rather rambunctious crowd. Before an audience of her fans, I suspect she’ll be as spellbinding as her last album, Something’s Changing. Here she is at the Paste studios this past week…

There were good and bad times in the 1970s, and plenty of in-betweens, but mostly – for those of us shielded from the bad and in-betweens – just good. We browsed the Internet of its day, the newspaper, each morning while eating breakfast, always skipping the front section for the sports and entertainment pages, and left for school not long thereafter. We hung out with friends in the holding pen that was the school cafeteria, trading jokes, gossip and sometimes homework, and muddled our way through the day until we were free again.

In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, as I wrote in this remembrance of Donna Summer, I often found myself with friends playing variations of football or baseball in the street up from my house, or basketball in a driveway or at the park. A radio tuned to a Top 40 station provided the soundtrack to most of those games. It was rare, in that timespan, for an Olivia Newton-John song not to be among the featured tracks. Check out these stats: From 1978 and “You’re the One That I Want,” the hit Grease duet with John Travolta, through 1983 and “Twist of Fate” (from her Two of a Kind movie reunion with the former Danny Zuko), she scored 13 Top 20 hits, including three No. 1s.

She was hot, in other words. Totally hot.

Anyway, my introduction to her came in 1978 via Grease, about a month before I turned 13. I bought the “You’re the One That i Want” single at K-Mart, traded a friend some not-so-valuable baseball cards for the Grease soundtrack late that summer, and received Totally Hot that Christmas. Somewhere in there, though it may have been the next year, I also picked up the 45 of “I Honestly Love You” and her Greatest Hits album. Both received much play on my Realistic stereo. The soundtrack to Xanadu did, too – how could it not? I even saw the movie in the theater, though only once – unlike the multiple times I saw Grease.

It’s remarkable just how mood-enhancing her music remains. I can’t listen to it and not be placed, almost instantly, into a good mood.

Of course, ONJ is not considered “cool” by some folks, who invariably classify her music as “saccharine” or confine it to the “guilty pleasure” territory. (Not me, mind you. I’ve always subscribed to the John Lennon philosophy of “whatever gets you through the night/it’s alright, it’s alright.”) Which is why, when devouring Juliana Hatfield’s memoir When I Grow Up in 2008, I was pleasantly surprised to see Juliana reference Olivia as someone she listened to as a kid, alongside other such “sweet-sounding” and “nicely groomed” singers as Marie Osmond, Joni Mitchell and Aimee Mann (circa ’Til Tuesday). I was surprised again, in 2012, when she didn’t dismiss my question/suggestion that she cover ONJ for her then-current covers project. She’d considered it, she said, but didn’t think she could pull it off. (See the full exchange here.)

Six years later and it’s obvious that she now believes she can. The track list for the Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John album reads as a near-perfect one-CD best-of, in fact. (The only change I would make: swapping out “Suspended in Time” for “Come on Over.” But I’m sure other fans would make other changes. You can’t please all of us all the time, you know?) In the announcement, Juliana notes that “I have never not loved Olivia Newton-John. Her music has brought me so much pure joy throughout my life. I loved her when I was a child and I love her still. Her voice and her positive energy and her melodies have stood the test of time and they give me as much pleasure now as they ever did. Listening to her is an escape into a beautiful place. She has inspired me so much personally and I just wanted to give something back; to share some of these tremendous songs, reinterpreted, with love, by me.” (If you haven’t already, head over to the American Laundromat site and pre-order her album. It’s gonna be great.)

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Songs for Juliana Hatfield Sings ONJ, Part Deux (aka, Songs for an Imaginary Sequel).

1) “Every Face Tells a Story.” The second single from Olivia’s 1976 Don’t Stop Believing album hit No. 55 on the pop charts, No. 21 on the country charts, and No. 6 on the adult contemporary charts.

2) “Come on Over.” I tipped my hand above, I’m sure. Written and recorded by the Bee Gees for their 1975 Main Course album, Olivia’s cover was released as a single in 1976. It rose to No. 23 on the pop charts, No. 5 on the country charts, and No. 1 on the adult contemporary charts.

3) “Making a Good Thing Better.” The title tune to Olivia’s 1977 Making a Good Thing Better LP didn’t do so well, chart-wise – No. 87 on the pop charts, No. 20 on the adult contemporary charts – but is wonderful, nonetheless. (That said, in some ways – especially the opening – it’s almost stereotypically adult contemporary.)

4) “Landslide.” The second single from Physical failed to make the Top 40, let alone the Top 10 – a true surprise given that it’s as catchy as all get out.

5) “The Promise (Dolphin Song).” It’s sometimes assumed that Olivia was just a singer. In truth, she’s written a fair number of songs – including this sweet one from her Physical album. (It was also the b-side on the “Physical” 45.)