Archive for the ‘Olivia Newton-John’ Category

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.)

As I noted in my last post, it’s been a cold, cold few days here in the Delaware Valley, and though the thaw is supposed to begin tomorrow (after an ice storm, no less), it’s already begun in my home thanks to the cover art and track listing for Juliana Hatfield’s next album, Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John.

Based on the two ONJ songs that Diane and I saw Juliana perform at the Ardmore Music Hall in October 2017, I can say with near-certainty that this set will be sweetly sublime – a perfect antidote to the madness that’s gripped the world for the past year-plus.

In concert, the experience was similar to when we saw 10,000 Maniacs, back in 1992, close their set with Lulu’s “To Sir With Love” or, a few years later, Paul Westerberg conclude his Chestnut Cabaret concert with a rollicking cover of the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer.” The endorphin rush was intense, in other words.

The album is due out on April 13th, and is already available for preorder on the American Laundromat website. There are a myriad of options – vinyl, CD, bonus single, etc. My advice: get the “Xanadu” bundle before it sells out.