Archive for the ‘Olivia Newton-John’ Category

Life has been upended and, even once the stay-at-home orders are lifted, likely won’t right itself for years. My hunch is that most folks will continue to congregate via the internet and that, by and large, many retail establishments will fade away faster than they would have, otherwise. In the U.S., after all, department stores and shopping malls have been on the verge of disappearing for a decade-plus. Why deal with the hustle and bustle (and possible COVID-19 exposure) when one can order what one wants and needs online? Malls, especially, are destined to become relics…

…which saddens me. I spent many hours hanging out at a mall and even more working in one.

Anyway, earlier this week, I pulled out my deluxe edition of Wings Over America and re-watched the Wings Over the World TV special for the first time since the massive set’s 2013 release. For those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of Paul McCartney’s oeuvre, the 75-minute documentary – which first aired in the spring of 1979 (March 16th on CBS; April 8th on BBC 2) – chronicles his 1975-76 flight around the globe with his post-Beatles band, Wings. Unlike the 1980 Rockshow concert film, which presents a typical concert, it includes offstage footage alongside live clips, plus features a few archival delights, such as Wings Mach I performing “Lucille” at their first rehearsal in 1972.

I first saw it on that March night, a Friday, when it aired in the time slot reserved for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson – 11:30PM. I was 13, an 8th grader and, on Fridays, often stayed up late to watch Carson and, sometimes, the music-centric Midnight Special, which followed at 1:00AM. 

Life was different then. In my suburban enclave, our main street was home to many mom-and-pop shops, though the only ones I frequented were the record store, bookstore and newsstand. The movie theater, owned by Budco, got my business, too. Twenty minutes away was a relatively small shopping mall – it housed many wonders, including a video arcade where I spent much time and many quarters, and a movie theater with not one, but two screens. 

Back on point: Wings Over the World fueled my Wings fandom, which was already over the top, and the disco-light “Goodnight Tonight” (backed with “Daytime Nighttime Suffering”) – released a few weeks later – further fanned those flames. 

But McCartney and his old band, the Beatles, weren’t the only objects of my musical passion. Olivia Newton-John, as I’ve noted before, was Totally Hot; and, honestly, I liked pretty much everything I heard in those days, and most of what I heard came courtesy of WIFI-92, a Top 40 station in Philadelphia that usually provided the soundtrack when my friends and I played baseball, football and basketball in the street. “Reunited” by Peaches & Herb was played often that spring, as was “Chuck E.’s in Love” by Rickie Lee Jones.

In the wider world, the economy was – as it always was in the ‘70s – stumbling. As this census report summarizing the year notes, “The median money income of households in the United States was $16,530 in 1979, an increase of 10 percent over the 1978 median of $15,060. However, after adjusting for the 11.3-percent increase in prices between 1978 and 1979, the 1979 median was slightly lower than the 1978 median.” (For comparison’s sake, the median household income in 2019 was $63,688.) The NBC Nightly News on May 6th, 1979, features a report on the driving force behind the year’s rising costs: gasoline. (Or, to be precise, a lack thereof. Some states, including California and Pennsylvania, introduced even-odd rationing.) 

If you take the time to watch the Jessica Savitch-anchored broadcast in full, you’ll also see a report on a massive anti-nuclear energy rally in Washington, D.C., that was inspired by the previous month’s Three Mile Island meltdown, plus a profile of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). It’s a good reflection of the year. Another reflection can be found in these films: Manhattan, Love at First Bite, The China Syndrome and Norma Rae.

I didn’t see those films at the time, however. My $5/week allowance only went so far – 45s were a dollar and albums ranged from $4.99 to $7.99; add in the music magazines I bought and… it’s easy to understand why I listened to the radio.

With all that said: April 25th, 1979, was a Wednesday – a school day. The temperature was in the high 50s by the time I reached the bus stop in the morning and rose to 77 by the time I arrived home in the afternoon – perfect weather for outdoor fun. I’m sure we hit the streets to play a game of some kind while WIFI-92 blasted; and that night, after homework, I’m sure I turned on the TV to watch Eight Is Enough and Charlie’s Angels. 

I should add that, back then, a large chunk of music – aka disco – was little more than escapism set to a beat. As many of my entries on the 1970s document, the economy was rarely on a sure footing that decade – inflation and unemployment were part and parcel of the era. My hunch, as this pandemic fades, is that a similar silly fad will sweep the land. People need mindless diversion.

And, based on the charts from from Weekly Top 40, here’s today’s Top 5: There Was a Time… (aka April 25th, 1979):

1) Amii Stewart – “Knock on Wood.” Sad to say, this is the first version of “Knock on Wood” I heard – Eddie Floyd’s classic version would come in a few years. Anyway, this week, Amii’s disco-fied remake jumped from No. 3 to No. 1, a perch it would hold for all of one week. It’s disco, obviously, as disco was all the rage, and may well turn some stomaches as a result – but c’est la vie. It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.   

2) Gloria Gaynor – “I Will Survive.” Holding steady at No. 2 is the stereotypical disco anthem, which was released on October 23, 1978. Within its first two years, according to its Wikipedia page, it sold 14 million copies.  

3) Blondie – “Heart of Glass.” Rising from No. 8 to No. 3 is Blondie’s breakthrough hit, which was on its way to No. 1.  

4) Frank Mills – “Music Box Dancer.” In retrospect, what I loved about WIFI-92 – and other Top 40 stations – is that they pretty much played everything that made the pop charts. The only genre they cared about, in other words, was “hit.” This tune is a great example: Originally recorded in 1974, and used as the b-side to a newer song, it found its way onto the airwaves due to the program director at an Ottawa pop station who heard and liked it. It gained traction and, over the course of several months, landed on the Easy Listening charts in the U.S. before transitioning onto the pop landscape. This week, it clocks in at No. 4, where it’ll hold steady for another week, then lurch to No. 3 and fall fast to No. 15. 

5) The Doobie Brothers – “What a Fool Believes.” Written by Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, the infectious slice of blue-eyed soul lands at No. 5 while on its way to No. 1. Loggins released a version of the song five months before the Doobies on his 1978 Nightwatch album, but his remained an album track.

And two bonuses…

Rising up to No. 6 is this silky-smooth love song by Peaches & Herb, which – as I said above – flashes me back to 1979 with every listen. Here’s some trivia, though, which surprised me when I first learned it a few years ago: There have been seven Peaches through the years, and the one singing here (Linda Greene) is the second.

Debuting this week on the charts (at No. 79): “Deeper Than the Night” by Olivia Newton-John, the second single from her Totally Hot album, which was released in November 1978; it would eventually top out in the charts at No. 11 in early June

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…