Posts Tagged ‘Olivia Newton-John’

 

Thirty-eight years ago tomorrow, as I write, the No. 1 song on the Billboard pop charts was “Coming Up” – but not the catchy tune by one-man-band Paul McCartney from his madcap McCartney II endeavor, but the slightly less catchy live version by Paul McCartney & Wings (Mach III), taken from a December 1979 concert in Glasgow on what turned out to be the final Wings flight. 

Columbia Records, his label home, apparently didn’t think the American public would appreciate his sped-up vocals, so – although the live version is clearly the B-side on the 45, where it’s paired with the eccentric “Lunchbox/Odd Sox” – they promoted the Wings rendition as the A.

And lest fans who bought McCartney II be upset that the song they heard on the radio wasn’t on the LP, Columbia included a special one-sided single of the live version. It even came with a helpful “play other side” instruction on the flip side.

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Let me back up, albeit for a moment: I was 14 on this day, soon to be 15; and having a good time – it was summer, after all. No school. That meant late nights and late mornings, hanging with friends, and – yep, you guessed it – listening to plenty of music. In my neck of the woods, that meant tuning in WIFI-92, WMMR, WYSP and WIOQ.

In the wider world, Ronald Reagan was gearing up to accept the Republican presidential nomination in Detroit in a mere 11 days. President Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, was in the midst of stamping out an insurgency within his Democratic Party, as he was being challenged by Ted Kennedy, and wouldn’t secure his second shot at the Oval Office until the following month, at the Democratic National Convention in New York.

The reason for the tepid enthusiasm for Carter: the economy. Unemployment was rising – it crested at 7.8 percent this month, its highest mark since he took office in 1977, and inflation was at obscene levels – 13-plus percent for the month, and 13-plus for the year. There was also the matter of the ongoing Iranian hostage crisis.

The big movies of the day included Fame, The Empire Strikes Back, Urban Cowboy, Bronco Billy, The Blues Brothers, Airplane!, and, released on this very day in 1980, The Blue Lagoon. I don’t remember seeing any of them in the theaters, though I did eventually see all of them on PRISM, the local premium cable channel that also carried the home games of the Philadelphia Flyers.

As far as TV – it was summer, and summer meant reruns.

And when it comes to music – well, that’s what today’s Top 5: July 5, 1980 (via Billboard, which I occasionally bought), is about. Here are a few selected highlights…

1) Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet – “Against the Wind.” Dropping out of the Top 5 to No. 6 is this classic Seger song, which I rate not just with his best, but with the best of all time. It’s the title track to one of my “essential” albums.

2) Olivia Newton-John – “Magic.” In its seventh week, the Xanadu single inches up two spots to No. 14. Here she is lip-syncing to the song on The Midnight Special

3) Carole King – “One Fine Day.” “One Fine Day” is a song with a rich history – written by King and Gerry Goffin, it was first a hit for the Chiffons in 1963, when it reached No. 5 on the pop charts. Seventeen years later, King recorded it for her Pearls: Songs of Goffin & King album, and released it as a single. It reaches No. 16 this week (on its way to No. 12).

4) The Blues Brothers – “Gimme Some Lovin’.” Saturday Night Live’s John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd turned a love for the blues into a side project with legs. They released a hit album in 1978, and a hit movie and hit soundtrack in 1980. This week, the lead single from that soundtrack bounces (like a rubber biscuit) up seven spots to No. 22.

5) Pete Townshend – “Let My Love Open the Door.” Townshend had an unlikely Top 10 hit with this uptempo ditty, the lead single from his classic Empty Glass LP. This week, it’s No. 35 (on its way to No. 9).

And two bonuses…

6) Irene Cara – “Fame.” Cara sounds so much like Donna Summer on this, the joyous title track to the hit movie, that it almost seems unfair to say so. That said, I love the song and performance. 

7) Linda Ronstadt – “Hurt So Bad.” Falling from No. 26 to 80 in its 13th week on the charts is Linda’s spine-tingling rendition of the Little Anthony & the Imperials hit from 1965. (It hails from her 1980 Mad Love album, of course.) 

1978 was a monumental year in my life, so much so that I’ve littered this blog with posts about it. (Click here for those.) For the uninitiated: I was 12 when the year dawned, and 13 when it faded to black; and graduated from listening to the oldies to the era’s new music during those 12 months.

This day was a Saturday, the first of the traditional start of summer, Memorial Day Weekend. Which meant I slept later than usual, watched Saturday morning TV while reading the morning newspaper, and…who knows? We likely visited the grandparents, or great-aunts and -uncles. Temperatures were in the 60s for the day. 

In the wider world: As with most of the decade, life could have been better: The unemployment rate was a notch below 6 percent, and inflation clocked in at 7 percent. Even if you had a job, in other words, it was difficult to get ahead. Beyond those pocketbook issues, at the end of the prior month, the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was discontinued, with the units being integrated into the Army proper. And, though we didn’t know it at the time, the first Unabomber attack took place just two days earlier.

Here’s an entire newscast, complete with commercials, for this day from WJKW in Cleveland:

When it came to popular films and music, America had been gripped by a “Night Fever” for much of the winter and spring thanks to Saturday Night Fever and the Bee Gees. But “Disco Inferno” was slowly subsiding. Among the movies in the theaters this weekend: FM; I Wanna Hold Your Hand; The End; The Buddy Holly Story; and Thank God It’s Friday. And among the songs on the radio…

Yep, you guessed it. Here’s today’s Top 5: May 27, 1978 (via Weekly Top 40).

1) Wings – “With a Little Luck.” The single concludes its two-week run at the top of the charts. I featured the music video for it a few weeks back, so here’s something a tad different: the 1978 UK DJ promo 45. I know some folks hear the song as lightweight, but I hear it as great: A commercial for the London Town album that featured the song spurred me to begin investigating new music, after all.

2) Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams – “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late.” The oeuvres of these artists are blind spots for me, and unlike the other songs in this week’s chart, I have no memory of this specific song, which clocks in at No. 2. According to Wikipedia, Mathis is the third best-selling artist of the 20th century, behind only the Beatles and Frank Sinatra; and Williams, who has a four-octave range, would go on to win a Grammy in 1987.

3) John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John – “You’re the One That I Want.” The week’s No. 3 single is another song that I never grow tired of. Grease wouldn’t open for a few weeks, so it’s success, thus far, was due to its own charms.

4) Andy Gibb – “Shadow Dancing.” To my ears, the No. 4 sounds a lot like Andy’s older brothers, the Bee Gees. But that’s a conclusion I’ve come to after only a few cursory listens.

5) Roberta Flack & Donnie Hathaway – “The Closer I Get to You.” Rounding out the Top 5 is this sweet love song.

And two bonuses…

6) The O’Jays – “Used Ta Be My Girl.” One of the week’s power plays is this propulsive ode about a lost love, which jumps from No. 54 to 44.

7) Steve Martin – “King Tut.” Debuting on the charts is this catchy novelty tune, which still makes me laugh. Here he is on Saturday Night Live performing it…

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.