Alyson’s Archive #10 – Farewell Olivia Newton-John

I was away from home last week, meeting up with old friends of the same age. When we heard the news that Olivia Newton-John had died, we all felt a great sadness, not particularly because we were big fans but because she was part of our teenage years and not really that much older than us. Poor Olivia had been treated for the illness that finally took her life several times over the last 30 years, so in some ways she got more time than many others with the same diagnosis. She certainly put that time to good use becoming both an advocate for breast cancer research, and an activist for environmental and animal rights causes.

There weren’t many pinups of female music artists in the magazines I bought as a young teenager – they were all full of Donny Osmond, David Cassidy and the Bay City Rollers – but amazingly I found this one of Olivia in my box of teenage memorabilia, a box that’s provided a lot of material for this blog. I can’t be quite sure when that picture was taken but I’m guessing it’s from 1972/73 before she changed her hair to the long layered style that suited her so well. She was a regular throughout all four series of Cliff Richard’s prime time television show and families like mine would always tune in on a Saturday night. It wasn’t edgy entertainment and no boundaries were pushed, but for households who had probably only recently acquired colour sets, it was must-watch telly.

A pinup from FAN magazine

She was the golden girl with wholesome good looks, great hair and a fine voice. In the early ’70s she had hits in the UK with If Not For You, Banks of the Ohio and Take Me Home Country Roads. She was also chosen to represent the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with this very lacklustre song, Long Live Love, which even she herself admitted to not liking. She still came fourth however as back then we tended to do pretty well every year. Changed days (until this year of course). She looks as if she’s wearing her nightie and seems to be overcompensating for the poor song with her enthusiastic arm movements. A perfect example of how the contest was at that time though and nothing like the extravaganza it has now become. (And, as a fan of Eurovision it’s inevitable I would have had this song in my music library!)

Long Live Love by Olivia Newton-John:


Perhaps it was the ignominy of coming fourth in the contest that led to her wholeheartedly try her luck in the US and with the support of fellow Australian Helen Reddy ( who herself died only two years ago) she was soon the golden girl over there too, scoring several No. 1 hits on the Adult Contemporary Chart, one of them being I Honestly Love You. Again nothing edgy there and no boundaries pushed but Olivia was a ‘nice’ girl, who was never going to do anything to shock, ever. Or was she?

There can’t be many of us who have never heard of the 1978 film musical Grease, as it has become a bit of a cultural phenomenon. Set in late 1950s California, it follows the lives of 10 students as they navigate their final year of high school. It took a bit of persuasion, and a screen test, to convince her she could play a teenager, but eventually Olivia was cast as Sandy Olsson, the ‘nice girl’ who fell for ‘bad boy’ Danny Zuko, played by John Travolta. What is it with Olivia and nighties but here she is again dressed in one, singing Hopelessly Devoted to You from the film, a song that earned an Oscar nomination.

Hopelessly Devoted to You by Olivia Newton-John:


Ok, so Olivia is still the nice girl we are used to seeing on screen, dressed in her nightie, singing pleasant songs suited to the Adult Contemporary chart. What we didn’t expect was this, the scene that wrapped up the movie, after which she flies off into the sunset in a car called Greased Lightnin’ with aforementioned bad boy Danny Zuko. The nightie has gone, to be replaced by black skin-tight trousers (that she had to be sewn into every day of shooting), a black leather jacket, teased hair and red lipstick. This was not the Olivia we were used to seeing and she certainly set a lot of teenage boys’ pulses racing. It has been pointed out many times this last week that the plotline perhaps doesn’t stand the test of time and that it couldn’t be made the same way nowadays. They are right of course, but in 1978 I had just turned 18, and for me and my friends it was just a light-hearted movie full of great songs and dance routines that we didn’t take too seriously. For Olivia, You’re the one That I Want, made her a bit of a superstar.

You’re the One That I Want by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John:


After the film Grease, Olivia adopted a slightly raunchier persona, even getting Physical, but just like with her ‘transformation’ in the film, I think we all knew that deep down she was still the same girl who used to appear on Saturday night telly with Cliff Richard. In 1980 they even recorded a duet together, Suddenly, for the film Xanadu. It has ridiculous lyrics (motions and oceans) but it’s a love song and I have always liked it, so a good clip to end with. Olivia was no longer the guest star in Cliff’s universe, the tables had turned and he was now a guest in hers.

Suddenly by Olivia Newton-John and Cliff Richard:


So, yet another of the artists I grew up with has left us. Farewell Olivia, the golden girl who sounds as if she truly was a beautiful person inside and out. She will be missed by all who knew her.


Until next time…

Suddenly Lyrics
(Song by John Farrar)

She walks in and I’m suddenly a hero
I’m taken in my hopes begin to rise
Look at me can’t you tell I’d be so
Thrilled to see the message in your eyes
You make it seem I’m so close to my dream
And then suddenly it’s all there

Suddenly the wheels are in motion
And I, I’m ready to sail any ocean
Suddenly I don’t need the answers
Cos I, I’m ready to take all my chances with you

How can I feel you’re all that matters
I’d rely on anything you say
I’ll take care that no illusions shatter
If you dare to say what you should say
You make it seem I’m so close to my dream
And then suddenly it’s all there

Suddenly the wheels are in motion
And I, I’m ready to sail any ocean
Suddenly I don’t need the answers
Cos I, I’m ready to take all my chances with you

Why do I feel so alive when you’re near
There’s no way any hurt can get thru
Longing to spend every moment of the day with you

Suddenly the wheels are in motion
And I, I’m ready to sail any ocean
Suddenly I don’t need the answers
Cos I, I’m ready to take all my chances with you

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team Bacharach and David - The opening line to that song was "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

4 thoughts on “Alyson’s Archive #10 – Farewell Olivia Newton-John”

  1. Alyson, Your recent posts have celebrated a couple of 1948 births. First, Jackson Browne and now Olivia Newton John. The early days of rock n roll were created by the early 1940’s guys and gals. It was those born in the later years of that decade, such as Browne and ONJ, that influenced the music in the late 60s and 70s.
    ONJ was a great talent, a beautiful woman and from all reports a nice person.
    My favourite is the Jeff Barry, Peter Allen composition “I Honestly Love You”. Is there a better love song from that era?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are right of course and many of those born in the early ’40s are unbelievably still going strong – two of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones (now sadly minus Charlie). Who would have thought?

      As you say it was the next wave that created the music of the late 60s and 70s, many of them, like Jackson, emerging from Laurel Canyon. Olivia had a different journey – born in the UK, grew up in Australia, back to the UK and mainstream television, then the move to America where she became a bit of a superstar and she became lost to us. From all accounts she truly was a beautiful person who did an awful lot of good over the later years of her life.

      Thanks for dropping by with your thoughts Damian.

      Like

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