From Xanadu to Singin’ In The Rain, in Two Steps (of a Roller Skate)

When someone from the world of music leaves us, as Olivia Newton-John did a couple of weeks ago, many of us revisit their back catalogue and also end up watching footage of them we might not have viewed in decades, indeed, if ever.

Last weekend I decided it was high time I watched the film Xanadu, as it’s been mentioned many times since her death, yet it’s something I’ve never seen. The soundtrack album, packed full of songs by both Oliva and the band ELO, was a massive success all over the world (pun intended) and of course I know many of them well. The film however was still a mystery to me. It didn’t do well when it came out in 1980 which is why I probably didn’t see it back then, but having just watched it twice over the last two days (for research purposes of course), I’ve found it a total delight.


I can see why it was a bit of a flop when it came out as it didn’t neatly fit into any particular genre, and audiences going to see Olivia reprise her role as Sandy in the film Grease would have been sorely disappointed. But if you’re fairly open-minded when it comes to your film entertainment, and can wave reality goodbye as you start to watch, Xanadu has a bit of everything. In fact it’s totally bonkers in places, but all the better for it. Animated scenes, a bit of Old Hollywood glamour, lots of roller-skating, girls dressed as Disney princesses, dancers straight out of Studio 54, Mary Poppins-inspired rooftop scenes, big bands, rock bands, country and western bands, leg warmers, tuxedos, circus performers, Greek mythology, the Ready Brek special effect and girls turning into shooting stars. I could go on but you probably get the gist. The love story was the least believable aspect of the whole film, as the male lead was a bit angry and petulant most of the time whereas Olivia’s character Kira was sweetness personified, but hey, this was a film best suited to children under 12 I think, so we couldn’t have had too much raunchiness.

The songs were what it was all about though, and the whole film built up to this final musical scene when Olivia Newton-John breaks free from her ‘daughter of Zeus’ character, and sings the title song, Xanadu. As I said last time in my tribute post to her, she truly was the golden girl at that time and never more so than in this scene – literally everything about her is golden, her skin, her hair and her clothes. The song was written by Jeff Lynne of ELO and it reached the No. 1 spot on the UK Singles Chart in 1980, when the film came out.

And, Xanadu by ELO:


But for me, the most thrilling aspect of the whole film was that Gene Kelly had a main role. He played Danny McGuire, a former big band orchestra leader turned construction mogul, who together with Kira’s love interest Sonny Malone, builds a new night club in a beautiful old art deco building where aforementioned barminess takes place. There’s a big band but also a rock band, the colours are neon bright, and in the opening few seconds of the Xanadu scene, Gene leads out the dancers on roller-skates.

Gene on his roller-skates

Growing up, I was a massive fan of Gene Kelly, and I loved watching all those great 1940s and 50s musicals he starred in. Even at age 68 – which he would have been at the time of filming – he still cut a dash, and still had that dazzling smile and twinkle in his eye that catches your breath. I was yet again smitten, as I used to be as a teenager watching him in films like An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain. Gene was very nifty on his roller-skates in Xanadu, but of course he should have been, as he was probably the first person to choreograph an entire tap dance routine whilst wearing them. Here is a clip from the film It’s Always Fair Weather from 25 years earlier (the really impressive bit starts at 2:08), but there is no doubt Gene ‘still had it’ in 1980.


Of course I know the film Xanadu won’t be for everyone, but I think I now get why all those male music bloggers around a decade younger than myself have been so upset by the death of Olivia Newton-John. I think they were probably just the right demographic for her at the peak of her popularity.

Personally, it’s yet another mortality reality check. Although Olivia was around a decade older than me when she died, she always played someone (very successfully) around my own age. When I was 18, she played the 18-year-old Sandy Olsson in Grease, and I’m sure Kira in Xanadu would have been aged around 20 in 1980, which I also would have been. Since starting this blog, we’ve lost an awful lot of the artists of my youth – it’s a bit of a sobering thought.

But I don’t want to end on a morose note. Gene Kelly lived a long life and has gone down in history as having been one of Hollywood’s greatest stars. An actor, dancer, singer, filmmaker, and choreographer – he could do it all, with bells on. I will end with that most famous of scenes from one of the best musicals ever made. I don’t have an audio clip of Singin’ in the Rain sung by Gene but I do have one by someone else. Full marks if anyone can tell me who it is?

Singin’ in the Rain by Matt Monro:


Until next time… RIP Olivia, RIP Gene.

Singin’ In The Rain Lyrics
(Song by Arthur Freed/Nacio Herb Brown)

I’m singing in the rain
Just singing in the rain
What a glorious feeling
I’m happy again
I’m laughing the clouds
So dark up above
The sun’s in my heart
And I’m ready for love

Let the stormy clouds chase
Everyone from the place
Come on with the rain
I have a smile on my face
I walk down the lane
With a happy refrain
And I’m singing
Just singing in the rain

I’m singing in the rain
Just singing in the rain
What a glorious feeling
I’m so happy again
I’m laughing the clouds
So dark up above
The sun’s in my heart
And I’m ready for love

Let the stormy clouds chase
Everyone from the place
Come on with the rain
I have a smile on my face
I walk down the lane
With a happy refrain
And I’m singing
Just singing in the rain

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.

8 thoughts on “From Xanadu to Singin’ In The Rain, in Two Steps (of a Roller Skate)”

    1. He was indeed and I really enjoyed watching the older Gene cut a dash as he always used to.

      As for the film, you probably mean this one, On The Town where Gene, Frank and another have 24 hours leave in New York and they mean to make the most of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Well done, Lynchie. I sat and listened to that in great detail and while I recognised the voice, I couldn’t pinpoint it. Sounded a little Neil Diamondy in places, but definitely not in others.

    Xanadu is one of those films I think I saw a long time ago, but I’m starting to doubt myself. A revisit is definitely needed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Matt has appeared around here a few times I’ve realised, his Bond Theme, Born Free and On Days Like This. Love his voice.

      Doesn’t sound as if many people went to see the film but loads bought the soundtrack album. I ended up watching it twice, as although it was primarily a vehicle for the songs, it was just so packed full of weird stuff I had to remind myself in order to write about it.

      I seem to be stuck in the early 80s at the moment with my blogging. Think it’s time to move on now.

      Like

  2. I’ve never seen Xanadu, but you’ve inspired me to give it a go when I get the chance!

    The first time I saw Olivia Newton-John was on It’s Cliff Richard, and although I think she often appeared in the studio, the show I particularly remember is when she appeared on video, driving along in an open-top car singing If Not For You. At around that time, my class at school had to write an essay on What I Will Be Doing In Ten Years’ Time. I wrote that I planned to have my own TV show, in which I would sing on my own and with my guest stars, and I would also have a sports car. Sadly, I didn’t achieve either the TV show or the car by the age of 21 – or afterwards!

    I saw Grease in my first term at university, and I loved it – but I had the strange sensation that I had leapfrogged over Olivia. When I was 11, she was the cool young woman I wanted to be when I grew up, and now I was a university student, and she was playing a schoolgirl!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As Xanadu was mentioned so many times after the death of Olivia, I really felt I needed to watch it. BUT be warned, it is a kind of jukebox musical with a very flimsy plot, and as I said above, being a tad Disney-esque it is possibly best suited to the under-12s. It was lovely to see Gene in action again though and his roller-skating was par excellence.

      Because we are exactly the same age your memories of Olivia are just the same as mine. First on the Cliff Richard shows where she was this very pretty and accomplished singer (with that new radical feather cut hairstyle), then in films like Grease. I saw Grease the week before I went to University when I went on holiday to Edinburgh with my best friend. Once I moved into Halls of Residence I went along to the television room every Thursday at 7.30pm to watch ToTP and of course for those first few weeks of student life, Summer Nights was at the No. 1 spot in the charts. Always associate the film and song with that time in my life.

      That’s a good story about your essay when you were 11. So true though, when we were young teenagers she was the fashionable young woman but then we caught up with her as she ended up playing someone our own age in 1978. Maybe why it was quite distressing to hear she had died, as ever since I’ve always thought of her as the same age as myself and she certainly didn’t look 73 when she passed. A very beautiful woman right up until the end.

      Thanks for dropping by.

      Like

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