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

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

The Return of Beach Holidays, The Byrds and ‘Dolphin’s Smile’

Well, I don’t know about you, but the month of June has really perked me up. A birthday at the start of the month, being able to meet up with friends again, a big football tournament in progress, Wimbledon back on the telly and blow me down, a little holiday. Yes, for the first time in nearly two years we had a few days away and it was such a tonic. Sadly we picked the week with less than perfect weather, and had our trip been this week it would have been glorious, but despite that minor inconvenience we still had a great time.

Then…

Both myself and Mr WIAA had many caravan holidays as children, usually at one of the great beaches that line the Moray Firth coast. Back in those days the caravans were spartan affairs indeed, complete with tables that converted into beds, tiny little gas stoves for cooking and convoluted dual-purpose cupboard space. But it really didn’t matter, as you spent most of your time outside, on the dunes, at the shoreline, or leaping from one Churchill Barrier to the next (that would be at Findhorn). Our parents didn’t even mind either, as for them it was a lovely break away from work and household chores.

and now!

Fortunately for us, our caravan last week was a much fancier affair with a fully fitted kitchen, an en-suite, comfy sofas and a smart telly. In terms of keeping safe, we had it all to ourselves, and also gave it a bit of an additional clean before taking up residence. All very reassuring for our first trip away since the pesky virus put in an appearance.

I have come back laden with pictures but first I’ll attach a link to the post I wrote in 2016, from the last time we visited the beaches of East Sutherland. It seems the same issue arose this time around as it did back then – we had withdrawal symptoms from the lack of Wi-Fi – but once you give in and accept the situation, it’s a great digital detox.

As we arrived on the 21st June, which this year was the day of the summer solstice here in Scotland, I persuaded Mr WIAA to come out for a walk after the sun went down. The problem with living so far north at this time of year is that it never gets truly dark, as these shots (and my early waking sleep patterns) prove. A happy coincidence was that June’s almost full moon was in the sky that night, as I would have missed the perfectly full version later on in the week due to cloud cover.

One of my favourite things to do on a beach holiday is to head off in search of wild flowers which is what I did on the second day of our little break. For once I used my actual camera instead of a phone, so was mighty impressed with some of the close-up shots taken with a macro lens.

Most of our time however was spent on and around the beach itself, and true to form Mr WIAA can still seek out a crab in less than a minute. Probably comes from having spent so much time on such endeavours as a boy.

Despite both being well into middle age now, in fact having just looked it up I am apparently now only four years away from entering old age (scary thought), we do still like building a sand sculpture when at the beach. The site shop fortunately had a good supply of buckets and spades, so, fully equipped, we embarked on this year’s creation. Much to the amusement of passers by, who told us to ‘play nice’, it only took an hour to build this large dolphin which from the air looks as if it’s leaping out of the ocean – A happy coincidence from having picked a spot just above the tide line. I don’t think it’s just me, but it seems to look concave right at the start of the film and then changes to convex as it pans out. An intriguing optical illusion.

As is our habit we built a sand sculpture, then filmed it from the air


But what the heck, this is supposed to be a music blog, so where is the music? To be fair I think you will excuse me rambling on about my holiday, and for sharing so many pictures, it having been such a bizarre 15 months. We seem to be deriving much more enjoyment from simple pleasures, which is a good thing perhaps. The reset button has been pressed which had it not been for such an awful reason, was probably needed anyway (although the airlines and travel companies will no doubt disagree).

When I did a quick search I found quite few ‘dolphin songs’ but here is one that surprised me. Olivia Newton-John recorded the song Physical in 1981, only three years after portraying the virginal Sandy in the film Grease. What I hadn’t realised was that on the B-side was this song, The Promise (The Dolphin Song). Olivia even puts in an appearance halfway through the video clip, swimming with the dolphins rather than Danny Zuko.

The Promise (The Dolphin Song) by Olivia Newton-John:


But for me the winner is this song, Dolphin’s Smile by the Byrds from their fifth album The Notorious Byrd Brothers. I often mention around here that my favourite year to journey back to, in terms of music, is 1967, and sure enough that was when this album was recorded. I also seem to have a great affinity for that late ‘60s blend of psychedelia, folk rock, baroque pop, and jazz championed by bands like the Byrds who had taken up residence in the Laurel Canyon area of LA. Ironically the making of this album was fraught with tension, resulting in the loss of two members of the band. David Crosby was fired in October 1967 and drummer Michael Clarke left the band midway through recording, returning briefly before finally being dismissed after completion of the album. 

Dolphin’s Smile by the Byrds:


So, ‘What’s It All About?’ – Life does seem to be getting back to a semblance of normality here in the UK but there is still seemingly a lot of confusion over rules and restrictions. Wembley Stadium is full of football supporters, yet fathers still have to walk their daughters down the aisle in a facemask in front of a very limited gathering of guests. I am busy hosting holiday-makers at my place, yet am still fearful about travelling myself.

The Byrds, looking very young indeed

But throughout all the confusion we still have music, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to my music device on holiday last week. I’ve also enjoyed discovering the featured song by the Byrds. It might be next year until we build another sand sculpture, but in the meantime at least we have our little film to remind us of our own dolphin’s smile. (Too much? Yes, I suspected so.)

Until next time…

Dolphin’s Smile Lyrics
(David Crosby/Chris Hillman/Roger McGuinn)

Out at sea for a year
Floating free from all fear

Every day blowin’ spray,
In a dolphin’s smile

Wind-taut line split the sky,
Curlin’crest rollin’ by
Floating free aimlessly,
In a dolphin’s smile

Rainbow’s end everywhere,
Full of light, free as air
Childhood’s dream,
Have you ever seen a dolphin’s smile