Australian pop singer and actress Olivia Newton-John passed away on Monday, August 8. She left behind a decades-long career unlike any other. From her early country music days to her famous gigs in Grease and Xanadu to her edgy 80s pop bops, Newton-John fully understood the art of reinventing herself.
Newton-John was known for her elegance, passion, activism, and trademark breathy vocals. She was a four-time Grammy Award winner whose music career included five No. 1 hits and another ten top-ten hits on the Billboard Hot 100. She also had two Billboard 200 number one albums: If You Love Me, Let Me Know (1974) and Have You Never Been Mellow (1975). With over 100 million records sold globally, Newton-John is one of the best-selling recording artists from the second half of the 20th century.
In honor of Newton-John's astounding life and legacy, we've created a top 10 list of our favorite Olivia hits. We hope some of your faves made the cut!
The movie Xanadu was a total box office flop when it premiered in 1980, but the soundtrack managed to become a worldwide success and received positive reviews from music critics, earning double platinum certifications in the United States and Canada. It was even the fifth most popular U.S. soundtrack of 1981.
In this title track – which reached #1 in the United States, U.K., Netherlands, and Italy – Newton-John sings about the magical world of Xanadu, which is a nightclub in the film. The track is romantic and gentle, but also grand and full of 70s-esque friskiness. You'll skate through this track with delight when listening to it!
9. "Have You Never Been Mellow"
Have You Never Been Mellow marked Newton-John's soft country rock phase. The title track of her fifth album, "Have You Never Been Mellow" is all about Olivia Newton-John trying to tell a lover to relax. She never means to offend her special someone and doesn't criticize them harshly. She even mentions that she used to be in a hurry like the the person is now. Newton-John comes across as a sweetheart as she asks her lover to mellow out, and some catchy acoustic guitar, bass, keys, violin, and flute sounds accompany her pleas.
"Have You Never Been Mellow" was a big commercial success for Newton-John. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary chart in March of 1975, also reaching #3 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart. Outside the U.S., it topped the Canadian charts and peaked at #10 in Australia. The song was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
8. "Please Mr. Please"
Another track off Have You Never Been Mellow, this tune sees Olivia sitting in a bar, hoping a stranger won't play a particular song off a jukebox for fear it will bring back memories of an ex-lover. "Please, mister, please, don't play B-17 / It was our song, it was his song but it's over" she sings during the track's chorus.
We love this song for its melancholy tone, narrative structure, and Olivia's shimmering vocals. The chorus is sweeping and memorable. Have You Never Been Mellow was the album that showed Olivia Newton-John had finally found her sound. "Please Mr. Please" proved she had mastered the soft country rock tone, and was ready to spread her wings into more musical territory.
7. "A Little More Love"
Late 70s and 1980s Olivia Newton-John was such a vibe. We love her earlier works, but we actually prefer her later discography. There's a maturity and grittiness to it that you just can't stop replaying. Our first late 70s Olivia favorite is "A Little More Love," which appeared on her post-Grease album Totally Hot. You know what else is totally hot? The rockin' guitar riffs on this track.
The steamy instrumental bits and Olivia's charming vocals are the perfect mix of sweet and sour on "A Little More Love." In the song, Olivia knows she has no self control over her man, and gives a "little more love" to him because she knows it gets her nowhere to tell him 'no.' But she's not powerless – she wants more love from her suitor. Of all the songs on Totally Hot, "A Little More Love" may just be the most sweltering.
6. "Twist of Fate"
A pumping bop that recently made an appearance during Season 2 of Netflix's Stranger Things, "Twist of Fate" is Newton-John's most action-packed and electrifying 80s tune. We think it deserves more credit than it's been given, which is why we're placing it near the middle of our list. Olivia's vocals have never been more stirring than on this track.
"Twist of Fate" is all about Newton-John desperately trying to get back together with a separated lover. It was Olivia’s last top 10 hit, reaching #5 in early 1984. It comes from the soundtrack of the film Two Of A Kind – a failed attempt to recreate the success Olivia Newton-John had in the 1970s when she was paired up with John Travolta in Grease. Maybe that movie was a dud, but in a strange twist of fate, this song has managed to prevail on as a hit.
5. "Summer Nights" (with John Travolta)
And now we get to Olivia's Grease tunes! Is it possible to sing "Summer Nights" without a huge goofy smile on your face? We don't think so. This is one of those songs that's perfect during a group karaoke session or while you're partying with some hardcore musical theatre kids.
"Summer Nights" was written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. The song reached #5 on the Billboard Top 100. In the U.K., it spent seven weeks at #1. In this show-stopping number, Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and Sandy Olsen (Olivia Newton-John) discuss their special summer fling to a chorus of fascinated friends.
Danny brags about Sandy’s looks and the physical aspects of their relationship while Sandy explains the deep feelings she has. Additionally, Danny tries to impress his pals by telling them things that didn’t exactly happen in his summer with Sandy. (Lying about making out under the dock? Really Danny?) While you listen to this song, you just want all the singers to keep telling you more, telling you more!
The other song from Xanadu that managed to hit #1 in the United States and Canada. But unlike Xanadu's title track, "Magic" also reached the top 40 in several countries overseas. The song was certified Gold and Billboard ranked it the third most popular single in 1980. Even John Lennon told Newsweek he enjoyed the song shortly before his untimely death.
"Magic" is one of those soundtrack tunes you forget is actually part of a soundtrack because Olivia Newton-John does such a great job on it, it's associated with her first. It's not Xanadu's song: it's Olivia Newton-John's. "Magic's" music production is a unique blend of creepy, mystical, beautiful, and mysterious. We truly believe only Newton-John could pull that tone off. With how much this song played on the radio during the 80s, you have to believe this song is magic, and nothing could stand in its way: not even the fact that Xanadu was a flop!
3. "You're the One That I Want" (with John Travolta)
"Tell me about it, stud." Oof, does this song slap – even in 2022! Grease's climax saw Olivia's Sandy drop her wholesome girl-next-door image to become an honorary leather and spandex-clad T-bird, much to the surprise and delight of John Travolta's Danny. While the story reason for Sandy's makeover may be a bit dodgy by today's standards, her "electrifying" transformation really packs a punch. Not only is her look different, but so is her attitude and vocal power on the track!
"You're the One That I Want" is perhaps the most iconic and fun song from Grease, which is why it easily became one of the best-selling singles of all time, having sold over 6 million copies among the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and France alone. It also reached #1 on many charts.
2. "Hopelessly Devoted to You"
If this were a top 10 list of Grease songs, "You're the One That I Want" would rank #1. But since this list is all about Olivia Newton-John's talent, we're ranking her swoony ballad "Hopelessly Devoted to You" ahead of the climactic track.
In this number, Sandy sings of her feelings for Danny and how she’s hopelessly waiting for him to notice her. It's big, it's dramatic, it's dreamy, and it's a powerhouse track only someone with vocal chops like Olivia Newton-John can handle. The track also has some country-pop sound influence, making Olivia's voice the perfect choice to tell the tale of Sandy's devotion to Danny.
Halfway through filming Grease, Olivia Newton-John's contractually-entitled solo song had yet to be written. John Farrar, her personal producer, quickly penned the song and submitted it to the film's production team. Although they were reluctant, the track was approved, and "Hopelessly Devoted to You" miraculously became one of the film's best-loved songs.
With the good girl image Olivia Newton-John maintained for several years, it's hard to believe she actually released a song that was banned by several radio stations. But in 1981, she did just that, dropping the classic 80s dance hit "Physical" to the world.
“Physical” was originally written with a male vocalist in mind, and the songwriters envisioned someone like Rod Stewart. They first offered the song to Tina Turner, who at the time had no solo career hits yet. Turner declined the offer, recommending Olivia Newton-John instead.
Newton-John accepted the offer, later explaining to People Magazine, “I just wasn’t in the mood for tender ballads. I wanted peppy stuff because that’s how I’m feeling.” To mask the overtly sexual nature of the lyrics, it was given an early 80s fitness craze theme. However, many DJs still considered it too controversial due to its suggestive lyrics, and in some cases, the track was completely banned from radio.
"I was banned for ‘Physical’ – can you imagine? – I can actually say I was banned! That song is a lullaby compared to what’s on the radio today!" Newton-John told OutInPerth in 2021. Fortunately, the song's controversy only helped it grow. "Physical" became a massive hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1981 and staying there for 10 straight weeks.
“Physical” was certified Gold in less than two months, then Platinum a month later. Billboard declared it the biggest song of 1982, and later ranked it the biggest song of the entire decade, and the song topped charts all over the world. And "Physical's" impact on music doesn't stop there. The song inspired Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia bop "Physical," and one could even argue the fitness craze theme has worked its way into songs like Kanye West's "The New Workout Plan" and Lizzo's "Fitness." No matter what comes next, Olivia Newton-John did the hit sexy exercise song first! After the workout of her action-packed career, we hope she rests in peace.
Check out our selection of free stations streaming Olivia Newton-John music at Live365.com.
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