Thursday, December 04, 2008

70's Crush - Olivia Newton-John

It's 70's month around here, and what better way to start than with the first crush of every 1970's man-child? I'm talking about the woman who blazed the trail for every Australian-raised blonde that conquered Hollywood after her. Who could resist this face?

Men have no defenses against eyes like that.

And the smile!

Now that's... that's just not playing fair. She was Twiggy, Farrah Fawcett and the girl next door all in one.

Olivia was beautiful, multi-talented and multimedia, before there even was such a word. She was a singer first, and a pretty successful one in what they used to call the "country and western" genre, reaching #1 on the charts with "Have You Never Been Mellow" in 1975 and eventually winning four Grammy awards in the 1970's alone. I didn't appreciate her voice at the time, but listening to her now gives me chills sometimes. Her voice is both unique and flawless.

But you can't keep that face off the big screen.

I was vaguely aware of Olivia from her music - I may have been a kid, but she was popular enough that everybody knew her name - but it was the movies that made her a universal object of desire. And of course I mean "Grease."

It was 1978 and I was six years old. I didn't even know what this feeling was, I just knew I wanted to keep looking at the pretty lady. And in that final scene, I think my jaw hit the floor along with every other guy in the theater, whatever the age.

But you know what? Maybe it was the extra two years or maybe it was something else, but it was actually her next movie that I remember her best for. Yeah, the movie some have called the worst ever made. I love it. I'm talking about "Xanadu".

I know, "Xanadu" came out in 1980. Well, it was conceived and shot in the 1970's, and it's definitely of that era. One of its issues is that its production was delayed and it was released too late - it missed the roller disco fad and seemed laughably dated already on its release. It is a late 1970's film, even moreso than "Grease" was.

The plot's your typical boy-meets-girl-who-doesn't-really-exist, boy-falls-in-love-with-girl-who-doesn't-really-exist, girl-who-doesn't-really-exist-helps-boy-open-a-roller-disco, boy-loses-girl-who-doesn't-really-exist (or does he??) story. Along the way there's a lot of singing and dancing, much of it on roller skates, and a bit part obviously written specifically for Gene Kelly so he can get one more musical under his belt before he dies. (And he did, unfortunately.) The soundtrack was written by John Farrar and E.L.O.'s Jeff Lynne, and it's usually called the one bright spot of the film. (And that's kind of a big bright spot, considering it's a musical.)

Nowadays there's of course a Broadway version of "Xanadu", which is I guess sort of a cheeky and ironic telling of the story, although that's a little redundant because the film is already kind of making fun of itself. And I've seen the female lead at work in the Broadway version and let me tell you, she's no Olivia Newton-John.

Anyway, this is a horribly condensed version of the final scene in the film version, with Olivia and her stupifyingly awesome feathered hair. (Why did feathered hair ever go out of style?) This scene basically mirrors the final scene in "Grease" - it is a similar situation in the film - but I like it better because it's so heavy on the now-stereotypical 1970's disco kitsch but so legitimately good at the same time:

I swear, every time I see this scene I'm just like poor Michael Beck there, with a big grin on my face, staring wistfully.

Since the 1970's, Olivia's definitely had her ups and downs. She moved from country to pop music in the early 80's and had some successes with cheesy songs like "Let's Get Physical" before fading a bit from the public eye. In the 1990's, she fought a public battle with breast cancer and became something of an activist. Then in 2005, her long-time boyfriend was lost at sea. (She's now found someone else.) She still records music, but mostly releases her albums in Australia, not here. I was never one to buy her albums anyway - except for the "Xanadu" soundtrack, which I have both digitally and on vinyl! (It was actually a gift from a friend a few years ago.)

She does still tour in front of some big crowds and she pretty recently had a concert special on one of the big cable movie channels, which I watched out of hopeless devotion to my first crush - and she sounds as good as ever.

She's also done a couple guest judging stints on "American Idol" and she still looked pretty amazing on both.

Ryan Seacrest has aged more in six years than she has in close to thirty.


  1. I whole-heartedly agree with you on all counts! Olivia was my 70's crush as well.

    I don't want to make you jealous here, but I had the pleasure of meeting Olivia back in 2000. She was recording some PSAs at the radio station where I worked. It was just me and Olivia in the studio for more than a half hour, and she was every bit as nice as you'd imagine her to be. A total sweetheart, and still stunningly beautiful at age 52.

    When she blew me a kiss through the glass on her way out, it was like I was 10 years old all over again...

  2. Anonymous5:57 AM

    Absolutely agree with comments about Olivia - she is drop dead gorgeous! The older she gets the more attractive she looks!! Just want to point out that the comment about Xanadu and the writing collaboration between Olivia and Jeff isn't quite accurate - it was, of course, the musical talents of John Farrar and Jeff.

  3. Anonymous: Fixed! That's what I get for writing from memory. I think I was confused by the fact that Olivia sang on "Xanadu", which was written by Lynne, whereas he himself sang on at least most of his other songs on the soundtrack.

    Steve: You lucky bastard! Maybe I should have stayed in radio...


About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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