OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN 1971-1985

ONJ62

Come On Over (B Gibb/R Gibb/M Gibb) 1976 and Sam (H Marvin /J Farrar/ D Black) 1977 and Jolene (D Parton) – Olivia Newton John 1978

In 1976 Newton-John released her fifth studio album, entitled Come On Over, recorded at Abbey Road Studio No. 3 (London) with John Farrar, and his wife Pat Farrar (nee Carroll), Vicki Brent, and Clare Torry providing backing vocals. At this time Olivia was in the middle of a white- hot run of chart success in the USA, having already taken five songs into the top ten, which included a pair of #1 hits – I Honestly Love You, and Have You Never Been Mellow. The album was a mix of country tunes, folk ballads and pop songs, and indicated that Olivia was looking at new ways to express herself musically. The Bee Gees were doing something similar, Come On Over was a Bee Gees composition, written by the brothers for inclusion on their Main Course album, released in 1975. ONJ68Producer Arif Marden was working with the Bee Gees at the Criteria Studios in Florida (USA), and encouraging them to broaden their musical palette, to mix up their familiar lush pocket symphonies with grittier rhythm and blues songs, falsetto vocals, country sounds, and more soulful harmonies. While Nights on Broadway and Jive Talkin’ certainly charted new directions for the siblings, Fanny Be Tender With Your Love, and Come On Over were more typical of the sexy, smouldering lush harmonies of so many previous Bee Gees hits, with the latter revealing a country ambience, so perfect for Olivia’s re-invention.

The song is country-tinged with subtle steel guitar by B J Cole, blending beautifully with acoustic guitar, percussion, the rich bass line of Alan Tarney, and John Farrar’s sensitive orchestral arrangement. Lyrically the song captured the loneliness of separation and longing for human contact, Olivia’s vocals were moving and heartfelt, and the directness of the words were effective “ Come on over/ Lay your body down/ You know I will be here / So bring your love around,” it charted #23 in the US and #55 in Aust. for a moderate hit for Olivia.ONJ65Jolene was a famous song written by Dolly Parton in 1973 and inspired by two events in  her life, she was greeting fans after a show and a beautiful 10 year-old fan asked for her autograph, the little girl had red hair and green eyes, Dolly thought she was  a stunner and commented “‘Well, you’re the prettiest little thing I ever saw. So what is your name?’ And she said, ‘Jolene.’ And I said, ‘Jolene. Jolene. Jolene. Jolene. That is pretty. That sounds like a song. I’m going to write a song about that.” The other inspiration for the song was a flirtatious relationship that Dolly noticed was developing between her husband Carl Dean, and an attractive flame -haired bank clerk, whose name was also Jolene, which Dolly quickly dealt with, but still wrote the song and had the hit.ONJ66That Olivia recorded a Dolly Parton (above with Olivia) song surprised some people, given that Dolly was part of the outspoken group of C&W performers who criticised the Country Music Association (CMA) for awarding Olivia the Country Singer of the Year Award in 1974. It was also well known that Dolly’s sister Stella, also a C&W performer, had taken the opposite position and defended ONJ. But Dolly ultimately saw the error of her ways, and supported Olivia’s foray into country music, even accepting Olivia’s eighth AMA award on her behalf in 1977, when she was absent from the ceremony; by recording Jolene, ONJ was saying thank you.

Dolly’s original version of the song featured the familiar country cadences of thumb-picked guitar by Chip Young and Parton’s plaintive vocals, while Newton-John’s version was more up tempo and less country-influenced; almost a disco version of the song, with Olivia’s high pitched soprano vocals in stark contrast to Parton’s child-like quavering vocal tone. Jolene was not released globally but it was a top ten hit single in Japan, and the album Come On Over was a global million-seller climbing to #2 in Japan, #13 in USA, #12 in NZ, #30 in Aust and #49 in the UK.  ONJ67In 1974/75 Olivia heeded the advice of her friend Helen Reddy and relocated to America to pursue her career, she would record her sixth studio album and her first in Nashville, Don’t Stop Believing, with her trusted producer/arranger John Farrar. The first single released was the title track written by John Farrar, it was an easy-listening slice of country pop that peaked at #33 in the US but barely scraped into the top 100 locally. She followed up with Sam, a piano-based ballad with a string accompaniment that was written by Farrar, former Shadows lead guitarist Hank Marvin, and lyricist Don Black. Sam was a song about two lonely people who have been dumped by their respective partners, and are exploring the possibility of re-creating a new love life together, “I heard that you’re on your own now/ So am I/ I’m living alone now/ I was wrong/ So were you/ What will you do/ Are you glad to be free/ Are you feeling lost just like me/ Longing for company/ Oh Sam, Sam…”ONJ63Farrar wrote the song in waltz time after not intending to do so initially, and has said that “Sam” isn’t based on a real person, the name just resonated with the music and the ¾ time signature that he adopted. Olivia’s vocals were haunting, wistful, and even melancholic, and the song took her back into the US top twenty, and charted well in the UK at #6, Canada #25, and NZ #16, the album was only a moderate hit climbing to #1 in the Netherlands and #33 in the USA.

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