OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN 1971-1985

ONJ81

Magic (J Farrer) and Xanadu (J Lynne) Olivia Newton-John 1980

 ONJ85In 1980 the movie Xanadu was released, it was loosely based on the Samuel Taylor Coleridge book of the same name and a remake of the 1947 musical comedy film Down to Earth, which starred Rita Hayworth in the role of the Muse Terpsichore. Rita/Terpsichore must go down to Earth to correct a Broadway play’s depiction of the Muses as man-crazy vixens, essentially the plot was ridiculous. So in 1980, how was this fluff to be re-interpreted, to resonate with a new audience, sadly very badly, but the producers did manage to spend USD$20 million in the process?ONJ38The plot went something like this – Zeus’s daughter Kira (ONJ) who is really Terpsichore, the Muse of Dance, unaccountably glows in various colors and has been reincarnated on Earth to inspire people. She encounters a down and out roller boogie musician called Sonny Malone (Michael Beck), and wants to help him, given that there wasn’t much work around for roller boogie musos at the time.ONJ84A benefactor, in the form of helpful businessman Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly, above with ONJ), who is disenchanted with life in general, decides that Sonny’s career can be advanced if he builds a disco dancing roller skating rink and calls it Xanadu – now what could go wrong with that plot!! It was basically a roller-disco fantasy made at a time when (a) disco, (b) roller-skating, and (c) fantasy were simply not selling, it was the dawn of the 80’s and people wanted sci-fi movies and hard rock and roll. Special effects like the animated sequence in the middle, seemed to be thrown in like sweets at a children’s birthday party as a sugar hit, just before the hosts send all the little ankle biters back home to their parents, to climb the walls.ONJ88The critics universally panned the movie, they were merciless, Variety likened Olivia’s appearances bathed in an ethereal fluorescent glow as a “roller-skating light globe and Esquire magazine rather succinctly said “In a word, Xana-don’t.” It seemed that Holly wood had not learned from the recent failures of such musicals as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which starred the Bee Gees, and  the Village People’s execrable Can’t Stop The Music, an Alan Carr vehicle that had been turned down by Olivia when offered to her by Carr, her old Grease colleague, in favor of Xanadu, it’s hard to determine which of these two films would have done most to derail Olivia’s film career.  ONJ89Yet the soundtrack to the movie was quite impressive, and produced a number of hits for both ONJ and ELO, recorded at the Musicland Studios, in Munich (W Germany), and jointly -produced by John Farrar and Jeff Lynn. The biggest hit was the catchy soft rock/disco of Magic, breathy, sexy, direct vocals by Olivia “Come take my hand,…you have to believe we are magic…:, were written and produced by John Farrar, who also provided electric guitar, electric piano, synthesisers and backing vocals, and a talented team of session musos – David Hungate (bass), Carlos Vega (percussion) and a string arrangement by Richard Hewson, ensured chart success for this song. Magic was a huge hit, #4 Aust. #1 in USA and Canada, #4 in NZ, #32 in UK, John Lennon of all people, apparently indicated that he was a fan of the song, it sold in excess of 1.5 million copies.

In an act of maternal indulgence Olivia released a techno dance mix of the same song, re-titled You Have To Believe, which she  recorded in tandem with her daughter Chloe Lattanzi (below with Olivia), released in 2015, but it sank without a trace. Chloe had fought a battle with anorexia nervosa for many years, and also submitted to botched plastic surgery and breast augmentation procedures over time, like many offspring of famous people, she has lived in the long shadow cast by her superstar mother.ONJ87The second hit for Olivia from the soundtrack was Suddenly, a duet with Cliff Richard (Aust #37 and UK #15), and the title song, Xanadu, written and produced by Jeff Lynne and ELO who accompanied ONJ on the recording.ONJ82Before the success of the title song Xanadu, neither ONJ ( as a solo artist) nor the Electric Light Orchestra had enjoyed a #1 hit in the UK, ELO had been into the UK top ten an incredible thirteen times in the 1970’s and Livvy had taken Banks of the Ohio (#6), Sam (#6) and A Little More Love (#4) into the charts there, but the coveted number one spot had eluded them. Xanadu featured ELO stalwarts Jeff Lynne (backing vocals, guitars, keyboards, synthesisers), Bev Bevan (drums, percussion), Richard Tandy (piano, synthesisers, keyboards), and Kelly Groucett (bass guitar), and it was a significant pop/disco hit, topping the charts in the UK where it stayed at #1 for two weeks, climbed  #2 in Aust. and #8 in the USA.

After the initial storm of criticism of the movie had died down, Olivia’s final comment was that despite its flaws she did get to dance with the incomparable Gene Kelly, and she also met Matt Lattanzi (below) a dancer in the cast, who she would marry in 1984.ONJ83

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