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


In 1980 the movie Xanadu was released, it was loosely based on the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem Kubla Khan, Xanadu being a mystical paradise, and Orson Wells bestowed this name on Charles Foster Kane’s palatial home in the movie Citizen Kane. It was also a remake of the 1947 musical comedy film Down to Earth, which starred Rita Hayworth in the role of the Muse Terpsichore. Rita/Terpsichore had to 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 Hollywood 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!


The 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 got the gig after Andy Gibb’s drug abuse frightened off producers), and wanted to help him, given that there wasn’t much work around for roller boogie musos at the time


A 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 music, (b) roller-skating, and (c) fantasy , were simply not selling, it was the dawn of the 80’s and people wanted hard rock and roll and sci-fi movies like Star Wars, which was made a year later for the comparatively paltry sum of US$11m and spawned a lucrative movie franchise that is still a box-office atttaction forty years later. 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. Scenes from Xanadu.
The 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 Hollywood 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 movie career.
Yet the soundtrack to the movie was quite impressive, recorded at the Musicland Studios, in Munich (W Germany), and jointly -produced by John Farrar and Jeff Lynne, it produced no less than three hits for Olivia – Suddenly, a duet with Cliff Richard (Aust #37 and UK #15), the theme song Xanadu, with the Electric Light Orchestra, and Magic. 
Xanadu was written and produced by Jeff Lynne and ELO played on the record, it hit the top of the charts and stayed at #1 on the UK charts for two weeks, made #2 in Aust. and #8 in the USA. Many hardcore ELO fans were however less than impressed, they felt that the band had strayed too far into disco territory, and away from their core orchestral rock sound. Their next four albums underwhelmed and in 1986 the band went into hiatus. Lyrically Lynne had certainly strayed into the netherworld of mystical disco pop “A place where nobody dared to go/The love that we came to know/They call it Xanadu/(It takes your breath and it’ll leave you blind)/And now, open your eyes and see/What we have made is real/We are in Xanadu/(A dream of it, we offer you)/A million lights are dancing and there you are, a shooting star/An everlasting world and you’re here with me, eternally.” This was a step too far from Rockaria, Evil Woman, Livin Thing, and Don’t Bring Me Down, for the fans, although it gave Jeff Lynne his first UK #1 writing credit.
Livvy looked great, and the song was catchy, and still has many fans over forty years later.
Magic was a breathy, uplifting pop piece from ONJ, which dealt with destiny and faith, written by John Farrar, former Melbourne musician (The Strangers) who also produced the session, and played on electric guitar, electric piano, synthesiser and backing vocals, along with a talented team of session musos – David Hungate (bass), Carlos Vega (percussion) and a string arrangement by Richard Hewson, while Olivia’s sexy, direct vocals “Come take my hand,…you have to believe we are magic…, ensured chart success for the 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, and it sold in excess of 1.5 million copies.
Cool soft rock with some nice guitar riffs.
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 had also submitted to botched plastic surgery and breast augmentation procedures over time, like many offspring of famous people, she had lived in the long shadow cast by her superstar mother


Before 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, Olivia had scored two #1 hits in duets with John Travolta from Grease in 1978 with You’re The One That I Want and Summer Nights, and ELO had been into the UK top ten an incredible thirteen times in the 1970’s, Livvy had also taken Banks of the Ohio (#6), Sam(#6) and A Little More Love (#4) into the charts there, but the coveted solo 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.


Gene Kelly was nearly 68, when he made Xanadu, and a very adept skater – on ice and roller skates – he did his own skating for the picture, but a lot of things upset him about the movie of which he privately said “Singing In The Rain it ain’t”, and one thing that particularly peeved him was that instead of filming him full-figure, they cut off his legs in a lot of the shots- a strange piece of editing given that he was one of the greatest dancers in movie history, and was still a capable hoofer.


After the initial storm of criticism around 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 (above), a dancer in the cast, who she would marry in 1984, she would also have her biggest hit the very next year with the 5 million-seller Physical. 


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