R.I.P. “The No. 1 female soloist of the ‘70s”

Olivia Newton-John dies at 73

11 thoughts on “R.I.P. “The No. 1 female soloist of the ‘70s”

  1. I always sort of liked her and she was about as cute as it ever gets. But that “Mellow” thing was one of the great fwow-up inducers of a decade which had way too many of them.
    Kinda begged for a Frank Zappa answer song like the ones they used to do in the 50s. Like the Annie answer songs:
    “One of the longest answer record cycles was started by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ (1954) R&B hit “Work With Me Annie”, and its sequel song “Annie Had a Baby” (1954). Answer songs include “Annie’s Answer” (1954) by the El-Dorados, “Annie Pulled a Humbug” (1954) by the Midnights, “Wallflower (Roll With Me Henry)” (1955) by Etta James, and “I’m the Father of Annie’s Baby” (1955), by Danny Taylor. The Midnighters also recorded an “answer to the answer”: “Henry’s Got Flat Feet (Can’t Dance No More)” (1955).” Wiki.
    The original Annie was the most marvelously salacious song ever to sell a million copies after getting banned by the FCC.
    “Annie, please don’t cheat. Give me all my meat, Let’s get it while the getting is good”. Annie Had a Baby concluded “Now I know and it’s understood,
    That’s what’s happens when the getting gets good”

    1. Back in those days, getting your record into jukeboxes was as important in generating hits as radio airplay, so getting banned by the FCC wasn’t necessarily the kiss of death for a song like “Work With Me, Annie.” At that time (1954) R&B recordings, salacious or not, had a hard time getting on the radio, but that was about to change in a big way, and within a couple years the Billboard charts would be teeming with crossover hits by black performers (as opposed to watered-down cover versions by the likes of Pat Boone and Georgia Gibbs). And the crossing over went both ways, with Elvis and the Everly Brothers topping the pop, R&B, and country charts.
      Getting back to Olivia, it’s worth remembering that she was the object of hostility in country circles early on, with songs like “If You Love Me” and “Let Me Be There” earning her country awards and pissing off the likes of George Jones and Tammy Wynette. How dare this…this…AUSTRALIAN intrude upon their sacred turf? (Nor did they care much for that long-haired hippie John Denver.)
      As for an answer song, don’t forget Weird Al’s “I’ll Be Mellow When I’m Dead.”

      1. When I was doing college radio the FCC was an all-purpose bogeyman to keep us boss jocks in line. There was a list supposedly generated by the FCC (oddly devoid of any FCC markings) with songs never to be played. Working Class Hero “You’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see” generally topped the bill. The list usually disappeared as fast as it was tacked up on the bulletin board. And the songs got played.
        An earlier myth was that the FCC had a truck tootling around Northwestern Pennsylvania monitoring what stations were playing.
        There seemed to be a fear that we might piss off the locals or corrupt their youth. And the local radio station hated us for being popular with their most prized demographic.
        And some of that youth did get corrupted. A few years after I graduated, the townie beauty somehow found herself lured (sports cars always work) to the debauched rich kids’ frat and was soon given the rank of “little sister” for her service to the brothers. Her name: Sharon Stone. Have heard many variations over the years and have concluded that for the most part they’re true.

  2. Well, I like Variety’s headline better than yours. But I remember her breathy voice in If Not For Hugh on a K-Tel collections record. Which was utterly innocent, clean, & pristine, yet still managed to make me think of sex, right off the bat. Her string of hits before Grease kept me in that same groove.

    Until Totally Hot busted her out as overtly sexy. I still thought there was something awkward about the new direction Physical seemed to herald. And I really didn’t think of the vocal gymnastics in it as an especially good thing.

    Later, as I was switching out all my vinyl for CDs, I noticed the high notes in her performance had got clipped. That’s when her talent & artistry crystallized into sheer awe in me. And I began to appreciate why audiophiles kept listening to their scratchy vinyls.

    ONJ was pretty. That’s what I always thought. But I never realized I could have a voice crush on a singer, before her.

    1. Also, not given nearly enough credit for, as it turns out, her incredibly prescient “Hopelessly We Voted For You”.

    2. Her height of fame was in the 70s. Physical was one of those stupid songs that becomes a hit because of incessant airplay. Her career evaporated after that.

      1. There you go again, Mr. Stick, with your Supply Side economics. (Maybe your simple mind can’t grasp how anything actually works.)

      2. She had three more top ten hits after “Physical,” so the evaporation was not that rapid. That said, “Physical” was kinda stupid, as were the other two songs that gobbled up weeks and weeks at #1 in 1981: “Bette Davis Eyes” and “Endless Love.” Casey Kasem must have found it hard to drag himself to work that year.

    3. Before “Physical”, Olivia Newton John also had a huge hit with the song “Magic” ( (‘have to believe we are magic’.) I didn’t know it was this big a hit, but according to Wiki, it was the 3rd biggest song of 1980 according to Billboard.

      “Magic”, prior to ‘Physical’ moved Olivia Newton John in a different musical direction with synth pop that ‘Physical’ continued.

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