September 26, 1948 – Olivia Newton-John :
“I love gay people. They are so loyal and lovely to me. A lot of them have been touched by the message in Sordid Lives if they had or have a problem coming out to their family.”
I first heard her in 1971 with the Bob Dylan penned tune If Not For You. I thought nothing of her until 1974 and the country tinged If You Love Me Let Me Know, fellow Australian Peter Allen‘s I Honestly Love You and 1975’s Have You Never Been Mellow, when she became an object of my derision. I would make fun of her breathy singing, including a treacly duet with John Denver- Fly Away, in which I did an uncanny and unnerving imitation of both their vocals.
In 1974, Newton-John represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest with the song Long Live Love, losing to ABBA‘s winning Swedish entry, Waterloo.
Her country-ish album Long Live Love was released in the USA as If You Love Me, Let Me Know. The title track was the first single and it went to Number Five on Pop chart, Number Two on the Country charts. The next single, I Honestly Love You, became Newton-John’s signature song. It was her first Number One hit on the Pop chart and Number Three on the Country charts and earned Newton-John two Grammy Awards.
Newton-John’s country success sparked controversy among American Country music fans who took issue with one of them-thar foreigners singing country. Still, Newton-John was named the Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year in 1974, chosen over Nashville-based nominees Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Tanya Tucker. In protest, a new group was formed, the short-lived Association of Country Entertainers (ACE). In response, Newton-John recorded her next album in Nashville.
Encouraged by the success of expatriate Australian singer Helen Reddy, Newton-John moved to the USA. She went to the top of the Pop and Country Albums charts with that next album, Have You Never Been Mellow (1975). Yet, her streak of five Top 10 singles ended when her next album, Clearly Love‘s first single, Something Better To Do, stalled at Number 13.
Newton-John’s singles continued to easily top the Adult Contemporary chart, where she had ten Number One singles consecutively.
Still, I didn’t dig her much, and never bought any of her music. Olivia Newton-John won me over with her performance in the film version of the musical Grease in 1978. The camera loves her, and she seems to simply glow on film. I appreciated her physical and vocal transformations from Good Sandy to Bad Girl Sandy and she had real chemistry with John Travolta. Even though I got through plenty of aerobics classes to the ubiquitous song Physical (the bestselling single of the 1980s), I have never owned an album by her, not even the soundtrack to Grease, the bestselling soundtrack of all time.
She is a four-time Grammy-Award winner, and she has sold an estimated 100 million records worldwide, making her one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time. The Grease single You’re the One That I Want, with Travolta, is one of the bestselling singles in history.
Newton-John finally won me over for real in 2000, when she appeared in a dramatically different role as Bitsy Mae Harling, a lesbian ex-con country singer, in Del Shores‘ film Sordid Lives. Newton-John reprised her role for Sordid Lives: The Series (2008) which aired for a single season on something named the LOGO TV network. The series featured five original songs written by Newton-John specifically for the show.
I found her to be more beautiful in her 50s and her heavier, newly husky voice was surprising and expressive, and her acting was impressive and often touching. So… it took me nearly 30+ years to appreciate her good-looks and talent.
Maybe I need to watch Xanadu (1980)? Is it any fun?
In 2015, Newton-John was a guest judge on an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. That same year, she scored her first Number One on Billboard’s Dance chart with You Have To Believe. The song is a reimaging of her 1980 single Magic.
Newton-John, like me, is a cancer survivor. When she was first diagnosed with cancer she was 44-years-old. In May 2017, her cancer returned. She is in treatment now. Wish her well on her birthday, please.
I hear that she has a big LGBTQ following. Newton-John:
“I love to sing, it’s all I know how to do. That’s all I’ve ever done since I was 15, so it’s my life.”
A Little Ferry Dust:
September 26, 1945 – Bryan Ferry
“Other bands wanted to wreck hotel rooms, Roxy Music wanted to redecorate them.”
I purchased my first Bryan Ferry album in 1971 (Roxy Music, but you know what I mean). I have only seen Ferry in concert once, in the mid-1980s and I found him to be one long, tall, cool drink of water.
From Virginia Plain (1971) to the gorgeous Avonmore (2014) and the 14 albums in between, Ferry is an absolute favorite of everyone at my house.
Ferry is one of the coolest guys in the modern pop scene with his suave personal style and smooth crooning, all with seemingly little effort. His tastes in all things are refined: beautiful people, fine art, high fashion and smart design. Ferry has had a lifelong obsession with clothing as a pop culture costume. He is a living bespoke event, a louche gentleman of elegant affectations; he aims to appear aristocratic and aloof. His style spans six decades, from the Teddy Boy meets Prog-Glam look of early Roxy Music, through the iconic, Antony Price-designed GI uniform of Roxy Music’s Viva! period and the white tuxedo of the Another Time, Another Place solo album cover, to his graceful grand elder statesman of pop in our current decade.
50 years since he came on the scene, his own magnificent hair still has the vaguely unsavory look of a greaser while dressing as an art school modernist. There is something raffish and romantic about his look. A suit coat will be perfectly cut but with a slightly worn lapel and in an intentionally unfashionable style. Ferry is modern but not into looking “new”.
Ferry has had longtime partnering with clothing designer Antony Price of London’s King’s Road. Together they created Ferry’s signature look and his love for beautiful spaces.
Ferry is quite the songwriter, but I also dig his soulful pop music covers of standards like Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall. Ferry’s traditionalist singing style is an intriguing counterpoint for Roxy Music’s experimental art rock sound. His satiny smooth, space-age cabaret style with Roxy Music is delicious: Love Is A Drug, More Than This, Slave To Love, Don’t Stop The Dance, Kiss And Tell, they are all winners for me. His succulent voice possesses a powerful seductiveness that is difficult for me to resist.
I especially enjoy Avonmore, Ferry’s 15th solo album. It features collaborations with artists as diverse as Nile Rodgers and Johnny Marr. It includes a pair of covers Stephen Sondheim‘s Send In The Clowns and Johnny & Mary by Robert Palmer.
Ferry turns an astonishing 73-years-old today.