KiNG JAMES YiYE looks at the musical life of Olivia Newton-John
My favourite Olivia Newton-John’s song is If You Love Me, Let Me Know
Born 26 September 1948, an Australian singer, songwriter, actress, entrepreneur and activist.
Olivia is a four-time Grammy award winner who has amassed five number-one and ten other top ten Billboard Hot 100 singles, and two number-one Billboard 200 solo albums. Eleven of her singles (including two platinum) and fourteen of her albums (including two platinum and four double platinum) have been certified gold by the RIAA.
She has sold an estimated 100 million records worldwide, making her one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time. She starred in the musical film Grease, and its soundtrack is one of the most successful in history, with the single You’re the One That I Want, with John Travolta, one of the best selling singles.
Newton-John has been a long-time activist for environmental and animal rights issues. In remission from breast cancer from 1992 until her newest diagnosis (see below), she has been an advocate for health awareness becoming involved with various charities, health products, and fundraising efforts. Her business interests have included launching several product lines for Koala Blue and co-owning the Gaia Retreat & Spa in Australia.
Newton-John has been married twice. She is the mother of one daughter, Chloe Rose Lattanzi, with her first husband, actor Matt Lattanzi. She remarried in 2008 to John Easterling.
Early life and beginnings
Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England to Welshman Brinley “Bryn” Newton-John and Irene Helene (née Born). Her maternal grandfather was Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Born, a Jew who brought his family to England from Germany before World War II to avoid the Nazi regime (her maternal grandmother was of paternal Jewish ancestry as well). She is a third cousin of comedian Ben Elton. Her maternal great-grandfather was jurist Victor Ehrenberg and her matrilineal great-grandmother’s father was jurist Rudolf von Jhering.
Newton-John’s father was an MI5 officer on the Enigma project at Bletchley Park who took Rudolf Hess into custody during World War II. Newton-John is the youngest of three children, following brother Hugh, a doctor, and sister Rona (an actress who was married to Grease co-star Jeff Conaway from 1980 until their divorce in 1985). In 1954, when Olivia was six, the Newton-Johns emigrated to Melbourne, Australia, where her father worked as a professor of German and as Master of Ormond College at the University of Melbourne.
She attended Christ Church Grammar School, and then University High School, adjacent to Ormond College. At fourteen, Newton-John formed a short-lived all-girl group, Sol Four, with three classmates often performing in a coffee shop owned by her brother-in-law. She became a regular on local Australian radio and television shows including HSV-7‘s The Happy Show where she performed as “Lovely Livvy”.
She also appeared on the Go Show where she met future duet partner, singer Pat Carroll, and future music producer, John Farrar (Carroll and Farrar would later marry). She entered and won a talent contest on the television programme Sing, Sing, Sing, hosted by 1960s Australian icon Johnny O’Keefe, performing the songs “Anyone Who Had a Heart” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses“. She was initially reluctant to use the prize she had won, a trip to Great Britain, but travelled there nearly a year later after her mother encouraged her to broaden her horizons.
Newton-John recorded her first single, “Till You Say You’ll Be Mine”, in Britain for Decca Records in 1966. While in Britain, Newton-John missed her then-boyfriend, Ian Turpie, with whom she had co-starred in the Australian telefilm, Funny Things Happen Down Under. Newton-John repeatedly booked trips back to Australia that her mother subsequently cancelled. Newton-John’s outlook changed when Pat Carroll moved to the UK. The two formed a duo called “Pat and Olivia” and toured nightclubs in Europe. (In one incident, they were booked at Paul Raymond’s Revue in Soho, London. Dressed primly in frilly, high-collared dresses, they were unaware that this was a strip club until they began to perform onstage. After Carroll’s visa expired forcing her to return to Australia, Newton-John remained in Britain to pursue solo work until 1975.
Newton-John was recruited for the group Toomorrow formed by American producer Don Kirshner, who was also the music consultant for the earliest recordings of The Monkees. In 1970, the group starred in a “science fiction musical” film and recorded an accompanying soundtrack album, on RCA records, both named after the group. That same year the group made two single recordings, “You’re My Baby Now/Goin’ Back” and “I Could Never Live Without Your Love/Roll Like A River”. Neither track became a chart success and the project failed with the group disbanding.
Newton-John released her first solo album, If Not For You (USA No. 158 Pop), in 1971. The title track, written by Bob Dylan and previously recorded by former Beatle George Harrison for his 1970 album All Things Must Pass, was her first international hit (USA No. 25 Pop, No. 1 Adult Contemporary Her follow-up single, “Banks of the Ohio“, was a top 10 hit in the UK and Australia. She was voted Best British Female Vocalist two years in a row by the magazine Record Mirror. She made frequent appearances on Cliff Richard‘s weekly show, It’s Cliff Richard, and starred with him in the telefilm, The Case.
In the United States, Newton-John’s career floundered after If Not For You. Subsequent singles including “Banks of the Ohio” (No. 94 Pop, No. 34 AC) and remakes of George Harrison‘s “What Is Life” (No. 34 AC) and John Denver‘s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (No. 119 Pop) made minimal chart impact until the release of “Let Me Be There” in 1973. The song reached the American Top 10 on the Pop (No. 6), Country (No. 7), and AC (No. 3) charts and earned her a Grammy for Best Country Female and an Academy of Country Music award for Most Promising Female Vocalist.
In 1974, Newton-John represented the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Long Live Love“. The song was chosen for Newton-John by the British public out of six possible entries. (Newton-John later admitted that she disliked the song.) Newton-John finished fourth at the contest held in Brighton behind ABBA‘s winning Swedish entry, “Waterloo“. All six Eurovision contest song candidates were recorded by Newton-John and included on her Long Live Love album, her first for the EMI Records label.
The Long Live Love album was released in the USA as If You Love Me, Let Me Know with the six Eurovision songs dropped for four different, more country-oriented tracks intended to capitalise on the success of “Let Me Be There”. The title track was the first single reaching No. 5 Pop, No. 2 Country (her best country position to date) and No. 2 AC. The next single, “I Honestly Love You“, became Newton-John’s signature song. Written and composed by Jeff Barry and Peter Allen the ballad became her first number-one Pop (two weeks), second number-one AC (three weeks) and third Top 10 Country (No. 6) hit and earned Newton-John two more Grammys for Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance-Female. The success of both singles helped the album reach No. 1 on both the Pop (one week and Country (eight weeks) Albums charts.
Newton-John’s country success sparked a debate among purists, who took issue with a foreigner singing country-flavoured pop music being equated with native Nashville artists. In addition to her Grammy for “Let Me Be There”, Newton-John was also named the Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year in 1974, defeating more established Nashville-based nominees Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Tanya Tucker, as well as Canadian artist Anne Murray. This protest, in part, led to the formation of the short-lived Association of Country Entertainers (ACE).
Newton-John was eventually supported by the country music community. Stella Parton, Dolly’s sister, recorded “Ode to Olivia” and Newton-John recorded her 1976 album, Don’t Stop Believin’, in Nashville.
Newton-John’s singles continued to easily top the AC chart, where she ultimately amassed ten No. 1 singles including a record seven consecutively: