top of page

Olivia Newton-John Was More Than Grease

I was a huge Olivia Newton-John fan despite the fact that I've never seen the film she is most identified with Grease. There is no doubt that film took Olivia's career to new heights and made her a household name possibly for all time. It must be noted however that Olivia Newton-John was already a major star prior to Grease having hits on both the country and pop charts. She would also became an even bigger star post Grease. I was a fan of Olivia Newton-John's music the country, rock and pop songs in her catalog despite the fact that every song of any note was released prior to my birth.

I was captivated by Newton-John's soft ethereal vocals and the way she was able to infuse them with such emotion on her ballads but such playfulness on her uptempo singles. The sweetness of her voice was seemingly matched by her personality, though I never met her she always came across humble and kind. Plus with over 40 years in show business there has hardly ever been a negative word shared about her, that's pretty remarkable.

Even greater than her film & music impact is what she has done as a warrior for cancer research. She has raised millions dedicated to research about this deadly disease and even founded the Olivia Newton John cancer research hospital in her hometown of Melbourne, Australia.

I would venture to say she is one of, if not the most, quintessential pop artist of all time. Through out her amazing career she sold 100 million albums worldwide and scored 15 top ten hits on the Billboard hot 100 including 5 of which that went to #1. She also scored 6 top ten albums on the Billboard 200, three of which topped the chart, pretty impressive for a female artist at that time. In addition she was the star of several films after Grease, including Xanadu, Two of a Kind and Sharknado 5: Global Warming. Below are my 17 favorite Olivia Newton John songs.

17. The Rumor

Even though this song bombed on the charts is gets extra points as it was written by Elton John and if you listen closely you can hear him singing in the background. She also looked amazing in the video bouncing around like a teenage though pushing 40. It is quintessential 80's pop, a little over the top and I love it.

16. If Not For You

This was Olivia's debut single release in the United States. A remake of a Bob Dylan song Olivia puts her unique spin on it and does a more than decent job. The song was likely an attempt to crack into the country music market but it didn't work as it never charted on the country charts but did make it to #25 on the hot 100 and #1 on the adult contemporary chart. A pretty good start for a debut and a harbinger of things to comes.

15. Make A Move On Me

Another 80's pop song this one hit the top 10 and had the unenviable position of following mega-hit Physical. Though it has been eclipsed by its predecessor in notoriety it was a valiant effort and a pretty decent followup.

14. Come On Over

Originally written and recorded by the Bee Gees, the song became a country hit for Olivia, hitting #5 on the Country charts and #1 on the adult contemporary chart. For all those who felt Olivia wasn't really a country singer the raw emotion she pours into this ballad will certainly change your mind.

13. Can't We Talk it Over in Bed

Another little known late 1980's single from Newton-John I like the sophistication of her voice on this song. Not nearly as suggestive as the song title would imply this is a nice soft-rock contrast to her more uptempo late 80's singles.

12. Making A Good Thing Better

This song represents a totally different sound for Newton-John. She brings an incredible amount of soul to the performance; combine that with the choral elements, the rising octaves and Olivia's runs, you would be more than justified in mistaking this for an r&b song.

11. I Can't Help It (w/ Andy Gibb)

The ultimate love song, I don't know if there were ever a better pop music pairing than Olivia and Andy Gibb. Her soft angelic vocal and his lite (signature Gibb's brother) falsetto just mesh together so well and the result is a silky, soft ballad that just exudes love. Literally with their voices they could be singing about kicking puppies and it would still sound like a sweet love song.

10. Christmas on my Radio

Released in 2012 this Holiday song should be added to your Christmas music playlist. As an added bonus it most likely name drops you favorite Christmas classic as she sings about her love of hearing her favorite songs of the season.

9. Magic

Talk about post Grease hits Newton-John likely didn't think they got any bigger than this 1980 hit from her film Xanadu. The song not only topped the Billboard hot 100 (for four weeks), but also the Canadian charts and the US and Canadian adult contemporary charts. The single was the 3rd best selling song of 1980 and was even a favorite of John Lennon shortly before he was murdered.

8. Have You Never Been Mellow

Her 2nd #1 hit on the Billboard charts and the title track for her 2nd #1 album on the Billboard albums chart. The song was also went to #3 on the Country music chart and was released during the peak of her Country music career even though to me this is a sentimental soft-rock ballad not a country song but no matter the classification it is beautifully done and you can hear why it went to #1.

7. If You Love Me Let Me Know

Her second major pop hit, this was a country smash reaching #2 on the country music chart and both the single and the eponymous album were nominated for multiple Country Music Association awards (CMA). When Olivia was crowned the CMA female vocalist of the year for 1974 it caused a major controversy as many felt she wasn't "country" enough or country at all. It even led the first lady of country music, Tammy Wynette, to start her own country music awards for traditional country artist-it only lasted a few years.

6. Something Better to Do

This is a charming song about a breakup and a protagonist so heart broken the singing birds outside her window should find something better to do. While a sad song based on the lyrics, Olivia's cheery voice and the syrupy sweet production makes it sound like a delightful mix between a love ballad and a nursery rhyme.

5. Xanadu

Featuring the Electric Light Orchestra this upbeat disco-pop number was the theme song from the film of the same name. It was Newton-John's first starring role and the last film appearance of legendary dance icon Gene Kelly. Despite that it flopped but thankfully the soundtrack album was a best seller and produced several hits including this top ten smash.

4. Please Mr. Please

Another cover song (though to be fair the original was a commercial failure) she took this breakup ballad to #3 on the Billboard hot 100, #5 on the Country charts and all the way to #1 on the adult contemporary chart where it stayed, deservedly, for three weeks.

3. Hopelessly Devoted to You

Yes, I've never seen Grease but I know the music and while I'm highlighting that Olivia's career was so much bigger than just Grease that doesn't mean I can ignore what may be considered her signature ballad (with good reason). Olivia convincingly projects the naivete and "heartbreak" of teenage love (despite being almost 30) into her saccharine vocals, not an easy task. This is why this song has become an all time classic.

2. Physical

A #1 hit on the Billboard hot 100 for an amazing 10 weeks and going on to be the best selling song of the entire 1980s. Full of sexually suggestive double entendres its intent was masked with a humorous video about physical fitness, which became almost as popular as the song itself; It even won the 1982 Grammy award for best music video. It wasn't just a hit stateside, it went to #1 in Australia, Belgium, Canada, New Zealand and Switzerland while hitting the top ten in an additional nine countries around the world.

1. I Honestly Love You

My favorite song, a world wide #1 hit, her first here in America. A country ballad at heart infused with a soft-rock flare Olivia's delivery is what makes this song remarkable. She brilliantly channels the hope, angst, love and desire of a women with one man but in love with another man who himself is in love with another woman (an earlier take of Denise LaSalle/ Barbara Mandrell's When Your Married but not to Each Other). How she conveys so many emotions in one song in such an angelic manner along side the crescendos which are lined perfectly with her vocals makes it no wonder this song took home record of the year (and best pop vocal performance female) at the 1975 Grammy awards.

Rest in Peace Olivia Newton-John


bottom of page