Olivia Newton-John: 15 Quintessential Songs

The passing of Olivia Newton-John today, August 8, 2022, at 73 leaves a gaping hole in so many of our childhoods — she is just the latest '80s great (and '70s, too!) to die far too young.

Oh, Sandy ... (Image via Universal)

Her discography is immaculate, and runs the gamut from country-and-western to bubblegum-pop, showtunes and disco.

Here are my picks for 15 totally hot — I mean, totally indispensable ONJ songs and, in some cases, performances ...

"Hopelessly Devoted to You": Quite simply, one of the most touching deliveries of a romantic ballad in movie history. She's 29 going on bittersweet 16.

For all of us! (GIF via GIPHY)

"Magic": Her shimmying lip-synch of this incredible number on The Midnight Special in 1980 still blows me a way.

Every inch a goddess! Love those moves. So imitate-able!

"Physical": In 1981, this song was Topic A — trust me. The video helped make it the #1 hit of the entire decade, touching on the exercise craze and even winking at gay culture. She set the template for all future video vixens with this:

"Don't Cry for Me Argentina": As broadcast on The Midnight Special in 1977, hers is one of my favorite takes on the song. I love Madonna's also, so I definitely lean toward the sweet, more feminine versions. Any belief that ONJ was a vocal local lightweight is dispelled here:

"Make a Move on Me": ONJ at her most Markie Post (pre-Markie!) was so fetching in this breathy, sexed-up slice of heaven from 1981. She's also so country here, and demonstrates how to do sexy cut with silly. Plus, check out THIS ensemble!

"I Need Love" (Club Mix Edit): It was 1992, and Olivia released what became one of my very favorite songs by her, the electrifying "I Need Love," which — while devastating slow — was beyond uplifting in sped-up Club Mix Edit form:

Should have been big, but her cancer diagnosis put the kibosh on the comeback trail.

Who didn't own this?! (Image via Universal)

"Xanadu": I know you love Xanadu (1980), but it really is stilted and embarrassingly on various levels. However, there is some charm, and I get why it has its diehards. For one, ONJ is drop-dead gorgeous in it, and for another, the title track has a cinematic sweep that is undeniable. She's as effortless as the scenes are effortful:

"You're the One That I Want": With a major assist from a where-did-this-charisma-go? John Travolta, Olivia was killer as the bad-girl version of Sandy on this hoppin' #1 hit from Grease:

Of course, "Summer Nights" is also great, but for me works better in the context of the flick.

"Let Me Be There": Listening to her sing "Let Me Be There" — her first bona fide runaway hit — you'd never have guessed what was coming for her, sonically!

"A Little More Love": ONJ's transformation into a video vixen began with "A Little More Love," a perfect blend of pure and impure, released in 1978:

"The Rumor": In 1988, past Olivia's expiration date (it was the '80s — radio programmers preferred their women to be dewy newbies), the Elton John/Bernie Taupin song "The Rumour" should have been a smash. It was overlooked, but it remains utterly engaging, as does that light perm:

"Twist of Fate": Hard to believe, but after overwhelming the airwaves with "Physical," ONJ was already closing in on her last Top 40 hit two years later. For her last Top 5 hit, she was serving yuppie perfection, surrounded by an appropriately water-and-neon motif:

"I Honestly Love You": It was a whole different ONJ back in 1974 when she was crooning the AC hit "I Honestly Love You" on an Andy Williams special, but it's achingly sincere:

"If You Love Me (Let Me Know)": One of my fave ONJ country hits was one of her first massive smashes. She was so at ease singing this:

"Heart Attack" (1982): It's a totally strange song, comparing falling in love with a heart attack so literally, but that killer chorus packs a wallop:

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