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.
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.
"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.
"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: