Thursday, December 25, 2014

Olivia Newton-John, The #15 Artist of the Seventies*

Olivia Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England, and moved with her family to Melbourne, Australia when Olivia was six.  She became interested in music, and was with an all-girl group called the Sol Four at age 14.  Newton-John soon became a regular on Australian radio shows and on The Happy Show on HSV-7-TV.  Olivia met future duet partner Pat Carroll and future producer John Farrar when she appeared on the Go Show.  Newton-John won a trip to Great Britain on the talent show Sing, Sing, Sing.

Olivia recorded the single "Till You Say You'll Be Mine" in England on Decca Records in 1966.  Soon, Carroll moved to the U.K., and Pat and Olivia performed in nightclubs throughout Europe.  When Carroll's visa expired, she returned to Australia, and Newton-John joined the group Toomorrow, formed by producer Don Kirshner.  Toomorrow starred in a movie and recorded the soundtrack album but, when both failed, the group split up.

Olivia recorded her first solo album, If Not For You, in 1971.  The title song, written and originally recorded by Bob Dylan, became a big Adult hit, reaching #1 and going on to become The #63 Adult Song of the 70's*.  "If Not For You" also reached #3 in Canada, and #7 in the U.K. and Australia.

Newton-John had become the top British female vocalist, and appeared regularly on Cliff Richard's television show It's Cliff Richard, and starred with him in the television movie The Case.  Olivia placed fourth in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, famously won by ABBA.

The album Olivia in 1972 failed to generate attention, so in 1973, Newton-John released the album Let Me Be There, which was certified Gold.  The album was essentially a repackaging of the album If Not for You.  Olivia captured the Grammy Award for Best Country Female Vocal Performance with the title song, which sold over one million copies and soared to #2 in Canada and #6 in the U.S. (#3 Adult).

Newton-John also won an American Music Award for Favorite Country Album for Let Me Be There.  She released the album Long Live Love, featuring her Eurovision title song, on EMI Records.  The Long Live Love album in the U.K. was released in the U.S. as If You Love Me, Let Me Know in 1974.  The six Eurovision songs were replaced by country-oriented songs, and it was a wise decision.  The title song reached #2 in Australia, #3 in Canada, and #5 in the United States (#2 Adult), and sold over one million copies. 

The follow-up attracted serious attention.  "I Honestly Love You" raced to #1 in the United States, Canada, and Australia and also sold over one million units.  Newton-John won Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.  She also captured American Music Awards for Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist, Favorite Pop/Rock Single, and Favorite Country Female Artist, and a Billboard Award for Top Pop Singles Artist (Female).

The success of "I Honestly Love You" helped Olivia go to #1 on the Album chart as well, with If You Love Me, Let Me Know becoming her second Gold release.  She moved to the United States, and released another Gold album, Have You Never Been Mellow.  Longtime friend John Farrar wrote the title song, her third consecutive million-seller.  The song reached #1 in the U.S. and Canada, and hit #10 in Australia.  There aren't many back-to-back releases stronger than "I Honestly Love You" and "Have You Never Been Mellow" in the Rock Era.

Newton-John won three more American Music Awards:  Favorite Pop/Rock Album, Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist, and Favorite Country Female Artist, and was nominated for a fourth--Favorite Country Album.  She also picked up another Billboard Award for Top Pop Albums Artist (Female), and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.  It was an indicator of not only her great success but what was to come when she tied legendary Barbra Streisand for the 1975 People's Choice Award for Favorite Female Musical Performer. 

Olivia released "Please Mr. Please" as the follow-up, which became her fifth consecutive Gold single.  It became another of The Top Adult Songs of the 70's*, peaking at #1 on the Adult chart and #3 overall in the United States, and reaching #1 in Canada and #7 in New Zealand. 

Later in the year, Olivia released the album Clearly Love, her third consecutive Gold release.  Clearly, Newton-John had gained a substantial number of fans.  The single "Something Better To Do" made it four straight #1 Adult songs for Olivia.

Olivia won her third straight American Music Award for Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist; she was dominant during this period.  Newton-John stretched her Adult #1 streak to five with the #1 smash "Let It Shine".

Olivia teamed up with another of the decade's brightest stars, John Denver, on "Fly Away", a #1 Adult song and #13 overall.

In 1976, Newton-John made it four straight Gold albums with the release of Come On Over.  The title song also went to #1 among adults in the U.S. and reached #3 in New Zealand.

Olivia won the Billboard Award for Top Adult Contemporary Artist.  She starred in her first television show, A Special Olivia Newton-John, later in the year.

The streak of Gold albums continued with Don't Stop Believin' that fall.  Olivia set an all-time record on the Adult chart that still stands when the title song reached #1, her seventh consecutive Adult #1.

The song "Every Face Tells A Story" was another Adult hit, but "Sam" returned her to #1 on Adult charts in both the United States and Canada and gave her a #6 hit in the U.K.

But when the album Making a Good Thing Better did not achieve Gold status, Olivia made a change.  To signal the move, she released her album Olivia Newton-John's Greatest Hits, which went to #13 on the Album chart and quickly sold two million copies.

In 1977, Olivia won another People's Choice Award for Favorite Female Musical Performer. 

In 1978, she surprised the world with a complete shift in image and musical direction.  To kick it off, Olivia landed the lead role in the blockbuster movie Grease opposite superstar John Travolta.  Producer Allan Carr recasted the character of Sandy from the original American Sandy Dumbrowski  to Sandy Olsson, an Australian who holidays and then moves to the United States.  Newton-John previewed some of the songs on her television special, Olivia.

The first single from the soundtrack, "You're The One That I Want" (with Travolta) soared to #1 in every major country in the world and sold over two million copies.

The "Grease" Soundtrack received a Billboard Award for Top Soundtrack.  Newton-John's solo single "Hopelessly Devoted To You" went #1 in the United States and Canada, #2 in Australia, and #6 in New Zealand.  It also went Gold, and Newton-John was nominated for Best Female Pop/Rock Vocal Performance.

Grease was the #1 movie of 1978, and the soundtrack album spent 12 weeks at #1 on the Album chart.  It has now gone over the eight-million mark in sales to become one of The Top Soundtracks of the Rock Era*.  Since Olivia was a major part of that success, she receives significant credit for those eight million sales. 

The next single was another Olivia/Travolta million-seller, "Summer Nights", which landed at #1 in the U.K., #3 in New Zealand, #4 in Germany and Canada, #5 in the United States and #6 in Australia.  Newton-John became the second woman in history (after Linda Ronstadt the previous year) to score two Top 5 songs at the same time. 

Olivia was nominated for a People's Choice Award for Favorite Actress.  She was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Musical, and "Hopelessly Devoted To You" was nominated for Best Song from a Motion Picture at the Academy Awards.  The "Grease" Soundtrack won an American Music Award for Favorite Pop/Rock Album, and was nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards.  Newton-John not only won her third People's Choice Award for Favorite Female Musical Performer, but she scored a rare double by also being named Favorite Motion Picture Actress that year.

The transformation of Sandy in Grease from a goody-goody girl to the spandex-clad Sandy we see at the end of the film carried over to reality.  With the impression that Olivia made in Grease and the subsequent reaction that it received, Olivia changed her image beginning with this album. Later in the year, Newton-John released the album Totally Hot.  The single "A Little More Love" continued the momentum:  #2 in Canada, #3 in the U.S., #4 in the U.K., and #7 in New Zealand with another Gold single.

The album reached #7, Olivia's first Top 10 Album since Have You Never Been Mellow.  Newton-John pulled another hit from the album, "Deeper Than The Night", which was an underrated #11 overall, but #4 on the Adult Contemporary chart.

There are two other tracks from Totally Hot that we want to feature for the tribute to The #15 Artist of the Seventies*.  This is the title song.

Olivia took a great song from Eric Carmen (underrated in its own right) and did a great job on the million-selling album--"Boats Against The Current".

The change in direction kept Olivia's star hot through much of the 80's, as she obviously is one of the brightest stars of all-time.  She continues to record and tour to this day.

In 1979, Olivia was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.  In 1981, she earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  In 1982, the compilation Olivia Newton-John's Greatest Hits, Volume 2 sold two million copies, and since Olivia's 70's material comprises approximately 1/3 of that album, those sales factor into the rankings for The Top Artists of the 70's*

In 1990, Olivia was named a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Environment Program.  In 1998, Newton-John received the Humanitarian Award from Cadillac Concept to the world for her help with breast cancer research.  The following year, Olivia's work was honored by two institutions:  The Red Cross honored her with its Humanitarian Award for breast cancer and environmental charity work, and the Women's Guild of Cedar-Sinai Hospital gave Newton-John its Woman of the 21st Century Award for breast cancer and environmental charity work.

In 2000, Olivia earned the Ermenegildo Zegna International Environmental Award from the Environmental Media Association for "increasing public awareness of environmental problems".  She also received the Green Globe Arts and Nature Award from the Rainforest Alliance for her contribution to the preservation of Rainforests.  In 2006, Olivia received the Humanitarian Award for her breast cancer awareness work from Decatur Memorial Hospital in Illinois. 

Also in 2006, Olivia was made an Officer in the Order of Australia for "service to the entertainment industry as a singer and actor, and to the community through organisations supporting breast cancer treatment, education, training and research, and the environment".  The following year, Newton-John received the Kimmel Center's (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) Valor Award for raising fund for cancer research.  In 2008, Olivia received the Marianne Williamson Founder's Award from Project Angel Food for her commitment to breast cancer awareness.

In 2012, the National Trust of Australia named Newton-John a National Living Treasure of Australia.

Newton-John sold 15 million albums in the Seventies.  She had 23 hits in the decade, with nine Top 10's and three #1's.  She was one of the dominant performers of the 70's among adults, scoring 22 hits on the Adult chart, which was becoming increasingly significant in the late part of the decade.  An incredible 15 of those reached the Top 10, and Olivia scored nine #1 songs. 

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