I’m really sad about the passing of Olivia Newton-John, from cancer at the age of 73. I was a teenager when I first learned about the British-Australian singer back in 1971 when she released her lovely cover of Bob Dylan’s “If Not For You”. The song became her first charting single in the U.S., peaking at #25 on the Billboard Hot 100. I really liked her delicate vocal style and thought she was beautiful, even developing a bit of a teenage crush. A couple of years would pass before she had another hit, with “Let Me Be There”, and as she continued to release more singles, including her stirring, ethereal ballad “I Honestly Love You”, I became a big fan of hers. On the strength of that song, which became her first #1 hit, I bought her 1974 album If You Love Me, Let Me Know (which I just learned was a compilation album released only in the U.S. and Canada).
Looking back on her extensive and impressive discography spanning a time frame of over 40 years – including 26 studio albums, six live albums, 14 compilations, six soundtracks, and 70 singles – some of it I really loved, while some of it I thought was just okay. But there’s no denying the impact she made on popular music from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s. Fifteen of her singles made the top 10, with five – “I Honestly Love You”, “Have You Never Been Mellow”, “You’re the One That I Want”, “Magic” and “Physical” – reaching #1. Though “Physical” was her biggest hit of them all, spending 10 weeks at #1 and ranking as Billboard‘s Top Hot 100 Single of the 1980s, it’s not among my favorite Olivia Newton-John songs.
Here are my top five favorite songs of hers:
- Magic (1980) – A brilliant, mesmerizing song from the mediocre film Xanadu
2. I Honestly Love You (1974) – The beautiful piano, strings and strummed guitar, accompanied by Newton-John’s breathy vocals, are marvelous.
3. You’re The One That I Want” (1978) – Exuberant & fun duet with John Travolta for the film musical Grease
4. Hopelessly Devoted to You (1978) – An emotionally-wrought love song with a bit of a Country flavor, written for Newton-John for the film version of Grease
5. Sam (1977) – I love the gorgeous sweeping orchestration and her vibrant vocals, and this song should have been a bigger hit (only peaked at #20)
She was a beautiful woman with a beautiful soul, and a long-time advocate for environmental and animal rights causes. She was also instrumental in raising funds to help build the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne, Australia. May the light and joy she gave throughout her life live on in her memory.