An Olivia Newton-John Retrospective, Part Thirteen: 2010-2019

An Olivia Newton-John Retrospective

Part Thirteen: 2010-2019

After a remarkably prolific start to the new century, this past decade has been slower on the new music front for Olivia Newton-John.  There have been a handful of new studio recordings, but the decade has been dominated by live and seasonal releases, most of which were also collaborations.

Some of those collaborations have resulted in her biggest commercial successes of the new century, but as far solo material goes, the most rewarding release isn’t musical at all: her bewitching autobiography was released in Australia in 2018, and worldwide the following year.

Enjoy this final look back at the stunning career of Olivia Newton-John, but remember that as great as her finest musical moments have been, her greatest legacy and the work she wants to be remembered for can be found here.

A Few Best Men (Soundtrack)

2012

Track Listing:

(Olivia Newton-John tracks in bold)

Weightless

The Rain, The Park, and Other Things

The Nips are Getting Bigger

Daydream Believer

The Pushbike Song

Wankered

Afternoon Delight

A Beautiful Morning

Brand New Key

The Love Boat

Live it Up

Sugar Sugar

Living in the 70’s

Devil Gate Drive

Georgy Girl

I Think I Love You

Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

Mickey

Weightless (Punk Ninja Remix)

A Few Best Men is a raunchy Australian comedy film that had Newton-John playing against type as a very wild mother of the bride.  For the soundtrack, the concept was high energy dance mixes of predominantly seventies AM radio hits.

There’s no point in mincing words. The dance mixes are terrible, sounding no better than the most generic homemade remixes that dominate SoundCloud. Newton-John’s vocal performances are fine, but her sense of humor and playfulness get lost in the dreary beats that often drown her out.

The album has a big winner, however, in “Weightless,” a John Farrar tune that heralds Newton-John’s return to pure pop music.  He still knows her voice better than anyone else. I’d love to hear him rework this track with live instrumentation.

This Christmas (with John Travolta)

2012

 

United States: #81 | Australia #33

Track Listing:

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (with Kenny G)

I’ll Be Home For Christmas (with Barbra Streisand)

This Christmas (with Chick Corea)

Silent Night

The Christmas Waltz

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (with Cliff Richard)

Winter Wonderland (with Tony Bennett and the Count Basie Orchestra)

White Christmas

I Think You Might Like it

The Christmas Song

Deck the Halls (with James Taylor)

Auld Lang Syne/Christmas Time is Here (Medley)

This album was made for charity, but rather being known for the generous gesture it was, the set earned infamy through the notoriously bad video clip for “I Think You Might Like It.” Of course, that helped propel the album onto the charts, so it ended up a net positive for the good cause.

This Christmas is best received as an audio version of a network Christmas special from days gone by, featuring entertaining cameos by famous singers that are much, much better at what they do than one half of this collaboration.  Newton-John does most of the heavy lifting throughout the set, and she sounds great interacting with legends like Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, and James Taylor.

There are some moments where you can just pretend that John Travolta is playing an Olivia Newton-John Christmas CD in his car and singing along.  Those are the best moments.

Hotel Sessions

2014

Track Listing:

Ordinary Life

Best of My Love

End in Peace

Bow River

Broken Wings

Best of My Love (Dance Mix)

Broken Wings (Dance Mix)

Hotel Sessions is an EP of unreleased tracks that was originally sold at Newton-John’s concerts, before eventually being made available to the general public.  The songs are uniformly solid, with “End in Peace” being among the strongest compositions Newton-John has ever written.

The problem, again, is that these interesting and deeply meaningful songs are shackled to generic dance beats.  Her vocals are amazing throughout, and they cry out for genuine instrumentation.  She just doesn’t have the right voice for electronic music.  Her tone is too warm.  Still, it’s worth a download just for the sake of having this material in any form.

Summer Nights: Live in Las Vegas

2015

Track Listing:

Intro

Have You Never Been Mellow

Xanadu

Magic

Suddenly

A Little More Love

Sam

If Not For You

Let Me Be There

Please Mr. Please

Take Me Home Country Roads

If You Love Me (Let Me Know)

Physical

Cry Me a River

Send in the Clowns

Not Gonna Give Into It

Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee (Reprise)

You’re the One That I Want

Hopelessly Devoted to You

Summer Nights

We Go Together

Grace and Gratitude

I Honestly Love You

When she was a child, Newton-John attended a concert of one of her musical heroes, and was disappointed that she didn’t perform most of her hits.  She remembered that, and as a result, she’s always done her best to include most of the songs that fans want to hear in her set lists.

As this feature has documented, she has too many hits to cover everything, but this recording of her Vegas residency is one of her better attempts at covering her entire career, even if the non-movie eighties pop hits get the short shrift.  Her band has had few lineup changes since she resumed touring at the turn of the century, so it’s especially nice to hear them get solo turns on “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” especially her female backup singer who doesn’t get a full duet during the show like the guys do.

Two Strong Hearts Live (with John Farnham)

2015

Australia: #1

Track Listing:

Overture

Two Strong Hearts

Let Me Be There

Xanadu

I Honestly Love You

Tenterfield Saddler

No One Comes Close

Love to Shine

Suddenly

Dare to Dream

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Burn For You

Hit the Road Jack/Fever

You’re the One That I Want

Summer Nights

Heart’s on Fire

If Not For You

Every Time You Cry

Physical

You’re the Voice

It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock and Roll)

The first of two #1 albums that Newton-John has enjoyed with John Farnham this decade, Two Strong Hearts Live documents their wildly successful Australian tour.  For those unaware of him, Farnham is an Australian legend with a powerful set of pipes.

Rather than being a cynical cash grab, Two Strong Hearts is a real collaboration, with the two superstars sharing the stage throughout the set and supporting each other on their solo hits. It’s an entirely different feel from Newton-John’s own headlining shows, and she clearly enjoys performing with Farnham.  Of all of her live albums, this is the one to get.

Liv On (with Beth Nielsen Chapman and Amy Sky)

2016

Australia: #72

Track Listing:

My Heart Goes Out to You

Live On

Stone in My Pocket

Sand and Water

Forever Blue

Immortality

Don’t Know What to Say

Impossible

I Will Take Care of You

Grace and Gratitude

There’s Still My Joy

Old and new material are brought together in this collaborative project that was borne from the idea that there should be an album specifically for people who are grieving.  If that sounds heavy to you, you’re absolutely right.  Casual listening, this is not.

Surprisingly, the song that captures the spirit of the project the best is the album’s most uptempo track, “Stone in My Pocket.”  Beyond that, it’s the revisited material that shines, especially Beth Nielsen Chapman’s always powerful “Sand and Water.”  Liv On is one of those albums that you should have in your collection so you can visit it during those dark times when it is most needed.

Friends for Christmas (with John Farnham)

2016

Australia: #1

Track Listing:

Let it Snow

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

The Christmas Song

Winter Wonderland

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Silent Night

White Christmas

Little Drummer Boy

Silver Bells

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

The First Noel

Here Comes Santa Claus

One Little Christmas Tree

Friends For Christmas became one of Newton-John’s biggest selling albums ever in her native Australia, largely because it serves the purpose of most top-selling Christmas albums: familiar and comforting voices singing songs you already know in an unobtrusive way.  Just put the CD on while decorating the tree or entertaining guests.  It’s the aural equivalent of eggnog.

As always, both Newton-John and Farnham are in great voice, and their individual styles blend well together, a benefit of being frequent touring companions.  It’s a better Christmas album than her Travolta collaboration, but doesn’t reach the artistic heights of her own solo effort from 2007, Christmas Wish.

Hopelessly Devoted: The Hits

2018

Australia: #14

Track Listing:

Physical

Xanadu (Live)

Let Me Be There

Have You Never Been Mellow

A Little More Love

Summer Nights (Live)

Magic (Live)

You’re the One That I Want (Live)

If Not For You

Banks of the Ohio

I Honestly Love You

Please Mr. Please

Hopelessly Devoted to You (Live)

If You Love Me (Let Me Know)

Sam

Something Better to Do

Heart Attack

Make a Move On Me

Tied Up

Making a Good Thing Better

An alternative title could have been Hopelessly Devoted: The Hits I Own the Copyrights To.

Newton-John recently signed with Sony Music Australia, and brought her catalog with her.  Problem is, she doesn’t have the rights in Australia to the original recordings from the Grease and Xanadu soundtracks.  So rather than leave those big hits off, she includes live versions instead.

I’d argue that this was the wrong choice. Yes, her movie hits are among her biggest, but she can fill up a CD of classics without them. Indeed, this was an opportunity to tell her musical story without leaning heavily on her film career.  It’s interesting to see “Making a Good Thing Better” and “Something Better to Do” make the cut in a career retrospective, as those two tracks had been marginalized in years past.  But imagine how much stronger this set would be if it also included “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Deeper Than the Night,” “Come On Over,” “Soul Kiss,” and “Twist of Fate.”

It remains impossible to capture the full scope of her career on one CD, but Hopelessly Devoted falls well short of Magic: The Very Best of Olivia Newton-John, which remains the gold standard of ONJ compilations.

 

An Olivia Newton-John Retrospective

Previous: Part Twelve: 2001-2009

 

3 Comments

  1. Well, that was an interesting journey. Learned many things about Olivia that I never knew before.

    For whatever reason, my only real expectation for the next Retrospective is Bobby Bare. Still, even if it turns out to be someone else, thanks for this one!

  2. Nicely done, KJC! I simply want to thank you for all of the effort you put into this exhaustive series on ONJ’s prolific, genre-varying album releases. I greatly enjoyed reading each of the 13 installments. I’m guessing you must be feeling a sense of relief for having finally finished this site’s first country artist retrospective — and what an unconventional choice! You’ve no doubt earned a long, well-deserved break, though I’ll be patiently looking forward to the next one.

  3. Bravo! This has been an excellent series, and I hope it will encourage others to explore ONJ’s incredible body of work.

    Whilst I agree that many of the numbers in the A Few Best Men soundtrack sound dated, I have a fondness for this set for the very reason you ascribe to the excellent Weightless: it was a return to ‘pure pop’ by one of the best pure pop singers around. Her vocals on Daydream Believer are outstanding (but sadly the remixer didn’t use enough of them) and she also sounds great on The Rain The Park and Other Things, Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad, and Devil Gate Drive.

    I’m glad we got A Few Best Men and Hotel Sessions, since they come closest to reminding me of ONJ’s late 70s/early 80s heyday, but I still wish for another ONJ pop album. Maybe one day…

    You didn’t mention it, but I’d just like to note that the world learned while this retrospective was being published that ONJ had a recurrence of breast cancer in 2013 and again in 2017 (it was first diagnosed in 1992) and she was hospitalised in 2018 with a cancer-related pelvic fracture, which happily she has since recovered from.

    She’s now living with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer in her bones, and knowing this makes me appreciate the pleasure she’s given us over the years all the more.

    It’s fascinating to think that she was once THE biggest female pop star in the world – as big as it was possible to be in pre-Madonna days – but she never clung to that fame and as a result of this, along with a focus on more charitable and philanthropic interests in recent years, is often overlooked when it comes to considering the world’s most significant pop, rock and country music acts (she’s often pegged as just being ‘Sandy from Grease’). But she’s one of those acts, without a doubt. This series has been a great reminder of that. Thanks.

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