An Olivia Newton-John Retrospective, Part Three: 1974

An Olivia Newton-John Retrospective

Part Three: 1974

Olivia Newton-John reached a major crossroads in her career in 1974.  Her fortunes in the European market were dwindling, and her long-term relationship with her former producer, Bruce Welch, was also coming to an end.  Meanwhile, she’d had a million-selling, Grammy-winning single in America, and the country market in particular was embracing her with enthusiasm.  Her friend, Helen Reddy, gave her some important advice: if you want to make it big in America, you have to move there so you’re available.

Good advice, indeed. But first, Newton-John had a prior commitment to tend to. She’d been chosen to represent the United Kingdom in the 1974 Eurovision contest, the annual music competition broadcast across Europe, with each country nominating an artist to appear on their behalf. Newton-John’s mentor, Cliff Richard, had represented the nation the previous year, placing third in a very close race.

By this time, Newton-John was establishing her own sound, with John Farrar taking over sole production responsibilities. But the nature of the contest meant that Newton-John had to perform six songs submitted by English songwriters and voted on by English television viewers.  Of the six, her favorite song was “Angel Eyes.” It came in second to a song that she didn’t particularly care for: “Long Live Love.”

Long Live Love

Written by Valerie Avon and Harold Spiro



Australia #11 | Ireland #9 | U.K. #11

Grade: C-

It’s a testament to Newton-John’s growing confidence as a singer and John Farrar’s capable hand as a producer that this isn’t as big of a disaster as it should be. The song is pure schlock, saved only by Newton-John’s infectious vocal and a few cute production flourishes that cut through the treacle. It had a dated sound even upon its release, pandering to the older viewing audiences that would choose the winner of the Eurovision contest. Of Newton-John’s many hits, this one is the most disposable.

Long Live Love


Australia #19 | U.K. #40

Track Listing:

  1. Free the People
  2. Angel Eyes
  3. Country Girl
  4. Someday
  5. God Only Knows
  6. Loving You Ain’t Easy
  7. Home Ain’t Home Anymore
  8. Have Love Will Travel
  9. I Honestly Love You
  10. Hands Across the Sea
  11. The River’s Too Wide
  12. Long Live Love

Olivia Newton-John came in a respectable fourth in the 1974 Eurovision contest, losing to ABBA, who became worldwide superstars on the strength of their winning entry, “Waterloo.”  The exposure did little to further her career in Europe, and the contest also hindered the overall quality of her fourth studio album. Six of the twelve tracks are studio recordings of the songs that competed to represent the U.K. in the contest, and they are collectively the weakest six tracks on the LP.

But there are some important strengths here, too. On the material chosen by Newton-John and producer John Farrar, she sounded better than ever, and the material was her strongest to date. The standout track, “I Honestly Love You,” would become her signature song, while “Country Girl,” “Free the People,” and “The River’s Too Wide” found the middle ground between country, folk, and pop that made her sound both fresh and timeless when she broke through in the States.

Missing from the set, however, was her follow up to “Let Me Be There” in the United States:

If You Love Me (Let Me Know)

Written by John Rostill


United States:

Pop #5 | Country #2 | AC #2


Pop #4 | Country #1 (2 weeks) | AC #1


Australia #2 | Germany #37 | New Zealand #10

Grade: A

“If You Love Me (Let Me Know)” is a clear attempt to replicate the formula of “Let Me Be There,” written by the same songwriter and featuring Mike Sammes again on bass vocals. But it’s a more ambitious take on that formula, and a stronger record overall because it understands what made the first record work and doubles down on those elements.

The pedal steel guitar is front and center this time, kicking off the song with an extended intro and showcased again right before Newton-John closes out the song with its coda. And while “Let Me Be There” had Newton-John singing the verses without backing vocals, almost the whole band gets out of the way during the second verse of “If You Love Me,” allowing her ethereal style the full spotlight, with the pedal steel talking back to her after each line.

The song was responsible for Newton-John’s dominance at the 1974 CMA Awards, where she was nominated for Entertainer, Album, and Single of the Year, and won Female Vocalist on the strength of the hit.  Her win caused enormous controversy, but as David Cantwell noted in the song’s entry in Heartaches by the Number: Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles:

[It was] a bad case of provincialism – Newton-John recorded in England, not Nashville, after all, and her accent was Australian, not southern. Certainly, “If You Love Me (Let Me Know),” her highest-charting country hit, was no less “country” sounding than contemporaneous hits by, say, Ronnie Milsap, the Statler Brothers, and Charlie Rich, to name three other CMA winners that year.

In truth, “If You Love Me” was even more “country” sounding. With an arrangement that sported pedal-steel guitar, an electric guitar part pulled straight from Roy Nichols’s bag of riffs, and a back-up bass singer doing his southern gospel best, the wonder is that Newton-John’s record ever managed to go pop, not country.

If You Love Me, Let Me Know


United States:

Pop #1 (1 week) | Country #1 (8 weeks)

Canada: #1 (week)

Track Listing:

  1. If You Love Me (Let Me Know)
  2. Mary Skeffington
  3. Country Girl
  4. I Honestly Love You
  5. Free the People
  6. The River’s Too Wide
  7. Home Ain’t Home Anymore
  8. God Only Knows
  9. Changes
  10. You Ain’t Got the Right

With “If You Love Me (Let Me Know)” quickly becoming an even bigger hit than its predecessor, the stopgap single needed a home, so MCA went cherry picking again, culling tracks from Newton-John’s previously released studio albums.  The resulting compilation was so well curated that it was something of a reverse Beatles effect. When Capitol cut and pasted from the Beatles’ studio albums, it muddied the artistic statements of the original LPs.  When MCA did the same to Newton-John’s studio albums, they brought her strengths as an artist into clearer focus.

Other than a so-so Beach Boys cover, which she still sings well, there’s remarkably little filler on this set, which takes most of the best tracks from her second through fourth studio sets. By including “Changes,” Americans finally discovered her songwriting talent, and pay close attention to “Home Ain’t Home Anymore,” which is co-written by her producer, John Farrar. It’s an early example of how well he can write a melody suited perfectly for Newton-John’s voice and build a great record around her performance, a talent that will lead to most of her biggest hits from 1975 onward.

Newton-John recorded another studio album in 1974, and MCA had no intention of releasing a second single from the project. But due to radio demand, they acquiesced.

I Honestly Love You

Written by Peter Allen and Jeff Barry

United States:

Pop #1 (2 weeks) | Country #6 | AC #1 (3 weeks)


Pop #1 (1 week) | Country #1 (2 weeks) | AC #1


Australia #1 (4 weeks) | New Zealand #4 | Sweden #1 | U.K. #22

Grade: A

“I Honestly Love You” has been a standard for so long that it’s easy for it to fade into background music. The title forms a simple chorus – “I love you, I honestly love you.”  Newton-John’s sweet vocal and the warm piano melody capture the truth of a deep and unconditional love, leaving the verses to demonstrate that this love is unrequited.

It’s the classic fantasy of telling someone that you’ve been loving them for a long time and haven’t found the words to say it, but instead of that leading to a happy ending, it destroys both the friendship and the hope for something more, leaving the heartbroken woman to wonder if there is some alternative timeline where she could’ve found happiness: “If we both were born in another place and time, this moment might be ending in a kiss. But there you are with yours, and here I am with mine, so I guess we’ll just be leaving it at this.”

Newton-John’s vocal performance is so fragile and hesitant here that it allowed her detractors at the time to portray her as a weak singer, completely misreading how her delivery of the song was deliberate and multi-layered. Listen to her hope in the first verse, and how melancholy and hopelessness eventually overwhelm her by the end of the record, when she can barely utter the title one last time without coming completely undone. It’s like the sun rises and falls over the course of three and a half minutes.

“I Honestly Love You” became her biggest hit to date, and for many years appeared to be the peak of her career. In addition to going #1 in several countries, it was her last chart hit in England for three years. It also won Newton-John another pair of Grammys in 1975, taking home the awards for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

Because it did so well overseas, and “If You Love Me (Let Me Know)” still hadn’t been included on an album outside of the United States, Newton-John’s first hits compilation was released in Europe and Australia, with slightly different track listings.

First Impressions (U.K.)


Track Listing:

  1. If Not For You
  2. Banks of the Ohio
  3. Love Song
  4. Winterwood
  5. Everything I Own
  6. What is Life
  7. Take Me Home, Country Roads
  8. Amoureuse
  9. Let Me Be There
  10. Changes
  11. Music Makes My Day
  12. If You Love Me (Let Me Know)

Great Hits! First Impressions (Australia)


Australia #3 | New Zealand #2

Track Listing:

  1. If Not For You
  2. Banks of the Ohio
  3. Winterwood
  4. Take Me Home, Country Roads
  5. Amoureuse
  6. Let Me Be There
  7. I Honestly Love You
  8. Long Live Love
  9. If You Love Me (Let Me Know)
  10. What is Life
  11. If We Try
  12. Music Makes My Day

If you’ve been following along with this feature, you already know that Newton-John didn’t have enough hits to justify a collection like this, which perhaps is why it is wisely titled First Impressions. Both versions of the collection require album cuts to pad the length, and both have the good taste to leave off “Just a Little Too Much.” But even though it represented the country at the Eurovision contest, it is only the U.K. release that leaves off “Long Live Love,” making for a better hits collection, if perhaps a less accurate one. The U.K. release also gets the edge for including two of her earliest gems, “Changes” and “Love Song,” which would be saved for the Australian-only release Greatest Hits Volume 2 in 1977.

The compilations serve as a good marker for the end of Newton-John’s career as a primarily European artist and her rebirth as an American superstar.  By the end of 1974, she was already a Grammy and a CMA winner, and she’d charmed American audiences on The Tonight Show and The Midnight Special.  She’d solidify her superstardom with a slew of additional hits and major awards in 1975, as she finally put down roots in the United States.

An Olivia Newton-John Retrospective

Next: Part Four, 1975

Previous: Part Two, 1972-1973



  1. Keep it up, I’m so enjoying this (and like the pace too!). I’ve been an ONJ fan since I was a kid, so I’m learning so much I didn’t know in this retrospective. Thank you!

  2. I second Craig’s comments.

    As a 13-year-old kid living in southern California in 1974, I was unaware of ONJ until “Let Me Be There” hit the Top-40 radio airwaves. By the time the “If You Love Me Let Me Know” album was released, I was fully hooked on this artist and, of course, rushed to purchase this album. That photo of her on the album cover sealed my hopeless crush on ONJ, which has never abated. During my early teen years, I anxiously anticipated her every song release and TV appearance.

    At the time, I think I may have been oblivious to ONJ’s concurrent success on the country music charts (and the controversy it engendered), as I did not become an avid listener of country radio until the later half of the 1970s.

  3. The Long Live Love album is really sweet. I’m sure it isn’t one of Olivia’s favourites, but it’s unique in her catalogue. In the days when she sold hardly any albums at all in the UK, LLL actually made #40. Not that she cared. She was in America by then.

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