Olivia Newton-John shares her musical journey from country to ‘Grease’ to pop superstardom
Olivia Newton-John is most likely to be remembered as the good-girl-turned-bad in the blockbuster “Grease,” but the Australian singer boasts a musical catalog that runs far deeper than her movie soundtracks.
So when she takes the stage Thursday at the Colosseum at Caesars Windsor, her first concert in the region in several years, she’ll perform more than infectious songs such as “Xanadu” and “You’re The One That I Want,” her chart-topping duet with John Travolta that has become one of the biggest selling singles of all time.
“I do a journey through my music,” Newton-John says, by telephone during a lunch break from rehearsals at the Flamingo Las Vegas, where she is in the third year of her “Summer Nights” concert residency. “I’ve been singing for many years. I do songs from the movie ‘Xanadu’ and from ‘Grease’ and from my country period and some of the rock ‘n’ roll stuff in between. I try to include my hit songs and some new ones too. We have a great time.”
Newton-John also happens to be celebrating 50 years in the music industry. Long before she exploded on the American country music scene in the early 1970s with catchy tunes like “If You Love Me (Let Me Know),” she was charting hits in England and Australia and was a regular on British and Australian television.
Her big American break-through, “Let Me Be There,” climbed high on the Billboard country and pop charts, won her a Grammy Award as Best Female Country Vocal Performance and a Country Music Association Award as Female Vocalist of the Year. With her crossover success, Newton-John was sort of the Taylor Swift of her day, racking up no-less-than-three number one country albums (two of which topped the Billboard 200) before she immersed herself in pop.
That transition came on the heels of the success of “Grease,” the beloved 1978 film that continues to resonate with new audiences and has endeared Newton-John to fans of all generations.
“I’m grateful for ‘Grease,’ ” she says. “The movie and the songs are still so loved. The songs were written by John Farrar. He wrote most of my hit songs ... I’ve been lucky to have some great songs, and I try to stick with what people come to hear. I remember seeing a singer when I was young and I was disappointed because she didn’t sing all her hits. I made a mental note and thought if I’m lucky enough to have that opportunity, I will sing the songs people expect to hear.”
And that includes her monstrous hit, “Physical,” a song once banned for its suggestive lyrics and the biggest hit of her career, crowning the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 weeks in 1981-82. Newton-John will also perform some of her own compositions, including “Not Gonna Give Into It,” an upbeat, Latin-infused number inspired by her successful battle with breast cancer.
When asked what’s she most proud of, Newton-John immediately mentions her daughter, Chloe, and her family. As a footnote, mother-daughter last year topped Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart with an electronic dance song, “You Have to Believe,” a reworking of Newton-John’s hit “Magic.” Professionally, she’s especially proud of performing during the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
“I take great pride in doing that for my country,” she says. “I’d also mention ‘Grease.’ There have been so many things over the years, it’s so hard to think of just one.”
After five decades in the business, with countless hit songs, albums, TV specials and movies, is there anything she wished she’d have done? “The only thing I can thing of - something I longed for for years, but I don’t anymore is recording the songs from ‘Evita,’ ” she says.
“I love all the songs from ‘Evita,’ ” she adds. “I had an amazing experience in South America during my tour this year. I sang ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ in Buenos Aires. It was a moment that gave me goosebumps. I’ve been singing that song for 30 years and recorded it at one time. It was a special moment for me.”
Newton-John’s Las Vegas residency will continue through the year, and she’s eager for the release of a new album, “LIV ON,” a collaboration with singer-songwriters Beth Nielsen Chapman and Amy Sky. The album, featuring songs written by the three of them, aims to help listeners transcend loss to find new meaning and hope in life.
“Everybody goes through some sort of grief or loss during their lives,” says Newton-John, whose endured her share, including the loss of her sister Rona to brain cancer. “It’s okay to be there. People don’t feel like they can speak about loss or grief. But no matter what challenges you have, you have to keep moving forward.”
Greg Tasker is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.
8 p.m. Thur.
Tickets: $68 and up