Once Upon a Summer Night … Memories of Olivia Newton-John

There are some voices from the past that are so evocative of a certain time and place that hearing them always transports you back in time.

I listen to a lot of music, as you may well know if you read this blog, but there are only a select few voices that elicit such a major response in my psyche. One of those voices belonged to Olivia Newton-John.

Looking back the performers I listened to between 1978 and 1984 seem to have a stronger pull on my heartstrings than any other time period before or since. Nostalgia yes, certainly, but it’s more than that for me.

I think those formative years between the age of 12 and 18 are a magical time in a person’s life. Everything from that time period seems heightened now – the people, the food, the dress and especially the music. Music reminds you of everything that was going on around you at the time you were listening to it – good  or bad.

So a couple of days ago when I heard that Olivia Newton-John had died I had one of those unexpected pangs in my chest. I mean it’s not like I was a rapid fan of her music but apparently something about her voice and her spirit had penetrated deeper than I had ever suspected.

I don’t want to be sad here. I think it’s best to celebrate someone’s life rather than dwell in sadness so I’m going to fondly look back at some of my favorite Olivia Newton-John music.

Even though I became more fond of Olivia’s music post 1978 my remembrances of her music date back to the early seventies with such songs as “Let Me Be There” (from 1973), “If You Love Me (Let Me Know)” (1974), “I Honestly Love You” (also 1974), “Have You Never Been Mellow” (1975) and “Please Mister Please” (also 1975) all of which I heard on the radio and enjoyed immensely.

It wasn’t until I saw the movie “Grease” in the summer of 1978 that I began to actually buy any of Olivia Newton-John’s records.

In fact I distinctly remember bopping out of a local theater during the opening week of “Grease” in June of 1978 , along with my older brother Tom who drove me to see the film, and riding to the nearest Kmart where I bought the 45 of “You’re the One That I Want” in the picture sleeve (yes, I still have it!).

I absolutely loved that 45 and played it to death that summer. Even though I didn’t buy the full “Grease” soundtrack I did start to acquire the next few Olivia Newton-John albums as they came out.

Really all of Olivia’s hits from that period are so ingrained that they just make me feel. I feel happy and sad and nostalgic whenever I hear her voice but most of all I feel as if I’m that same person again who sat near an old Magnavox stereo in the late 1970s’ blaring those hits out into the summer nights of my youth.

Songs from that period like “A Little More Love” (1978), “Deeper Than the Night” (1979), “Magic” (1980), “Xanadu” (1980), “Suddenly” (1980), “Physical” (1981), “Make a Move on Me” (1981) and “Twist of Fate” (1983) all remain sealed in time in a plastic bubble in which every warm summer night or cool winter evening is there waiting for me like a beacon in the night to rediscover and enjoy.

After 1984 I gradually began to pay less attention to Olivia Newton-John’s recordings but her effect on  my psyche never went away. There was something about her smile and her genuinely kind spirit that whenever I hear her voice or see the odd interview I am taken back to how much comfort and joy I felt listening to her music.

In 2015 I was fortunate enough to see Olivia Newton-John perform live in Las Vegas. I am so glad I did. Not only was her lovely voice intact but she sounded just as good as she did in the early seventies when I first heard her on the radio.

Not only that but the warmth and grace she exhibited on stage was a pleasure to witness. She spoke with several audience members and I thought wow she seems to be one of the most down to earth performers I’ve ever encountered.

Trust me I’ve interviewed over 150 famous musicians in my time writing for a local newspaper and performers with her warmth and grace are very rare.

One of my favorite Olivia CDs is a recording of that very same Las Vegas show (see above) and it’s a really nice overview of her entire career and one of my favorite of her recordings as it brings back fond memories of that terrific performance.

Well there you go. Just a few random thoughts on a truly unique talent. I will always love her biggest hits and now that she’s passed I think the memory of her voice and talent will grow even more special to me as time goes on.

Anyway I thought I’d post photos the seven Olivia Newton-John CDs in my collection – above. Each and every one is a gem and I’m planning on giving them all another spin soon.

Take a gander at the photos above and as you do take these last few warm summer nights of 2022 and try and listen to and appreciate the angelic voice of a truly special talent that made millions of people around the world hopelessly devoted to her special magic.

Until next time be well and see you soon …