When we heard that Olivia Newton-John had passed away from breast cancer, we immediately started humming the tune “Have You Never Been Mellow?” We can’t figure out why that one, of all her songs, came to us. Couldn’t one of the others like, “Summer Nights” or “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” moved into the crannies of our cranium instead? Any one of her 11 gold singles would have been better, except “Let’s Get Physical.” Definitely not “Let’s Get Physical.”
As the saccharine melody wafts through our brain, we want to pay tribute to the beautiful British-Australian singer who provided the soundtrack for our school years back in the ’70s and early ’80s, at least when we were feeling sweet and pure. For other times, we’d be blasting the Police or the Eagles.
Grease and Glory
Newton-John had success before she starred as Sandy in Grease, but it was of a different caliber. Before Grease was the aforementioned (cloying) hit, “Have You Never Been Mellow?” from an album of the same name and the album If You Love Me Let Me Know. In Grease, as we all know, she played opposite John Travolta and went from virginal to spandex-sporting in the span of the two-hour film.
After she pulled off that trick, she did the same with her own image. Her next album, Totally Hot, featured a photo of Newton-John in black leather, like the Sandy at the end of Grease. Later, she released her most successful studio album, the double platinum Physical, which strongly reinforced her image change by showcasing risqué, rock-oriented material. The provocative lyrics of “Let’s Get Physical” prompted two Utah radio stations to ban it from their playlists. Banned in Utah; we wonder if she considered that an honor.
In 1992, Newton-John was diagnosed with breast cancer, and after beating it, she became a strong advocate for breast cancer research. She was also outspoken on animal rights and environmental causes. She had two other bouts with breast cancer, losing this last one.
We applaud Newton-John’s talent and her commitment to social activism. And will always remember the indelible character she created in one of the top grossing movies of all time. Good work and good on ya, Olivia Newton John.