Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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NEWTON-JOHN, Olivia

(b 26 Sep. '48, Cambridge, England) MOR singer. Grandfather was Nobel Prize-winning scientist; grew up in Australia, formed schoolgirl vocal quartet; solo, she won talent contest sponsored by Johnny O'Keefe (the 'Australian Elvis') with return to UK as prize. Worked there with Australian Pat O'Carroll (who later married Olivia's producer, John Farrar) as Pat and Olivia before Carroll's work permit ran out, then joined Tomorrow, two boy/two girl vocal group manufactured by Don Kirshner, went solo when planned TV series fell through. Sugary version of Bob Dylan's 'If Not For You' reached no. 7 UK/25 USA; country- flavoured pop hits in UK helped by connection with prod./fianc‚ Shadows guitarist Bruce Welch, leading to showcase on Cliff Richard TV spots: 'Banks Of The Ohio', George Harrison's 'What Is Life', John Denver's 'Take Me Home Country Roads' all hits '71--3. Surprise breakthrough in USA with 'Let Me Be There' '73, MCA LP of same title (which incl. six tracks from two- year-old LP on Universal), coming after Eurovision flop with strident 'Long Live Love', led to swift relocation westward; when the hit won a Grammy for Best Country Vocalist success seemed assured (though '76 CMA award as Best Female Vocalist led to resignations). Split with Welch led to his former associate (in Marvin, Welch and Farrar) taking over as producer. Of four top five hits in USA '74--5 incl. two at no. 1 only one charted in UK; big hit US albums incl. If You Love Me, Let Me Know, Have You Never Been Mellow, Clearly Love, Come On Over, Don't Stop Believin', Making A Good Thing Better and a Greatest Hits set, all '75--7 on MCA. She raunched-up her image playing leather clad role in Grease '78 and scored big hits both solo and with John Travolta, singles plus soundtrack LP; Totally Hot '78 was another hit album; soundtrack Xanadu '80 with then-fashionable Electric Light Orchestra was a hit LP with three hit singles (incl. duet 'Suddenly' with Richard), although the film flopped; then she slid further into raunch, pushing aerobic sex in Physical '81 (no. 1 title single; no. 5 with 'Make A Move On Me'). 'Heart Attack' was a no. 3 single '82; soundtrack Two Of A Kind incl. four tracks by her ('Twist Of Fate' a top five hit). By '85 she had posed half-topless with riding crop in Helmut Newton photo for sleeve of Soul Kiss: title track reached top 20, album top 30 USA, but The Rumour '88 reached only no. 67: another change of image to Warm And Tender '89 on Geffen, a collection of lullabies, slipped to 124. Back To Basics 1971--92 was a compilation. She opened a chain of boutiques Koala Blue '84, fought breast cancer '92.