Olivia Newton-John is an English-born, Australian raised singer/actress. She is a four-time Grammy Award winner who has amassed five No. 1 and ten other Top Ten Billboard Hot 100 singles and two No. 1 Billboard 200 solo albums. Eleven of her singles (including two platinum) and 14 of her albums (including two platinum and four double platinum) have been certified gold by the RIAA. Her music has been successful in multiple formats including Pop, Country and Adult Contemporary. She starred in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical, ”Grease”, which became the highest grossing movie musical.
Newton-John has been a long-time activist for environmental and animal rights issues. Since surviving breast cancer in 1992, she has been an advocate for health awareness becoming involved with various charities, health products and fund-raising efforts.
At 14, Newton-John formed a short-lived all-girl band, Sol Four, with three classmates. She soon became a regular on local Australian radio and television shows. She entered and won a talent contest on the television program, Sing, Sing, Sing, hosted by 1960s Australian icon Johnny O’Keefe performing the songs “Anyone Who Had A Heart” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Newton-John was initially reluctant to use her prize, a trip to England, but traveled there nearly a year later encouraged by her mother to broaden her horizons.
Newton-John recorded her first single, “Till You Say You’ll Be Mine” b/w “Forever,” in England for Decca Records in 1966. She remained in England to pursue solo work.
Newton-John was recruited for the group “Toomorrow”– the brainchild of American producer Don Kirshner who also created the Monkees. In 1970, the group recorded an eponymous album and starred in a “science fiction musical” film also named after the group. The project bombed and the group quickly disbanded.
Newton-John released her first solo album, If Not For You, in 1971. The title track, written by Bob Dylan, was her first international hit (No. 25 Pop, No. 1 Adult Contemporary). Her follow-up, “Banks of the Ohio,” was a Top 10 hit in England and Australia, but faltered in the U.S. (No. 94 Pop, No. 34 AC). She was voted Best British Female Vocalist two years in a row by the magazine Record Mirror. She made frequent appearances on Cliff Richard’s weekly show It’s Cliff Richard. In the United States, Newton-John’s career foundered after If Not For You until the release of “Let Me Be There” in 1973. The song reached the American Top 10 on the Pop (No. 6), Country (No. 7), and AC (No. 3) charts and earned her a Grammy for Best Country Female and an Academy of Country Music award for Most Promising Female Vocalist. The song also propelled the album Let Me Be There to No. 1 on the Country Albums chart for two weeks.
In 1974, Newton-John represented the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest with the song, “Long Live Love”. The song was chosen for her by the British public. Newton-John placed fourth at the contest in Brighton behind ABBA’s winning “Waterloo”. All six song candidates for the contest were recorded by Newton-John and included on her Long Live Love album, her first for the EMI Records label. In North America, this album was released by MCA Records as If You Love Me, Let Me Know, with the six Eurovision songs dropped for four different, more-country-oriented tracks to capitalize on the success of “Let Me Be There.” The title track was the first single, reaching No. 5 Pop, No. 2 Country, and No. 2 AC. The next single, “I Honestly Love You,” became Newton-John’s signature song. Written by Jeff Barry and Peter Allen , the ballad became her first No. 1 Pop (two weeks) and second No. 1 AC (three weeks) hit (also No. 6 Country) and earned Newton-John two more Grammys for Record of the Year and Best Pop Female. The success of both singles helped the album reach No. 1 on both the Pop (one week) and Country (eight weeks) Albums charts.
Newton-John’s country success was reviled by purists who believed a foreigner singing country-flavored pop music did not belong in country music. In addition to her Grammy for “Let Me Be There,” Newton-John was also named the Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year in 1974. Newton-John’s win outraged many country artists leading to the formation of the short-lived Association of Country Entertainers (ACE). Newton-John was eventually supported by most in the country music community. Stella Parton, Dolly’s sister, recorded “Ode To Olivia” and Newton-John recorded her 1976 album Don’t Stop Believin’, in Nashville.
Encouraged by expatriate Australian singer Helen Reddy, Newton-John left England and moved to the United States. Newton-John topped the Pop (one week) and Country (six weeks) Albums charts with her next album, Have You Never Been Mellow. The album generated two singles – the title track (No. 1 Pop, No. 3 Country, No. 1 AC) and “Please Mr. Please” (No. 3 Pop, No. 5 Country, No. 1 AC). Newton-John’s pop career cooled with the release of her next album, Clearly Love. Her streak of five consecutive gold Top 10 singles ended when the album’s first single, “Something Better To Do,” stopped at No. 13 (also No. 19 Country and No. 1 AC). Although her albums still achieved gold status, she did not return to the Top 10 on the Hot 100 or Pop Albums charts again until 1978.
Newton-John’s singles continued to easily top the AC chart, where she ultimately amassed ten No. 1 singles including a record seven consecutively:
* “I Honestly Love You” (1974) – 3 weeks
* “Have You Never Been Mellow” (1975) – 1 week
* “Please Mr. Please” (1975) – 3 weeks
* “Something Better To Do” (1975) – 3 weeks
* “Let It Shine/He Ain’t Heavy…He’s My Brother” (1976) – 2 weeks
* “Come On Over” (1976) – 1 week
* “Don’t Stop Believin'” (1976) – 1 week
She also provided a prominent, but uncredited, vocal on John Denver’s “Fly Away” single, which was succeeded by her own single, “Let It Shine/He Ain’t Heavy…He’s My Brother,” at No. 1 on the AC chart. Newton-John also continued to reach the Country Top 10 where she tallied seven Top 10 singles through 1976’s “Come On Over” (No. 23 Pop, No. 5 Country, No. 1 AC) and six consecutive (of a career nine total) Top 10 albums through 1976’s Don’t Stop Believin’ (No. 30 Pop, No. 7 Country). She headlined her first U.S. television special, A Special Olivia Newton-John, in November 1976.
By mid-1977, Newton-John’s AC and country success also began to wane. Her Making a Good Thing Better album (No. 34 Pop, No. 13 Country) failed to be certified gold, and its only single, the title track, did not reach even the AC Top 10 or the Country chart. Although the release that same year of Olivia Newton-John’s Greatest Hits (No. 13 Pop, No. 7 Country) became her first platinum album, Newton-John prepared to move her career in new directions.
Newton-John’s career soared after starring in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Grease in 1978. She was offered the lead role of Sandy after a chance meeting with producer Allan Carr at a dinner party held by Helen Reddy in her Los Angeles home. Burned by her Toomorrow experience and concerned that she was too old to play a high school senior (she turned 29 during the later 1977 filming), Newton-John insisted on a screen test with the film’s co-star, John Travolta. The film accommodated Newton-John’s Australian accent by recasting her character from the play’s original American Sandy Dumbrowski to Sandy Olsson, an Australian who vacations and then moves with her family to the United States.
The release of the film was preceded one month by the telecast of Newton-John’s second television special, Olivia. Grease became the biggest box-office hit of 1978 and remained popular enough that it was re-released in theaters on its 20th anniversary in 1998. The soundtrack spent 12 non-consecutive weeks at No. 1 and yielded three Top 5 singles for Newton-John: the No. 1 “You’re The One That I Want” (with John Travolta), the No. 3 “Hopelessly Devoted To You,” and the No. 5 “Summer Nights” (with John Travolta and the film’s cast). The former two songs were written by Newton-John’s long-time producer, John Farrar, specifically for the film. Newton-John became the second female (after Linda Ronstadt in 1977) to have two singles – “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and “Summer Nights” – in the Billboard Top 5 simultaneously. Newton-John’s performance earned her a People’s Choice award for Favorite Motion Picture Actress. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Actress in a Musical and performed the Oscar-nominated “Hopelessly Devoted To You” at the 1979 Academy Awards. To this day, the soundtrack still sells several thousand copies per week and often appears on Billboard’s Soundtracks chart.
Newton-John’s transformation in the film from goody-goody “Sandy 1” to spandex-clad “Sandy 2” emboldened Newton-John to do the same with her music career. In November 1978, she released the pop album Totally Hot, which became her first solo Top 10 (No. 7) album since Have You Never Been Mellow. Dressed on the cover all in leather, the album’s singles “A Little More Love” (No. 3 Pop, No. 94 Country, No. 4 AC), “Deeper Than The Night” (No. 11 Pop, No. 87 Country, No. 4 AC), and the title track (No. 52 Pop) all demonstrated a more aggressive and more uptempo sound for Newton-John. Although the album clearly de-emphasized country, it still reached No. 4 on the Country Albums chart. Newton-John released the B-side, “Dancin’ ‘Round And ‘Round,” of the “Totally Hot” single to Country radio, where it peaked at No. 29 (as well as No. 82 Pop and No. 25 AC), becoming her last charted solo Country airplay single to date.
Newton-John began 1980 by releasing I Can’t Help It (No. 12 Pop, No. 8 AC), a duet with Andy Gibb from his After Dark album, and by starring in her third television special, Hollywood Nights. Later that year, she appeared in her first film since Grease starring in the musical Xanadu with Gene Kelly and Michael Beck. Although the movie was a critical failure, it was ultimately profitable and its soundtrack was certified double platinum. The soundtrack (No. 4 Pop) boasted five Top 20 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 , including Newton-John’s Magic (No. 1 Pop, No. 1 AC), Suddenly with Cliff Richard (No. 20 Pop, No. 4 AC), and the title-song with ELO (No. 8 Pop, No. 2 AC). Magic was Newton-John’s biggest Pop hit to that point (four weeks at No. 1) and still ranks as the biggest AC hit of her career (five weeks at No. 1).
In 1981, Newton-John released her most successful studio album, the double platinum Physical. The title track, written by Steve Kipner and Terry Shaddick, spent ten weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, matching the record of most weeks at No. 1 held by Debby Boone’s You Light Up My Life. The single was certified platinum and it ultimately ranked as the biggest song of the decade. (In 2008, Billboard ranked the song No. 6 among all songs that charted in the 50-year history of the Hot 100.) The song even earned Newton-John her only placement ever on the R&B Singles (No. 28) and Albums (No. 32) chart. The Physical album spawned two more singles, Make a Move on Me (No. 5 Pop, No. 6 AC) and Landslide (No. 52 Pop).
Newton-John resumed recording in 1985 with the release of the gold Soul Kiss (No. 29 Pop). The album’s only charted single was the title track (No. 20 Pop, No. 20 AC).
After a three-year hiatus to raise her daughter, Newton-John returned with 1988’s The Rumour. A year later, Newton-John recorded her “self-indulgent” album, Warm and Tender, featuring lullabies and love songs for parents and their children.
Newton-John still occasionally tours. Most of her recent public performances have been at charitable functions.
In 2009, she collaborated with producer David Foster to record Hope Is Always Here.