thanks to James Tiggen amd Robyn Waugh
A nod to Olivia's heroines By Paul Stewart
With more than 30 years of performing behind her, Olivia Newton-John remains in thrall to the muse of song.
Surely, if AC/DC can have a laneway named after them, then a plaque should be placed outside another Melbourne address. It was there that a 15-year-old schoolgirl launched a musical career that was destined to make her Australia's most popular female singer of the modern era.
"It was at a place called the Copper Kettle, in Toorak, where I first got up to sing," entertainment icon Olivia Newton-John recalled last week as she celebrated the release of a new album, Indigo - Women Of Song. "It was a small coffee lounge, and I used to sing there with three other girls. We were known as the Soul 4, and we did a lot of folk songs," she says. "The venue actually belonged to my sister's husband -- that's how I got the gig!"
Olivia pays tribute to those early days by including a popular Pete Seeger song, Where Have All The Flowers Gone, on her new album. The song has been covered by many artists, but she was particularly moved by Joan Baez's version. "Joan Baez was my idol. I even learned to play this on guitar, and used to perform it with Soul 4 at the Copper Kettle," she says. "Joan's voice and style are just unique, and I respect her so much for her stand on peace."
Taking time out from a US tour to talk on the phone to promote the new release, Olivia explained that her new song collection was dedicated exclusively to female singers. "The album pays tribute to some of the women who inspired, delighted and influenced me in the formative years of my career, or touched my life in some way," she said. "I have wanted to record this album for many years. Each song has a distinct place and a wonderful memory attached to it."
Olivia's vocals for the album were done in five days under the guidance of legendary producer and close friend Phil Ramone at the Indigo Ranch Recording Studio, in the mountains above Malibu. "I just loved recording there," she says. "I did all my vocals in five magical days. Phil didn't want me to go over the songs again and again, because they tend to lose their soul if you do that."
Olivia says the album's title denotes the globally recognised idea that indigo is a spiritual, feminine colour.
One stand-out song is her cover of the Carpenters' classic Rainy Days And Mondays. "Phil worked a lot with the Carpenters, and he chose that song," Olivia says. "Karen Carpenter was a dear friend of mine and, even though she is looked at in a tragic way now because of her early death, I have to tell you she was a really funny person. She loved Disneyland and was always wearing Minnie Mouse ears or shirts. I truly respected her. I was very nervous singing that song, for who can follow Karen? But knowing her, I think she would forgive me."
Another song she has a crack at is Lovin' You, a tune made famous by Minnie Riperton. "Minnie was the first woman I knew who died of breast cancer," Olivia says. "I remember playing in a celebrity tennis tournament in the mid-'70s with Helen Reddy, Linda Ronstadt and Minnie. Not only was she a remarkable songwriter and singer with an incredible range, but a truly brave and inspirational woman. She was one of the first to use her voice in the ethereal range. I didn't even try to hit Minnie's high notes when I did my version of Lovin' You."
Other female artists whose songs are featured on the album include Doris Day, Cilla Black, Dionne Warwick, Julie London and legendary soul diva Nina Simone. "Nina Simone had a huge influence on me," Olivia says. "Actually, it was my father who bought me my first Nina Simone album and told me to listen to her. "I sang this song my first time on television with my then-boyfriend playing guitar -- I was 15, the show was live. I received three gongs -- thank goodness, the worst judgment being the hook that pulled you off stage! "One judge later called my mother to see if she could manage me; that was the beginning."
One notable song not included would seem to be fellow Aussie Helen Reddy's '70s anthem I Am Woman. "I did think of doing that song, but it's Helen's signature and I could never top it," Olivia says. "Actually, most of the songs we recorded I didn't listen to before we went in to record them because I didn't want to be influenced by the original singers."
Olivia gives the welcome news that she'll soon be back home to promote the album and is looking forward to touring here early next year. "I'll be doing a couple of showcase shows with John Farnham's band," she says. "They're great players, and I love to work with them."
Are there any plans to make more movies after her huge success with Grease and Xanadu? "No, there will be no follow-up to Grease --I think John (Travolta) and I are a little too old now anyway," Olivia laughs.
She is, she says, keeping an entertainer and a mother's firm eye on the debut recordings by her daughter, Chloe, who has signed a record deal with Festival/Mushroom. "She has been the best gift of my life," she says emotionally. "The best gift."
The blonde singer says she won't be returning to live full time in Australia for a while yet. "I'll still be living in Los Angeles, but I do have a house at Byron Bay that I love to stay in. I still consider myself very much part of the Australian mafia in Los Angeles, though!"
Indigo -- Women Of Song is out now.
INDIGO - WOMEN OF SONG
The album is dedicated to the women who wrote/performed the 11 tracks.
- Love Me or Leave Me - Doris Day
- How Insensitive - Astrud Gilberto
- How Glad I Am - Nancy Wilson
- Anyone Who Had a Heart - Cilla Black
- Where Have All the Flowers Gone - Joan Baez
- Cry Me a River - Julie London
- Summertime - Nina Simone
- Send in The Clowns - Judy Collins (Streisand)
- Rainy Days and Mondays - Karen Carpenter
- Lovin' You - Minnie Ripperton
- Alfie - Dionne Warwick & Cilla Black