Olivia Newton-John released an album last year titled 'Back
with a Heart,' her first since having treatment for cancer.
Newton-John shapes up for a comeback
By SCOTT HOLLERAN
At The Shore
She's been mellow, she's been totally hot, she's been physical and, if Olivia Newton-John's career peaked years ago, that's fine with her.
The pop singer, whose hits have included "Let Me Be There," songs from "Grease," "Physical," and a string of new wave hits in the 1980s, is at peace with her present stature.
The actor/singer will be making her Atlantic City debut at the Trump Taj Mahal with two shows, one on Thrusday, Aug. 26 and continuing on Friday, Aug. 27.
Newton-John says she's at just the right moment of her career.
"I've recorded country music, easy listening, nice, pretty music, and more hard core (rock) music," the Australian singer says during a recent interview at her home in southern California. "I'm very lucky and fortunate to have had the career I've had."
It's been quite a career by any measure. Before Shania Twain, Newton-John was the first female country artist to cross over to pop. She was named Best Country Vocalist and won the 1973 Grammy Award.
Dismissed by critics as a white bread artist, her singles "Have You Never Been Mellow" and "If You Love Me, Let Me Know" scored top 10 hits while her albums went gold and platinum.
Before Madonna's endless parade of persona changes began, Newton-John radically changed her wholesome image just as her popularity was fading by starring in one film: "Grease."
Newton-John's Doris Day turned vamp performance charmed audiences. And before MTV, she recorded "Physical" as a video album - the first artist to film a video for an entire album. The album's title song shot to number one for 10 consecutive weeks and transformed her into a pop superstar.
But Newton-John has failed to earn critical acclaim, though she recorded songs by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Bob Dylan and Andrew Lloyd Weber. She also recorded songs with Babyface, Electric Light Orchestra, John Denver, the Tubes, and the Beach Boys' Carl Wilson.
Even her spotty film career paired Newton-John with Oscar-winning actors Gene Kelly and Beatrice Straight.
She will be appearing before the camera again this fall, playing a tough ex-con in a film adaptation of the play "Sordid Lives," starring Mary O'Donnell. Asked if she feels denied her proper due, Newton-John doesn't mince words.
"That a lot of people don't know I was doing these things doesn't matter to me," she says.
What matters these days is her work - but strictly in the proper context. Diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago, Newton-John underwent a modified radical mastectomy, and, just as her album sales were declining, she made a discovery.
"It sounds strange to someone who hasn't been through something like that, but it seems like a gift to me. I examined things I didn't want to look at before and I matured. Other things don't seem so important when you're confronted with the possibility of dying.
"I love my career and it often defines who I am for the outside world," she says, "but I've always put my relationships before my work. I still get worried and nervous about going on the road, but I have the greatest sense of peace about my life."
In fact, she was originally scheduled to make her casino debut in September of 1992, but had to cancel the shows after the cancer diagnosis.
Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England in 1948, the youngest child of a German professor and granddaughter of Nobel Prize winning physicist Max Born. The family moved to Melbourne, Australia, when she was five.
Brother Hugh is a physician and sister Rona is a screenwriter in Hollywood. After forming a girl group by the time she was 15, Newton-John dropped out of school, went to London and cut a single in 1966 of Jackie De Shannon's "Till You Say You'll Be Mine."
Since then, one senses that her self-assuredness has grown exponentially with her career ups and downs, the end of her 11-year marriage to actor Matt Lattanzi, and her battle with breast cancer.
The soft-spoken Newton-John is also strikingly shrewd about her work. She owns the complete set of her master recordings.
Among her own albums, Newton-John's favorites include "Gaia," which means the most to her because she wrote and produced the 1994 album, the "Xanadu" soundtrack, especially the ballad, "Suspended in Time," and the sultry sophisticated 1985 album, "Soul Kiss."
"'Soul Kiss' has the most interesting, challenging songs, such as 'Overnight Observation' and 'Moth to a Flame,' and I think it was a very underrated album."
Her most recent album "Back with a Heart," (MCA Nashville) which was released last year, is a favorite, too, though it didn't do well on the charts.
Newton-John either wrote or co-wrote the pop/country album's 11 tracks. But when asked what she'd place in a millennium time capsule, Newton-John answers plainly: Her recordings of longtime producer and songwriter John Farrar's ballads. Farrar is currently composing a musical for Francis Ford Coppola.
Though savvy, Newton-John is undeniably wholesome. She's likely to snip a rose from her garden for a departing guest and she teared up before a near-sellout crowd during a recent performance in Los Angeles when her fans gave her seven standing ovations.
Newton-John's own tastes in music run from Sarah MacLachlan and Andrea Bocelli to Alanis Morisette, the Eagles, and guitarist Neal Schon. But if the notion of Olivia Newton-John listening to Alanis Morisette doesn't exactly ring true to her girl-next-door persona, she won't mind. From the innocence of the early 1970s to the black spandex scene in "Grease" and the headband years of "Physical," Newton-John says authenticity is her driving ambition in her music and she has no intention of trying to please others.
"My work is part of me," she says. Lamenting a collection of half-finished songs, she adds, with a tone that suggests she knows her best work is to come, "I want to create and write more music."
Newton-John will perform with an eight-piece band for her Taj Mahal show. The concert should be about two hours, covering songs from her entire career including "Xanadu," "Hopelessly Devoted to You" and "Physical."