Olivia Newton-John, the British-born, Australian-raised pop star who improbably became an avatar of girl-next-door America, died on August 8 at the age of 73. Her death set off a tremor of lamentations in a particular corner of my social media community – specifically, a largely female, largely white, overwhelmingly Gen-X and mostly suburban corner. For this demographic, it appears, Newton-John was a formative figure: sweet-voiced and approachably amiable, she seemed like she could be your best friend even as she was also untouchable showbiz royalty. (Not for nothing did she get cast as an otherworldly yet unthreatening roller-skating deity in Xanadu.)
It seems like Newton-John’s appeal was often about straddling seemingly irreconcilable polarities, sometimes within a single movie or a single song. In Grease she’s both the virginal princess and the hip-shaking greaser; “Physical” is simultaneously a carnal come-on and a chirpy endorsement of the health benefits of a rigorous fitness regimen. She drinks lemonade and she makes out under the dock.
The Library has an assortment of Newton-John’s works and this list of five just scratches the surface; visit hoopla for access to her extensive back catalog of musical recordings.