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Electric Light Orchestra - ELO & Olivia Newton-John: Xanadu (OST) CD (album) cover

ELO & OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN: XANADU (OST)

Electric Light Orchestra

 

Crossover Prog

2.30 | 140 ratings

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patrickq
Prog Reviewer
3 stars First and foremost, it should be made clear that Xanadu: From the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is not a prog-rock album. At all. It's really not even a "crossover prog" album. As siLLy puPPy and other reviewers have stated, this is a pop album, half of which is performed by the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), a sometime semi-prog group. I'll also mention that although it was released in 1980, this is not a stereotypical eighties record; it's a big-production late-1970s album with live musicians, orchestral overdubs - - each and every one of the proverbial nine yards. Luckily for the producers, this (presumably) big-budget product was a hit, reaching #4 in Canada and the US, #2 in the UK, and #1 in Australia and several European countries. Furthermore, in the summer and fall of 1980, Xanadu spawned five top-twenty hits on the Billboard Hot 100 and six top-forty hits on the UK Official singles chart - - not to mention hundreds of thousands of copies in other countries.

One more bit of background: the first side of the album (not "Side One," but the "ONJ Side") is performed by Olivia Newton-John. Two of the five songs she performs solo; each of the others is co-performed with a well-known act. The "ELO Side" has four songs by ELO and one by ELO with lead vocals by Newton-John.

As is so often the case, the singles from Xanadu tend to be the strongest. Among the minor hits, ELO's "Don't Walk Away" and the Newton-John/Cliff Richard duet "Suddenly," both aimed at the adult-contemporary market, are decent tunes, although neither is among anybody's greatest or most-remembered hits. Two other ELO songs did a bit better on the charts: "I'm Alive" (#20 UK, #16 US) and "All Over the World" (#11,13), and both are fantastic pop-rock numbers. Among ELO's six US top-forty hits from August 1979 to 1980 (beginning with "Don't Bring Me Down"), these are easily the best. An added plus is that "I'm Alive" seems to relate specifically to the movie: it's said to underpin a scene in which ancient characters come to life.

The two biggest hits from Xanadu are also wonderful pop songs, and each relates to the otherworldly theme of the movie. "Magic" is one of Olivia Newton-John's absolute best songs (in my opinion only "Make a Move on Me" is better); its chart success (#1 for four weeks in the US and for two in Canada) was no accident. And someone should give John Farrar, who wrote and produced the song, a medal for the guitar part he plays beginning at 3:11 of the album version. Her follow-up single was "Xanadu," a #1 hit in at least eight European countries. I was a kid when it came out and I must have heard it a thousand times before I realized that it was, in effect, an ELO song - - down to Jeff Lynne's backing vocals and Louis Clark's orchestral arrangements - - with Newton-John singing leads.

Although it's not quite at the level of "Magic," "I'm Alive," or "All Over the World," my pet song on this album is "Dancin'," credited to Olivia Newton-John with the Tubes. Indeed, four members of that band are credited on the track: singer Fee Waybill, keyboardist Michael Cotton, and guitarists Roger Steen and Bill Spooner. Coming as it did after what many fans consider the Tubes' masterpiece Remote Control, "Dancin'" is probably seen as the beginning of the end of the group. But I love it. It's essentially a faux mash-up; first Newton-John performs a 1940s dance number; then the Tubes cut in with an opposing, then-modern rock song. Back to Newton-John, then back to the Tubes, and then both sections, revealed to be mating parts, are played simultaneously. Very clever.

Rating Xanadu has been tough. It has five very strong songs, and five ho-hum tunes. It doesn't especially hang together as an album, but many of the songs were obviously written expressly for the movie, which is something I appreciate.* I guess it's one good song short of a four-star album. But it's good. ELO fans should definitely have this one, as should fans of late-1970s / early-1980s soundtracks.

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*I'm not saying I appreciate the movie, btw. I've only seen a few scenes and they're not too promising.

patrickq | 3/5 |

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