I have been a huge fan of Olivia Newton-John since age 12 in 1980. Her recent passing had a deep impact on me. I wanted to write some sort of tribute, and rather than list my opinion of her greatest hits, since her biggest hits can be found anywhere, and who cares which ones I like more than the others, I decided to spotlight some of the best (my favorite) overlooked and hard-to-find songs that even hardcore fans might not know or know of. So here is a list of 15, because that's how many I felt the need to mention, in chronological order.
1. Would You Follow Me (John Kongos). I haven't yet been able to find out for certain when this was recorded or first released, I have it on a CD compilation of her early songs, 1971-1975, and it's currently available on the recently rereleased deluxe version of the 1971 album "If Not For You." In any case, it's a very catchy, lively, brassy song with a great arrangement and backing vocals, and the earworm refrain of "Lose or win, thick or thin, where would you like to be? Lose or win, thick or thin, would you follow me?"
2. My Old Man's Got a Gun (John Farrar). This is a surprisingly strong country rocker from her 1972 UK album "Olivia," where she warns off a would-be suitor. If you want an early song with a little edge, and to hear premonitions of her later rock style, this is a good song to listen to.
3. Amoureuse (Veronique Sanson, English lyrics Gary Osborne). This French song was also recorded by Kiki Dee and Helen Reddy among others. Olivia released it on her 1973 UK album "Music Makes My Day." Many of the songs from that album were included on the US release of "Let Me Be There," but this song was left off. It is also on the deluxe edition of "If Not For You". It is a song about a romantic encounter with a haunting, sensuous verse and a more upbeat chorus which features an upward sixth leap as a hook. Very nice all around.
4. Rest Your Love on Me (Barry Gibb). This song, written by Barry Gibb, was originally recorded by the Bee Gees - as a country song - and released as the B-side to the hit "Too Much Heaven." Andy Gibb and Olivia recorded it as a pop love duet for Andy's 1980 album "After Dark." It was one of two duets they sang together on the album, the other being the hit song "I Can't Help It." "Rest Your Love on Me" was not released as a single, but is a beautiful, sweet, tender love song that features Olivia at her peak of popularity and Andy at the tail end of his.
5. Fool Country (John Farrar). This is probably her best-know rarity, from the 1980 movie "Xanadu." It is a two-part medley of a rock song ("Fool") and a stylized country song (I guess they just called "Country"). In the film Olivia sings it near the end as part of the opening-night celebration of the roller-disco club Xanadu. (In the film it opens with an instrumental synth tap number reminiscent of the 1940s, but that is left off the recording.) The song was not included on the soundtrack album, but it was released as the B-side of the #1 hit song, "Magic," and it was also included on the 2-cd compilation "Olivia Gold." The "Fool" section is a nice legit rocker, Olivia being tough with a would-be romantic interest, and the "Country" section is really too synth to be real country, but a simple song telling her man to smile. Both sections apparently try to showcase Olivia's own legacy, both as a country singer and more recently as a rock singer. Interesting to note that when "Xanadu" was reworked and brought to Broadway as a (very hilarious) comedy in 2007, "Fool" was kept in the show, in a different context.
6. You Made Me Love You (James Monaco, Joe McCarthy). This is a real rarity, a well-known standard from 1913 that Olivia also recorded for "Xanadu." In the film, Olivia sings it with a big band in the background as Gene Kelly reminisces about her. The song then goes directly into the lovely duet, "Whenever You're Away from Me." This song was also not included on the soundtrack album and as far as I know can only be found on the B-side to the hit song "Suddenly," which I have a copy of. It's very lovely, and shows how at at ease and well-suited Olivia is with songs of this era.
7. Falling (John Farrar). This is not much of a rarity, just an incredibly beautiful track from her 1981 album "Physical." Her 1980s albums all seemed to feature one standout slow love ballad, and this I believe is the best of them. John Farrar wrote many of Olivia's original songs, including a lot of her biggest hits, and he often seems to include some really beautiful and creative harmonic progressions. This is a great feature of his songwriting skills as well as Olivia's vocals.
8. Shaking You (David Foster, Paul Howard Gordon, Tom Keane). This ballad is from the soundtrack from the 1983 movie "Two of a Kind," which reunited Olivia with John Travolta. It is very much a 1980s David Foster song at the peak of his songwriting/producing heyday. It's a beautiful song about the struggles of love, but in my opinion is Olivia's most passionately expressive vocal performance ever. One listen and you can really hear the pain in her voice.
9-10. Big and Strong (Mark Heard), Let's Talk About Tomorrow (John Capek, Amy Sky, Olivia Newton-John). These two songs are from her underrated 1988 album "The Rumour." Olivia didn't always convince me that she could sing legit rock music, but I believe these two songs show that she could, and are backed by a strong rock band, though with an 80s sound. Both are message songs, "Big and Strong" being generally anti-war, and "Let's Talk About Tomorrow" being about environmental protection.
11. Not Gonna Be the One (Seth Swirsky). In 1992 Olivia released a greatest hits compilation called "Back to Basics, The Essential Collection 1971-1992," which featured four new songs, including this one. It's just a great song with a great sound, a classic sound like her biggest late 70s-early 80s hits. Even so, it could have been a hit for her in 1992 if released as a single.
12. Tenterfield Saddler (Peter Allen), duet with Peter Allen. This was released on her 2002 album "(2)", a collection of duets with different artists. For "Tenterfield Saddler" Olivia added her vocals to a recording by Peter Allen from 1972. Allen died in 1992, but was a friend of Olivia, and cowrote her signature song, "I Honestly Love You." This is a very tender and poignant song, beautifully done by both Peter and Olivia.
13. Anyone Who Had a Heart (Burt Bacharach, Hal David). This song is from her 2004 album "Indigo: Women of Song," in which she reimagines songs previously made famous by other women singers, in this case, Dionne Warwick. It's a magnificent vocal performance and is a real highlight of this album and of Olivia's later albums.
14. Can I Trust Your Arms (Olivia Newton-John, Chloe Lattanzi) This is a song Olivia wrote the music for, to lyrics that her daughter Chloe gave to her as a Christmas gift. The lyrics display a painful honesty about this particular mother-daughter relationship, an honesty not often heard, and Olivia's music beautifully sets the words. It was recorded for her 2005 album "Stronger Than Before," and album meant to provide inspiration and encouragement to women dealing with cancer, as Olivia of course herself battled and eventually lost her battle with breast cancer. It also features Olivia on the piano!
15. Window in the Wall (Tom Paden, Eddie Kilgallon, Tajci Cameron), duet with Chloe Lattanzi. This is a duet, released in 2021, with her daughter, Chloe Lattanzi, and is a beautiful song about learning to accept other people and finding ways to come together despite differences. It is also one of the last songs, if not the last song she ever recorded.