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Aug 08

OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN AND JOHN TRAVOLTA – “You’re The One That I Want”

FT + Popular142 comments • 5,008 views

#424, 17th June 1978

I have never seen Grease. My cultural ignorance is becoming a bit of a theme in these entries, but here at least I had a reason: I hated it. I can’t remember when I started hating Grease, or why exactly – incomprehension and resentment, I’d imagine; it was very much music for kids a few years older than me, and in 1978 it was everywhere. I’m sure some of the five and six year olds of today will have an inchoate loathing of High School Musical, its obvious modern comparison point.

So it’s literally only in the last week that I’ve learned that Grease the musical predates the film by six years – forever in pop terms, especially where revivals are concerned. That the musical might have had sharper edges than the film’s smash singles reveal. That “You’re The One That I Want” comes at the end of the story, even! (Though I could have figured out from the promo clips what the story was – good girls gotta act bad to get bad boys to turn good.)

None of which would have mattered to me: I hated Grease. Even at my most pop-lovin’ it was a marker buoy for me – I will go this far and no further. I once walked off a wedding dancefloor in a drunken rage when the (marvellously shonky) “Grease Megamix” was played. I refused to acknowledge the pleasure it brought people. I turned my back on its craft. I looked down the list of No.1s when I started Popular, saw this one, and relished the thought of really slaughtering it.

And now….? I can’t work out why on earth I didn’t like it. It has the slight misfortune to boss the charts in the middle of a remarkable era for pop, but I was completely unaware of that when my distaste for the song formed. “You’re The One” is superbly put-together bubblegum which makes the best use it can of its leads’ varied talents – Newton-John’s finger-wagging briskness and Travolta’s ridiculous cartoon yelp. Marshalled by a bassline of unquenchable jauntiness and enough backing vocals to keep anyone happy, this is very much a song to join in with (it’s not as if Travolta’s raising the bar that high!). I may never be able to fully come around on it – even irrational hate sinks its hooks deep – but I can enjoy it now and I’m all the better for it: this is populism at its well-turned best.

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Comments

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  1. 126
    Patrick on 9 May 2010 #

    Wasn’t sure if that would work! Not much to say about this song, except that I had similar feelings to you about the Megamix, Tom.

    As for Popular itself, I read all these entries the first time around and enjoyed them. Then recently I ‘acquired’ a collection of mp3s of all the number ones and have been diligently working my way through them with Popular as a guide. The blog – and all the comments – are such an incredible resource! Especially amazing to read comments from people directly involved with some of the earlier hits. Any thoughts of doing a Popular book? Would definitely buy a copy!

  2. 127
    nixon on 7 Apr 2011 #

    Strangely, given that I spent most of my teenage years obsessed with the charts, I never really bothered to investigate what was #1 when I was actually born… For the longest time, I thought it was “Summer Nights”. I bought the Guinness “Top 40 Charts” book (not to be confused with “British Hit Singles”), invaluable in the pre-Internet age, noted with a cursory glance that it was an ONJ/Travolta Grease thing, somehow got it immediately mixed up with “Summer Nights”, thought “Oh, that’s a bit crap”, and left that factoid unchecked in my head until just now.

    I hate “Summer Nights” – I don’t think I’ve ever liked it, but I quite vividly remember* a crushingly unfunny parody of it sung by Popeye and Olive Oyl on some variety show which totally sealed the deal, sat with the rest of my family in stony-faced silence, too embarrassed for my dad (who’d put the show on in the first place) to get up or even say anything at all – whereas I’m quite amenable towards this. Having laboured for the longest time under the impression that “my” number one was very poor, nothing to boast about (and sympathising with my younger sister, who got Renee and Renato), I actually feel rather pleased now.

    * (Not vividly enough to remember what show it WAS, obviously. A Popeye-themed TOTP spoof, I think – the joke was that Popeye had rigged the charts to keep his version of “Summer Nights” at number one for four years, or something. Google has no idea.)

  3. 128
    Mark G on 7 Apr 2011 #

    The first time I heard it I thought it was by the Muppets.

  4. 129
    richard thompson on 13 Aug 2011 #

    I liked Grease then but don’t now, there was this nostalgia for the fifties like there is now for the seventies, I was 16 back then when I saw the film

  5. 130
    Brendan on 24 Sep 2012 #

    Nothing much to add – I liked the movie and will happily watch it for the umpteenth time if I’ve nothing better to do. As has been pointed out by many, the best song from the movie (the title track) didn’t make number 1 while my other favourite ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’ has been largely overlooked. Again, 6 is about right.

  6. 131
    Mark G on 24 Sep 2012 #

    Brendan, mate, if you have nothing much to add, don’t add it.

  7. 132
    wichita lineman on 24 Sep 2012 #

    Tsk Mark, that was a little harsh.

    I’ve only seen the film once, forced to, virtually at gunpoint in the mid 90s. It was ok, but what I really hold against it is that it really screwed up the 1978 summer holidays – most of my friends seemed to go and see it every other day. I stayed home sulking, memorising the Guinness Book Of Hit Singles so that in 2012 I could happily recite Manfred Mann’s chart positions (and get them all slightly wrong cos I’m old and wine-addled).

  8. 133
    Mark G on 25 Sep 2012 #

    Oh, it’s mildly irritating when someone new posts on *all* the pages purely for the sake of it. To be fair, most of Brendan’s comments are fine, but the odd one where he just saya “I have nothing to say” without being part of a broader conversation, I’d rather see that some other person said something interesting on one of the other songpages. (I read the ‘summary’ on the right a lot.

    Anyway, not trying to be snotty, just helpful. I know…

  9. 134
    wichita lineman on 25 Sep 2012 #

    It would be nice for anyone posting to stretch themselves and think of SOMETHING to say, I know what you mean. But I wouldn’t want to scare anyone off personally. There’s a frightening number of ‘old hands’ coming up with the dread line “this is where I lost interest in the charts…”

    Mark, do you fancy trying to come up with something to say about Frankie Vaughan’s Tower Of Strength? It’s got a paltry thread compared to Frankie’s herculean efforts.

  10. 135
    Mark G on 25 Sep 2012 #

    Ah, um, well, I’d have to have a listen to it as it’s not one I’ve heard before, and I dread being lead into saying “I have nothing to say”..

  11. 136
    swanstep on 25 Sep 2012 #

    Since Brendan has mentioned his two favorite Grease tracks, I guess I’ll add that I think that Greased Lightning and Hopelessly Devoted are the numbers that work best in movie musical terms. Grease is mostly shot fairly perfunctorily but HDTY, for example, is pretty well thought out. It’s mostly one long 2 mins+ shot – nothing fancy, but affecting and intimate, and another great Farrar composition and ONJ make it worth the camera’s while.

    Checking now I see HDTY spent 2 weeks at #2 (so I look forward to reading what Lena has to say about it in a few years’ time). More extraordinarily, one of those weeks saw Grease tracks also at #3 (Summer Nights) and #4 (Sandy). Rather popular this one was! Rather frighteningly, Grease was set in 1958, so its equivalent now would be set in that wacky, magical, what’s-the-matter-with-kids-today? world of 1992….

  12. 137
    pink champale on 25 Sep 2012 #

    oh my god swanstep. too much. too much perspective. (agree on HDTY, it’s lovely).

  13. 138
    thefatgit on 25 Sep 2012 #

    @136 Hopelessly Devoted To SL2?

  14. 139
    Rory on 25 Sep 2012 #

    @136 Set in the wacky, magical world of 1992, it’s ‘Gaze, with kicking tunes by Lush and Ride:

    Go-ing blank again, I left before I came (going blank again, go, going blank again)…

  15. 140
    swanstep on 26 Sep 2012 #

    @139, Rory. I could go for a reboot of the ending of Grease set to Slowdive’s When The Sun Hits, that’s for sure (although I personally use it to soundtrack 1927).

  16. 141
    punctum on 10 Oct 2012 #

    TPL tells you more.

  17. 142
    swanstep on 29 Oct 2012 #

    Andrew Sullivan’s Hurricane Sandy.

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