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Aug 08

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

FT + Popular142 comments • 6,247 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. 61
    mike on 5 Aug 2008 #

    By a strange coincidence, I was handed the task of publishing a recent photo of Didi “Frenchy” Conn last night, onto the community village blog which I help administer (it’s a long-winded story, which involves our local TV celebrity and a charity event). Anyhow, here’s “Frenchy” in 2008.

  2. 62
    rosie on 5 Aug 2008 #

    Conversely, of course, female teachers often entertain fantasies of seducing teenaged boys.

  3. 63
    vinylscot on 5 Aug 2008 #

    Why did nobody tell me that in 1977?

  4. 64
    Snif on 5 Aug 2008 #

    Speaking of Allan Carr, he also produced another movie musical of note – should I be proud or ashamed that the only country in which “Can’t Stop The Music” was a hit was Oz?

  5. 65
    rosie on 5 Aug 2008 #

    63: Because then wild horses wouldn’t have dragged you into school?

  6. 66
    LondonLee on 5 Aug 2008 #

    One of our teachers did just that. Our young English teacher Miss Spyro slept with our Head Boy. She used to invite us round her flat and we’d smoke and drink and listen to The Doors and The Beatles (not my choice I hasten to add).

  7. 67
    Pete Baran on 5 Aug 2008 #

    Luckily it won’t be invoking the spoiler bunny to note that the teacher in Busted!’s first hit was 33.

  8. 68
    mike on 5 Aug 2008 #

    I never had a crush on a teacher – but with hindsight, I’m fairly sure that one teacher had a crush on me. Poor old soul. I couldn’t help being gorgeous.

  9. 69
    vinylscot on 5 Aug 2008 #

    Yes, no doubt all my teachers were after me, I was just too young and naive to realise.

  10. 70
    Lena on 5 Aug 2008 #

    The Grease soundtrack and movie were of course very popular in the US as well, but “You’re The One That I Want” (aka “You Are The One Of Whom I Am The Most Desirous”) only was #1 for a week as Andy Gibb mania reached its peak – “Shadow Dancing” was king of the charts for seven interminable weeks that summer. At this time I was living in a duplex on a dead-end street and I got to know the family in the upper half pretty well – their daughter was about six months older than me and she bought two copies of Grease so when one wore out, she’d have the other. Our friendship didn’t last, but it had nothing to do with music.

    (To make a comparison – The Bee Gees were clearly not supposed to appeal to preteen girls, but Andy was – he never did anything for me, perhaps because he looked a bit like a kangaroo.)

  11. 71
    Conrad on 5 Aug 2008 #

    I liked this one. It has great energy and a performance of gusto – the production is a bit muddy though. The only other track from the OST which does it for me is the title track, which is by a distance the best piece of music in the film.

    I went to see “Grease” with my family. I was 11 and I remember being shocked that the “two Johns” (as I recall S.Bates describing them) were meant to be teenagers. They were so old!

    My favourite track in the Top 40 during this song’s 9 week run at the top was Evelyn King’s Shame – which possibly outdid even YTWTIW in terms of weeks on the Top 75, although very few of those were spent in the 40 itself.

  12. 72
    rosie on 5 Aug 2008 #

    Bunny has warned me not to dwell on the converse situation. where some teenaged girls can be much more brazen and some male teachers can be daft enough.

  13. 73
    SteveM on 5 Aug 2008 #

    re #71 according to polyhex ‘YTOTIW’ beats ‘Shame’ by 26 weeks to an (impressive considering it’s peak of only #39) 23. Although if you add the Altern 8 remix of ‘Shame’ from ’92 to the latter’s total it boosts it by a whopping uno.

  14. 74
    Waldo on 5 Aug 2008 #

    The only time I got excited about Neutron Bomb is when she sang “Banks of the Ohio” and rather sweetly told of how she knifed a bloke to death because he was dumping her, putting me in mind of Janet Leigh playing the uber-sexy secretary to Jack Palance in an episode of “Man From UNCLE”, who moaned and shuddered orgasmically on putting one particular guy to death by a knife-throw as the errant and doomed agent attempted to flee on her breathless orders. The knife was housed on a garter worn high up on her bare thigh. She also tortured Kuriakin in the same episode with an electric prong. This was 1966. How it all got past the TV censor, I can’t imagine but I’m glad it did.

  15. 75
    The Intl on 6 Aug 2008 #

    I’ll tell you why I hated it: 1978. Who the hell wants to listen to this when they could be listening to Buzzcocks? That being said, it really is a high-energy bubblegum pop song. And it certainly tops Travolta’s “Let Her In”, or any other Olivia stuff.

  16. 76
    Tim on 6 Aug 2008 #

    I remember being confused by YTOTIW because (even as a kid)I couldn’t work out what sort of music it was – I could get that “Theme From Grease” (which was always my favourite song from the film and I recall being disappointed they didn’t play it again at the end) was funky disco, and that most of the songs were rock’n’roll or ballad-pop but I just couldn’t think what YTOTIW sounded like. I would still have trouble defining its genre, actually – pastiche girl group?

  17. 77
    DJ Punctum on 6 Aug 2008 #

    I don’t approve of the Buzzcocks’ continued long-term use as anti-pseudo-strawmen critical fodder.

  18. 78
    DJ Punctum on 6 Aug 2008 #

    A Pedant writes: as the sleeve itself confirms, you got the artist order wrong.

  19. 79
    Tom on 6 Aug 2008 #

    #77 I don’t like it either (I love it!) (dodges carrot). TBH I listen to the Buzzcocks as hi-energy bubblegum pop songs.

    #78 It’s a fair cop.

  20. 80
    SteveM on 6 Aug 2008 #

    film posters are often having the male lead’s name above an image of the female co-star and vice versa i’ve noticed.

  21. 81
    SteveM on 6 Aug 2008 #

    Tim is there not a skiffle element to consider? I keep getting in mind similarities between this and GA’s ‘Love Machine’ now.

  22. 82
    Pete Baran on 6 Aug 2008 #

    The film poster things is pretty standard, whatever the sex of the leads. The theory goes that if you need to put the name above the face of the person, that person can’t be that big a star! Also the cover of the single also misses out the “and” and so if we take the cover as gospel (which we should not), the song is by John Travolta Olivia Newton John.

  23. 83
    DJ Punctum on 6 Aug 2008 #

    It’s almost a Gertrude Stein haiku.

  24. 84
    SteveM on 6 Aug 2008 #

    Pete re ‘The theory goes that if you need to put the name above the face of the person, that person can’t be that big a star!’

    this seems absurd! no film posters leave out the names do they? or have i misunderstood ye?

    I mean the male lead’s name will seemingly be first (unless the leading male role is significantly less than the woman’s) sure – and I don’t suppose it would ever actually confuse anyone (“Woah I thought Mel Gibson was a man”) but still.

  25. 85
    Pete Baran on 6 Aug 2008 #

    Its a sign of stardom. Obv plenty of posters put the names above the photo but with really big stars the names get truncated to just surnames, you don’t need to tell people that its Sylvester Stallone not Frank Stallone in a Rambo film. BUT in a buddy comedy (say Tango & Cash to keep the Stallone theme going) if you swop the names around people look at it longer and remember it more because they EXPECT the names to match the faces. Hence puzzlement > understanding = thinking about it > memory.

    This was explained to me drunk once by someone who does film posters so could be bullshit.

  26. 86
    wichita lineman on 6 Aug 2008 #

    Re 81 It’s basically a rockabilly rhythm, similar to the one used on Love Machine, Ballroom Blitz and an early 80s update of a Rosemary Clooney hit that I’m forbidden from mentioning. But the doop-doop-doo bv’s suggest an attempt at bubbly doo wop.

    So, I’d define it as a rock ‘n’ roll pastiche, rather like the Happy Days theme (ie done in the late 70s, with so little attention to period detail that dodgy perms are almost audible).

  27. 87
    Chris Brown on 6 Aug 2008 #

    Just a word of warning to all – I’m beginning to catch up on Popular after moving house, and note quite a barrage of posts – about tracks I’m interested in too, so brace yourselves for some Gillivery.

    Notes on the present thread – no, I don’t really like this either, and I can’t really explain it. Possibly because I was a baby at this point and so genuinely can’t recall a time without it, and it’s the sort of thing that’s often inflicted on kids. It also gets a massively hyped revival every time there’s an anniversary – so we must be due for another one soon.
    I’d obviously heard of Stockard Channing, but I don’t think I’d ever seen her until a Google Image Search a few minutes back.

    And @77 – Another pedant agrees, but can’t help pointing out that they’re actually Buzzcocks.

  28. 88
    The Intl on 7 Aug 2008 #

    #77, & #87 – I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, but I’ll take Buzzcocks bubblepop over stupid Grease anyday. Period.

  29. 89
    rosie on 7 Aug 2008 #

    The Intl @ 88: That’s fine, you’re allowed. And others are allowed to disagree. I do.

  30. 90
    mike on 7 Aug 2008 #

    Well, it all depends on where you were standing. 1978 was certainly Buzzcocks’ golden era (please note reluctantly dropped definite article, although in speech I think just about everyone still retains it, don’t they?), and four of their five (unimpeachably superb) singles went Top 40, and hell, even Tony Blackburn liked them (I’m almost certain they did a session for his show) …. but for all the “This Is The New Pop!” manifesto-ising (remember the “power pop” press hype of early 1978?), only “Ever Fallen In Love” could properly be called a hit single in the accepted sense of the word. So, in a sense (and it still depends on where you’re standing), John & Livvy succeeded where Diggle and Shelley failed.

    Perhaps Buzzcocks were the first of many subsequent bands to be critically lauded/fetishised as “pure” pop, or “perfect” pop, or what have you, even though they what they were doing was an indie-fied take on pop, that kind of missed its mark with mainstream pop audiences?

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