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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. 91
    wichita lineman on 7 Aug 2008 #

    Teenage Kicks (no.31), The Kids Are Alright (no.41), The Ronettes’ Walking In The Rain (didn’t chart here, no.23 in the US), Todd Rundgren’s I Saw The Light (no.36 in spite of a Radio 1 breakfast show single of the week)…

    These records are critically lauded as perfect pop because they ARE perfect pop. You can only be so objective; sales figures just don’t come into it. The constant clash of commercial and critical success is what makes Popular so absorbing, and why Baby Jump (in spite of itself) is my favourite number one of the lot.

  2. 92
    DJ Punctum on 7 Aug 2008 #

    These are all examples of pop records with a long-term life whose full appeal only becomes apparent with time (although “The Kids Are Alright” was not an official 45 release) so you could argue that fundamentally they have proved themselves more genuinely “popular” than the fly-by-night/big act at the time short term gain stuff which tends to populate the upper end of the charts in any given period.

  3. 93
    Pete Baran on 7 Aug 2008 #

    They may well also be lucky records whose themes have struck a chord with taste-makers, or become more relevant at a later age. (We’ve had the Teenage Kicks conversation elsewhere – but The Kids Are Alright gains a degree of resonance as we tiptoe to the 80’s and the resurgence of mod).

  4. 94
    vinylscot on 7 Aug 2008 #

    I wonder how important “The Kids Are Alright” was when it was new – perhaps someone of the correct vintage could comment. However, although I was certainly aware of the track while growing up, I didn’t attach any real importance to it at that time.

    It was only much later, probably 1976, when Eddie and the Hot Rods started playing it in their live set, that I took much notice of it. We all knew it was a Who cover, but nobody seemed to see much in that.

    I wonder if it is one of these songs upon which “importance” or “Greatness” has been bestowed retrospectively – probably due to several cover versions and its use as the title of the 1979 Who documentary.

  5. 95
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 7 Aug 2008 #

    “kids” was certainly canonic enough to be track two on the one-volume 1971 who greatest hits collection “meaty beaty big and bouncy”

    (tho oddly enough my sister owned a two-volume late 70s who best-of which — from memory anyway — it WASN’T on)

  6. 96
    rosie on 7 Aug 2008 #

    It wasn’t huge in the way My Generation or I’m a Boy or Pictures of Lily were but it was respectable enough and got a fair bit of airplay.

    I suspect it was a more “in” mod track than the others which had a big general appeal.

  7. 97
    wichita lineman on 7 Aug 2008 #

    Not much commercial impact here on initial release (as DJP said, it wasn’t an ‘official’ single), but in Sweden The Kids Are Alright went as high as no.2 in ’66.

    Then, as if to shatter their prescient cool, the Swedes sent the Who’s bonkers cover of Jan & Dean’s Bucket T all the way to no.1 – joint weirdest Swedish no.1 of the sixties along with The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Bald Headed Lena.

  8. 98
    Billy Smart on 7 Aug 2008 #

    ‘The Kids Are Alright’ – along with the marvelous ‘Dogs’ (which sounds exactly like ‘Parklife’ era Blur) – always seems to be omitted from the various Who compilations that I see. Irritating, that.

  9. 99
    Pete Baran on 8 Aug 2008 #

    I understand “The Kids Are Alright” is going to be the theme tune to the 4th in the CSI franchise set in an Austin high school. CSI: Juniors will star Freddie Highsmith as JR jr the idiosyncratic boss (and marching band snare player), the quiet voiced singing chick from School Of Rock and Dewey from Malcolm In The Middle as the weird forensic science kid.

  10. 100
    DJ Punctum on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Never trusted Meaty, Beaty, Big And Bouncy since most of the early songs there were Re-Recorded For Legal Reasons.

    If you want “Dogs” on CD you have to get the Maximum R&B 4CD box set – it’s routinely left off all their compilations (unless anyone knows different).

  11. 101
    wichita lineman on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Dogs, yes, their great lost single. I’m guessing its low profile on comps is because Pete Townshend is somehow embarrassed by it – maybe he thinks it lacks the gravitas of what followed (Tommy, Who’s Next)? Can’t think of another hit song that includes the word ‘buttocks’, either.

  12. 102
    DJ Punctum on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Wasn’t it blue-suited brief Bright New Future of Power Pop merchants The Pleasers who covered “The Kids Are Alright” in ’78?

  13. 103
    rosie on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Dogs? Blimey – not one of Townshend’s monuments for sure. The one truly bloody awful thing The Who ever did. All true geniuses, even tortured ones like Townshend, produce the odd turkey and Dogs was a Bernard Matthews Twizzler of a track. A real dog, in fact. I’m sure Pete and Roger have enough money between them to ensure that they never have to endure it ever again!

  14. 104
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 8 Aug 2008 #

    the who went through a particularly debilitating change-of-label shenanigans, didn’t they? hence the somewhat random nature of what constituted a best (“best we can get hold of”) and the re-recording stuff (which i’d forgotten but explains an argument i had with tim ellison on ilx abt the VERY variable qualoty of early who reecordings)

    (can you say “a shenanigans”?)

  15. 105
    mike on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Never trusted Meaty, Beaty, Big And Bouncy since most of the early songs there were Re-Recorded For Legal Reasons.

    Forgive my scepticism DJP, but are you sure about this? (Google is not coming up with any supporting evidence.) Apart from the 7″ of “Squeeze Box”, MBB&B is the only Who record in my collection (I bought it around 75/76), and I’ve always taken the songs contained therein to be the definitive versions.

  16. 106
    mike on 8 Aug 2008 #

    hence the somewhat random nature of what constituted a best (”best we can get hold of”)

    Butbutbut! 12 of the 14 tracks were hit singles, the only additions being “Boris The Spider” and “The Kids Are Alright”… and “Dogs” is the only single to be omitted from the album.

  17. 107
    DJ Punctum on 8 Aug 2008 #

    No, it’s “a shenanigan” singular.

    They had to re-record the early material because of long-standing disputes with Shel Talmy (which is also why the My Generation album only got a proper CD release a few years ago) but “Dogs” is essentially their “Popscene” except they’d like to forget it rather than punish the public for not buying it at the time.

  18. 108
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 8 Aug 2008 #

    i was hoping it work like “a shambles”

    yeah i’m probably overstating it mike — my memory is that this late-70s double Gst Hits my sister had, which i think was released to accord with quadrophenia and was quite a big deal (gatefold with a bound-in booklet of memoriabilia and everything) didn’t overlap as much as you’d expect with MMB&B… but i may well be expanding the lack of overlap in my head (ie it may just have been that “kids” wasn’t on it) (“dogs” not on either): she cleared it out long ago

    my mum was a who fan, rather unexpectedly (well, “fan” — she liked em, but she didn’t do anything like going to buy their records and such)

  19. 109
    DJ Punctum on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Re. MBBB: no, Townshend confirmed this in interviews at the time. The Who had to re-record “My Generation” etc. and tried to keep as close to the originals as possible but there are differences, not least caused by the half decade of experience that had gone in between.

  20. 110
    mike on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Wow. This comes as such a shock, when you’ve spent 30+ years assuming that the re-recorded versions were the original versions.

    (It’s surely the same “Substitute”, though? My parents had the original 7″, which I nicked and played to death in 75/76 – simultaneously with the album – and I never spotted any differences.)

  21. 111
    DJ Punctum on 8 Aug 2008 #

    It’s the same “Substitute” but everything before that, i.e. “I Can’t Explain,” “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere” etc. are remakes.

  22. 112
    DJ Punctum on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Anyway, ’78 was a key year for the Who; Keith checked out, Who Are You? was released and so was All Mod Cons… ;-)

  23. 113
    Chris Brown on 9 Aug 2008 #

    I presume that double compilation would be The Story Of The Who. Which is a pretty weird selection, if this website is to be believed:
    http://991.com/buy/productinformation.aspx?StockNumber=136401

    My Mum had Meaty, Beaty etc. I used to walk past the hotel on that inner sleeve quite often, until it burned down.

  24. 114
    wichita lineman on 9 Aug 2008 #

    The Story Of The Who, the one with the exploding pinball machine on the cover, featured longer versions of Magic Bus and I’m A Boy, very different to the single versions but probably recorded in the late 60s (anyone know?). Pretty sure MBB&B was deleted by the time it came out, or I’d probably have opted for the single disc with more hits…

    Popscene bombed because it was all (willful, overplayed) attitude and no tune. The Who were already on a losing streak with I Can See For Miles only peaking at 10 (a relative failure) and The Who Sell Out doing very little business compared to their first 2 albums. So, Dogs and Magic Bus, their 2 ’68 singles, both made the Top 30 but did no more. Maybe wunnerful Radio One punished them after the openly pirate-worshipping Sell Out.

    Also, Call Me Lightning was released as an early ’68 single in the rest of Europe, where Dogs would presumably have made little sense (and once Walthamstow goes it’ll sound like a relic here, too). Maybe that’s why it’s been skipped on so many comps?

    “There was nothing in my life bigger than beer, ‘ceptin’ you little darlin'”

    A tragicomic knees-up, Dogs deserves a better afterlife. Rosie, you’re too hard on it. So many hooks. There’s the melancholy (Townshend sung?) section that builds up to “we’re a happy couple you and me, with a greyhound on either knee”, the rickety singalong intro, and the climactic choral, minor chord cymbal-splash finale is heart-twisting stuff (“yes it’s yoooou, little darlin’!”).

    Of course, if a cross between Heroes & Villains and The Boy I Love Is Up In The Gallery sounds bad on paper then it won’t tickle your fancy. But it’s much warmer, genuinely affectionate, and more loveable than Lazy Sunday. Or Popscene, for that matter.

  25. 115
    thevisitor on 10 Aug 2008 #

    Sorry for coming into this (compelling) thread so late. Here, for what it’s worth, are some thoughts.

    #7 If you think “Grease hankers for a watered down fifties aesthetic which makes Happy Days look edgy” you should try being an empathetic parent to children who worship at the altar of High School Musical. My two girls like both HSM and Grease (which, I guess is better than them just liking the former) but there’s more musical meat on the bones of YTOTIW (one of the weaker songs on Grease, I reckon) than the mechanically-recovered autotuned dreck of HSM. (Also, don’t get me started on the latter film’s excess of self-obsessed “I-just-need-to-work-out-who-I-am” soliloquies – a far cry from the Grease teens who are actually Out There getting their hands dirty, rather than rehearsing what they’ll go on to say to their therapists when they’re old enough to have them).

    Furthermore, I have to confess that the mere presence of this song in a film that was set in the late 50s/early 60s blinded me to the implausible genre-shift it represented. It only occurred to me a few years ago that it was a far more polished, muscular piece of pop than anything that could have appeared at the time. But because that didn’t bother me for so many years, it doesn’t particularly bother me now. It’s interesting (well, at least it is to me) that John Farrar, having written the song which transformed ONJ into a plausible object of desire, continued to write several ensuing hits which also fell into line with that perception.

    From the Physical album, he penned (Landslide and Make A Move On Me). But the best song he wrote for her was A Little More Love, which – if I remember correctly – she premiered on Parkinson, and was eagerly awaited as her first post-Grease hit. Brilliant predatory guitar motif on the verses which comes back in halfway through the chorus – all the better for the fact that it’s slightly at odds with the desperation of the lyric and the urgency with which she sings it. Always thought that when RCA were vainly searching around for a song that Natalie Imbruglia could do – one that might possibly revive her flagging career after Torn – then this would have done the job. After a 20+ year gap, it was certainly “forgotten” enough for her to make it her own.

    Finally, YTOTIW might not be a better song than, say, What Do I Get (and far worse than Teenage Kicks) but it effectively had a fantastic video and the promise of an hotly-anticipated film to support it – which must help account for its greater success at the time?

  26. 116
    Pete Baran on 10 Aug 2008 #

    Of course, with the exception of the actual musical at the heart of High School Musical, Grease and HSM have pretty much the same set up (mystery couple meet on holiday, turn out to be at the same school and then school society forces upon them a reason why they should not be together). The difference is that both Sandy and Danny have to change for each other to be acceptable, whereas Gabriella and Troy have to convince other people of who they actually are. But it is fundamentally the same plot!

    And as I am safe in as much as there have been no HSM number ones yet (HSM3 may change that), I think that there are at least three absolute show-stoppers in HSM, compared to probably just two in Grease (both of which weren’t in the original stage musical!)

  27. 117
    Erithian on 11 Aug 2008 #

    This is another one I’ve warmed to in the years since it was all over TOTP week after goddamn week, denying the number 1 spot to records I liked more (and I don’t mean the Smurfs…) – it’s great effervescent pop and the film is deservedly loved. Number 1 during my O-levels, which unfortunately clashed with the World Cup in Argentina. Revision or Scotland v Peru? No contest.

    Mike #3 (yes I know it’s a long way upthread but I’ve been away) – I know the style of the song clashes somewhat with the 50s setting, but then it is a fantasy at the end of which they fly up into the air in a car, so they can be as anachronistic as they want by this stage. Might as well criticise the “Camelot” routine in Python’s “Holy Grail” for not being minstrelesque enough. On the other hand, spot on about “Dirty Dancing” – that final “Time Of My Life” routine where they supposedly drop the needle on the Dansette or whatever it is, and out comes an archetypal 80s production which wasn’t technically possible in 1963… now THAT jarred.

    I remember a Record Mirror cartoon entitled “If John Travolta was a real person and he went to the Barnsley Mecca”. In which Travolta tries to get into said nightspot in his Grease outfit and is kicked out, then returns in his Saturday Night Fever gear to shouts of “flash git” from the girls and the bouncer saying “You’re not gerrin’ ‘in ‘ere dressed like that you poof”. Moral: even if you’re John Travolta it’s still crap in Barnsley.

  28. 118
    mike on 11 Aug 2008 #

    I bet that Record Mirror cartoon was drawn by Mark Manning, later known as Zodiac Mindwarp. It wouldn’t have been the only time he put the boot into disco culture, either.

  29. 119
    Erithian on 11 Aug 2008 #

    The very same.

  30. 120
    Mark G on 11 Aug 2008 #

    I was going to say Bring back J Edward Oliver, but I find he died last year…

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