Grease is no longer the word


I almost paused to reflect on the death of Judith Durham such a short time ago, but now it’s been followed by her fellow Australian singer, Olivia Newton-John, news I have only discovered a few minutes ago.

Truth to tell, I enjoyed Judith Durham’s music, or rather that of The Seekers, far more than I did Olivia Newton-John’s, or ‘Livvy’ as we used to call her. I certainly heard far more of Livvy’s singng than I did the Seekers, throughout most of the Seventies, and for the same reason that I heard most of the Progressive Music I endured at the same time, though this time from only one source.

I had a mate from school who lived just rund the corner from me. Our tastes in music weren’t all that similiar but he listened politely to my albums as I did to his. With me it was Lindisfarne, 10cc, The Moody Blues. With him it was ELP, Yes, Pink Floyd. And Livvy.

A lot of it was that he had one almighty crush on Livvy, and let’s be fair, tall, blonde, slim, long-legged, with a sweet face, she was eminent cr ush material. I never minded looking at pictures of her, or seeing her on Top of the Pops, and some of her Seventies’ album covers were absolutely gorgeous. Girl took a good photo, certainly.

Musically, in this era, I had no means of classifying what she sang. Country-influenced MOR, I’d say now, with a hefty slant to the MOR side of it. There was nothing wrong with it, I didn’t dislike it, the way I did Tales of Topographic Oceans, but, with the odd exception here and there, I didn’t like it. I accepted it as a necessary hazard of life, like the way my mother never stopped telling me to be careful crossing Kingsway, no matter how old I got.

You’d think that, given all his other tastes, my mate’s obsession with Livvy’s music must have been something of a come-on, but no such thing. He genuinely adored her music. ‘he was so reverent to it that, every time she brought out a new LP, he would carefully wipe it with an anti-static dust remover, touching the vynil by the edges of the disc only, lower the needle onto the run-in groove as gently as a falling leaf, and would record the album onto cassette. And never ever play the vynil again.

Our friendship more or less died in 1978 when I left to go live in Nottingham for two years. That didn’t get me away from Livvy, not at first, for 1978 was the year of Grease and a combined seventeen weeks at Number 1 for her singles with John Travolta. But long before I came back we had stopped talking to each other. So after that I got to hear less and less of Livvy, which I never regretted. A friend of mine once played me a VHS tape of the film Xanadu, in which she starred, and which I thought was one of the most crass, soul-destroying, lumpen and demeaning films I ever saw. My heart bled for Gene Kelly, reduced to playing in shit like that, and subjected to almost on-stop degradation. I hope to God the poor bastard got paid shedloads for having to go through that.

I don’t remember hearing anything else by Livvy after that, and that now means nearly forty years.

This is not precisely a remembrance of Olivia Newton-John and it’s certainly not a tribute to her. A photo of her in tank top, long-sleeved blouse, hot pants and knee length boots, from 1971 would be how I’d choose to remember her, because yes, she was absolutely gorgeous, but she and her music played a big part in my life for a long time, and I know Alan will be devastated tonight, for his were feelings that would never be eroded by time. Sorry news, mate. Raise a glass to her for me whilst you’re at it.

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