Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A Place Where Nobody Dared To Go

The star of this year's 30th annual gay & lesbian mardi gras was undoubtedly Olivia Newton-John. Few who witnessed lovely Livvy's stunning rendition of "Xanadu" will ever forget it. Commanding the stage in red and gold sequins, Olivia looked positively regal surrounded by her small army of scantily clad gay dancers. The original queen of Australian pop was back on home soil, performing her signature tune to the very fans who have kept it alive for all these years. I've been lucky enough to see Kylie and Dannii grace the mardi gras stage in the past but even the fabulous Minogue sisters weren't greeted with the electric anticipation and genuine emotion that filled the RHI on Saturday night. As a life long fan, I've heard Olivia perform "Xanadu" in concert many times. Each of those occasions was special but nothing compares to hearing the song in its original disco context, complete with bright lights, camp costumes and sweaty bodies.

If I had to make a list of my favourite songs, I'm sure "Xanadu" would feature somewhere near the top. I've been in love with Olivia's collaboration with ELO since first seeing the film as a child. One critic famously gave the film a stinging one line review "In a word, Xana-don't" but I Xana-did. Again and again. "Xanadu" was one of those films that was always on tv when I was growing up, usually as a double bill with "Grease". I'm sure I never missed a screening. You can moan about the complete lack of plot and the indignity of a 68 year old (but still disturbingly sexy) Gene Kelly strutting his stuff at a rollerdisco but I defy anyone to say that "Xanadu" isn't a one of a kind viewing experience. There's Olivia at the height of her loveliness playing a supernatural muse whose job is to "inspire men", Gene Kelly's last truly great movie moment in the adorable "Whenever You're Away From Me" sequence, Don Bluth's beautifully animated interlude where Olivia and Michael Beck randomly turn into fish and not to forget possibly the best film soundtrack of all time. While every song featured in "Xanadu" is a winner, my personal favourite has always been the title track.

"Xanadu" was even turned into a highly collectible Marvel comic

"Xanadu" is quite simply pop perfection. ELO's mix of synths and strings provide sublime backing for one of Olivia's most iconic vocal performances. I'm constantly amazed how a completely non-sensical tune about an alternate universe can be so stirring and uplifting. Nothing brightens my mood quite like "Xanadu". The brilliance of the track hasn't gone unnoticed over the years. Olivia's anthem has been remixed several times and covered more often than I care to think about. My favourite cover of "Xanadu" is by German pop diva Ireen Sheer. Back in the days before the internet and instant musical gratification via downloading, it was common for local stars to cover international hits in their own language. Germany was renowned for the practice and Ireen's version of "Xanadu" is an exemplary example. Ireen is probably best known outside of Germany for her Eurovision appearances but, in my opinion, this cover version from 1980 is her finest moment.

Australia's current queen of pop, Dannii Minogue, comes a very close second with her stunning 2007 cover version. Featured on her fabulous "Club Disco" compilation, Dannii transforms "Xanadu" into an atmospheric chill out classic. Dannii's version was only released last year and can be easily purchased from some international iTunes stores or from 7digital, so I'm not going to post it. Dannii needs that dollar for her next holiday! I'm rather fond of this fan made clip which combines Dannii's vocals with images from the film. This is by far the most experimental and original interpretation of Olivia's classic.

"Xanadu" experienced an unexpected revival in the mid-90s thanks to a trashy club mix credited to Olivia featuring Paula. I have no idea who the fuck Paula is or what Olivia's involvement was, if any, but I found the track on an old mardi gras compilation and thought I would post it. This is not to be confused with a white label remix of "Xanadu" featuring Olivia's vocals, which was released at almost exactly the same time. I've included that as well.

I couldn't write a post about "Xanadu" and not mention Bob Downe's amazing version. Bob's talent is truly unique and he outdoes himself with this camp classic. Bob's rendition appears on his greatest hits compilation, which you could be lucky enough to find on Ebay or in Oxford St bargain bin. A final rendition of "Xanadu" comes to you courtesy of Captain Smartypants. Originating from Seattle, this vocal group specialise in cover versions and sound something like a barbershop quartet. I think their interpretation is genius. You can purchase their album from CD Baby.

As good as all these versions are, nothing compares to the original. If you haven't seen the film for a while, take this three minute trip down memory lane. They certainly don't make 'em like this anymore!

18 comments:

Peibols said...

I liked the movie (but I expected more).
But the song... PERIOD!

I really like it!
Actually for me oldest Minogue's Do it again sounds to me like a perfect film ending, skating in rounds... like Xanadu.

Great post (I hope I can download all the versions)

Poster Girl said...

I cannot BELIEVE I haven't seen this movie yet--seriously, why has no one locked me up in jail? That really must be criminal. I better fix that, and QUICK!

Mike said...

Paola, I don't know what more you could have expected from Xanadu. I think it literally has everything! The music links have been playing up. I'm sick of Z share but they seem to be working now. If you have any problems just e-mail me and I'll fix you up.

Poster Girl, you need to run to your nearest video store and hire Xanadu! I have to warn you, it is an acquired taste and it helps to watch it under the influence of illicit drugs!

Anonymous said...

And for anyone going to New York City anytime soon, I wholeheartedly recommend the Broadway version currently playing. Saw it last summer and it was the best musical I had seen in years. Absolutely hysterical. And the girl who plays Olivia's part is perfection.

Jump! said...

For me it was always "magic" that I thought was the most exciting track from the Xanadu soundtrack.

Xanadu has stilted dialog, hokey scenes and yet for me it is an amazing film. The "i'm alive" sequence was so exciting when I was 5 -when the muses came off the wall with their auras doing their dance- the effects were so amazing to me then.

Xanadu was the first album I ever bought. When I turned 6 I spent $5.88 on it and I still own the vinyl lp to this day!

D'luv said...

Poster Girl, buy a bottle of Peach Schnapps beforehand. You'll need it, doll.

PopTrashstarlet, I love how you single-handedly manage to plug ONJ's performance and attempt to get any desperate queen out there to download a Dannii Minogue song so that the poor dame can buy a hung of government cheese to get through this week.

Hopefully Dannii kept her own roller skates from '82 and occasionally spins the wheels across her twat when she's coming down from Saturday's coke.

Adem With An E said...

I am so jealous of you Mike; Liv's performance sounds like a life-changing experience... I have this rather decent bootleg of Xanadu combined with the Jackson's Can You Feel It floating about somewhere in the old cd collection. I will have a search over the weekend and send it to you if it's found...

Mike said...

Anon - I would love to see the broadway production. The youtube clips look superb.

Hey Jump, I love "Magic" too and I play it all the time but "Xanadu" makes my head spin. I totally agree with what you say about the film. I know the plot was probably the result of WAY too much cocaine (Olivia even complained they were writing the script as they filmed the movie!) but it works because it's such a hot mess. I love it.

Shhh Robbie, you're so naughty! How is Dannii supposed to get her vibe on if I don't throw her a few crumbs! It's not like her last single even made the top 40...

Adem, it was fabulous. Cyndi Lauper was great too but Olivia just had the crowd eating out of the palm of her hand. It was magical. That mash-up sounds brilliant!

Ro Ro said...

I had to share Jer Ber Jones cover of this classic. I know only u can appreciate it.

http://www.zshare.net/audio/845328406ba758/

Robpop said...

You will hate me. But i have a soft spot for the "Northern Dance Society" /POP! version of Xanadu.

Mike said...

Ro Ro, how are you girl? The Jer Ber Jones version is kind of like Dannii's - sung out of tune without the electro backing. How have I missed this fabulous diva?!

Sorry Rob, I hate the Pop! cover - it's cheap and nasty, and not in a good way.

Jamie said...

You just can't beat the Olivia original. I still remember spinning around the living room to this as a 5 year old. Oh and how drippingly sexy does Olivia look?

Ro Ro said...

Jer Ber's fabulous. I should share a few of her classics with you like "model for me" and "shoppin whore". lol i'm good been sick tho die to this surgery. I'm ready to be over hospital visits.

Mike said...

Jamie, isn't she divine? And she still has it! Olivia needs to release a pop/dance album ASAP!

Sorry to hear that you're still unwell. Hope things pick up for you, sweetheart. Send me an e-mail xx

Adem With An E said...

Oh and Cyndi!! Did she perform She Bopp?

I can't wait for her dance album...

bomitoni said...

who doesn't love 'xanadu'??? btw i've updated milk carton pop stars!

Len said...

I had the great privilege of seeing a horrendous Burt Bacharach tribute this weekend in Beverly Hills, but the one saving grace was watching a number from "Promises, Promises" called "Turkey Lurkey Time" (believe me, this eventually gets back on topic).

Donna McKechnie of "Chorus Line" fame was the billed star, but she was danced RINGS around by the divine Sandahl Bergman, mostly known for CONAN THE BARBARIAN, but also Muse #1 (the tall gorgeous Amazonian blonde who does the fouettee turns) in the "I'm Alive" sequence of...XANADU!!

Consolecharlie said...

The British pop group called POP! released a version too which hit number 1 on the dance charts in the UK - it's probably the closest version to top Olivia's :D

You can find it on Youtube by typing POP! and Xanadu :D